Northern Ireland news

Co Armagh vice-principal tried to cover up exam cheating by writing letters 'threatening colleagues with IRA'

Patrick Hollywood

A CO ARMAGH school vice-principal tried to cover up that he helped students cheat in GCSEs by writing letters to colleagues and education authorities threatening them with the IRA, a court heard yesterday.

Newry Crown Court was told that in some of the letters, Patrick Hollywood, who worked at St Patrick’s in Keady, threatened the nine victims and their children by claiming he had the “complete support of local IRA volunteers”.

In May the 41-year-old maths teacher confessed to a catalogue of harassment, intimidation and making threats to kill.

The charges followed an investigation into complaints over incidents at the school. However, yesterday was the first time that the full details of the case emerged.

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

Earlier the court heard that in some letters he wrote: “You will get a visit to your home by men in balaclavas who will ensure that you will listen.”

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy also told the court how Hollywood had written: “Otherwise there will be direct violence against you and your children. Do not view this as an idle threat.”

Hollywood, from Upper Fathom Road, Newry, 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.

Among the charges, Hollywood admitted harassing former principal Pat McGuckian, who resigned from her post in April 2018, citing what she described as “a vicious campaign of bullying and harassment” in the form of anonymous letters.

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

Mr Murphy said that if the appeals were not heard, the sanctions would be removed and so, in writing the letters, Hollywood had engaged in a “sophisticated plan to put himself in the position of now being a victim”.

He also wrote letters to the CCMS, the chief executive of CCEA and colleagues where he threatened they were “putting your life and your family’ life in grave danger” .

Outlining how some of the letters referenced the IRA, Mr Murphy said that such was the fear, the victim impact statements “make for grim reading”.

Initially Hollywood refused to answer police questions. However, a laptop was uncovered where many of the letters he claimed he had received were found.

Defence QC Charles McKay revealed that the cheating effectively amounted to some children “being given the answers” to some test questions.

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

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