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Former Cork primary school principal jailed for distributing 'vile' child pornography

A former primary school principal from East Cork has been jailed for 18 months for distributing child pornography which was described by the sentencing judge as "vile".

Brian Fitzgerald, 49, of Golf Links Road, Youghal, County Cork, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to offences which related to 21 Meadowlands, Youghal, on various dates in 2017.

Firstly, he admitted possession of child pornography on May 6, 2017. The four distribution charges to which he pleaded guilty occurred on February 26, March 3, April 2 and April 18 of that year.

Defence barrister Stephen O’Donoghue said the accused had attended 15 sessions with a psychotherapist since the matters had come to light.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that while it might have been possible for the accused to avoid a jail sentence for possession of the images the distribution charges required a jail term. He imposed a sentence of three years with half of it suspended.

The 49-year-old accused was a teacher for 26 years and had previously been a school principal and a deputy principal.

Mr O’Donoghue said: “He drew great joy from that job. He loved that job. That (resigning from it) is a penalty in itself.”

Judge Ó Donnabháin said: “It is unlikely he will be able to go back to teaching.”

Sergeant Mark Ward who investigated the case said: “It will be almost impossible for him to go back teaching.”

He said Fitzgerald had the internet username, ‘Schoolteacher’ when he was using a child pornography site at the centre of the investigation.

The judge said the site – accessible to anyone at the click of a button – should not be named in coverage of this case.

Gardaí arrived at his home on May 6, 2017 to conduct a search of his computers and he was arrested and interviewed. Initially he denied possession of such material but in a follow-up interview he co-operated and admitted both the possession and distribution of images.

There were over 500 images and over 1,000 videos from category one, the classification related to children in sexual activity with other children or adults and a similar number of images and videos for category two images where the genital area of children was visible.

Sgt. Ward said that the nature of the distribution was that in the course of internet communications with others in Germany, America and the UK Fitzgerald distributed a total of 53 images.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said: “In effect he has lost his job over this crime so that is one effect on him.”

Mr O’Donoghue BL said: “It took him some time to realise this was not a victimless crime. He is highly unlikely to re-offend.”

The judge said the distribution charges caused him significantly more worry. “He knowingly and actively engaged in distribution. I could not find that the appropriate response is anything other than a custodial sentence. It is certainly not a victimless crime.

“Children are being exposed by this distribution which society should not tolerate in any way at all. It is remarkable that these sites are so easily accessible. This vile material is available at the touch of a button. Obviously that is wrong. I cannot do anything about it but it is definitely wrong."