Teacher Stephen Downes wins appeal against conviction

By Maggie Taggart
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Stephen Downes.
Image caption,
The case against Stephen Downes was thrown out on appeal at Belfast County Court

A special needs teacher has won his appeal against a conviction for assaults against two 12-year-old girls with severe learning difficulties.

Stephen Downes, of Glebe Gardens, Moira, was convicted in May 2013 of cruelty to the two pupils and was given a six month suspended sentence.

Mr Downes, a senior teacher at Parkview Special School in Lisburn, had always denied hitting a child in the face after she took another pupil's milk and assaulting a second girl who had then fallen against a radiator.

At an earlier hearing a lawyer for Mr Downes said that his client did have issues with stress and said that although he still maintained his innocence and intended to appeal the convictions, he was "genuinely extremely sorry for the impact" his behaviour had on the pupils.

The two girls involved in the case were assessed by police and social workers as being unable to provide formal statements, as they could not fully comprehend the court process.

Their statements were submitted on a hearsay basis to the lower court via their parents and classroom assistants at the school.

The judge at Belfast County Court said that "no reasonable jury, properly directed, could ever be satisfied to the necessary standard of proof" that physical assaults had happened, and granted the application for no case to answer.