Dangerous mind | 

Teacher tried to cover up helping students cheat with threatening ‘IRA’ letters, court told

Patrick Hollywood (41) said that if they made the wrong decision, “you will get a visit to your home by men in balaclavas who will ensure that you will listen.”

Patrick Hollywood

Paul HigginsBelfast Telegraph

A Co Armagh maths teacher and high school vice principal tried to cover up that he helped students cheat in GCSEs by writing threatening letters to colleagues, the Education Authority and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, a court has heard.

Patrick Hollywood warned of violence in some of the correspondence, claiming he had the “complete support of local IRA volunteers”, a judge at Newry Crown Court was told.

Hollywood (41) said that if they made the wrong decision, “you will get a visit to your home by men in balaclavas who will ensure that you will listen.”

Quoting from one of the letters, prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told the court how Hollywood had written “there will be direct violence against you and your children. Do not view this as an idle threat.

"We know exactly who you are and where you live and know that you are in a position to fully carry out our requests. The lives and safety of you and your children depend upon it.”

Hollywood, from the Upper Fathom Road in Newry, was a teacher and vice principal at St Patrick's High School in Keady.

He entered guilty pleas to seven charges of making a threat to kill, six of harassment, four of attempted intimidation and single counts of forgery and causing another person to fear that violence would be used against them, all committed between December 31, 2016, and December 1, 2018.

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The teacher turned bully has admitted harassing former principal of the school, Pat McGuckian, who resigned from her post in April 2018, citing what she described as "a vicious campaign of bullying and harassment” having received a series of malicious and anonymous letters since January 2017.

With some of the victims sitting in the public gallery and others watching the hearing by videolink, Mr Murphy explained that in January 2017 the then principal, Mr McGuckian, began receiving anonymous letters. These were signed by “your loyal but concerned staff and the Irish National Teachers' Association” which to her mind, became more threatening and intimidating as time passed.

Later that year, Mrs McGuckian, Hollywood and a third teacher were sanctioned by CEA and CCMS because of cheating in exams but those sanctions, which would have ended Hollywood’s career, were subject to appeals.

Mr Murphy told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that if the appeals were not heard and adjudicated upon, the sanctions would be removed so, in writing the threatening letters, including letters to himself, Hollywood had engaged in a “complex and sophisticated plan to put himself in the position of now being a victim.”

As well as writing to Mrs McGuckian, Hollywood had also written to the HR manager of the CCMS, the chief executive officer of CCEA as well as their colleagues where he threatened that they were “putting your life and your family’s life in grave danger — please do not underestimate this letter.”

One of the victims, the court heard, was Hollywood’s own solicitor who was representing him in his disciplinary proceedings.

Outlining how some of the letters referenced the IRA, Mr Murphy highlighted that “of course, the involvement of a paramilitary organisation with a history of serious crime and violence in NI has its own implications for the victims.”

He revealed that such was their fear, one victim took a leave of absence to Europe while another resigned their position and left the country, adding that the victim impact reports and statements “make for grim reading.”

Arrested and interviewed, Hollywood initially refused to answer police questions, but officers enquired and searches uncovered a laptop hidden in his parents’ home where many of the letters he claimed he had received were found.

Hollywood claimed that having received the letters, he had typed them up despite having access to a fully functional printer and copier.

The police and cybercrime investigation “established that the defendant was responsible” declared Mr Murphy, adding that it was only when all of the forensic and computer evidence had been obtained that Hollywood finally admitted his guilt.

Defence QC Charles McKay revealed that in amongst what he said was a “toxic culture” in the school, the cheating effectively amounted to some children “being given the answers” to some test questions.

While he said his instructions remained that Hollywood maintains he did write some of the initial anonymous letters to Mrs McGuckian and that he had received letters that threatened him and his children, Mr Murphy said the Crown’s position was still that Hollywood had written all the letters in order to “muddy the waters” and deflect blame away from himself.

Mr McKay argued there was clear medical evidence that at the time, Hollywood had been suffering from a schizophrenic condition and “delusional behaviour”.

But as Judge Kerr told him, the evidence showed that “he was clearly thinking and taking steps to try to disguise his activities and that would suggest that he knew his activity was both wrong and illegal.”

Freeing Hollywood on bail until Friday, Judge Kerr warned that “the custodial threshold has been met.”

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