Assault charges dismissed against former school principal Robin McGrath
'We expected this verdict, to be honest,' says lawyer Tom Johnson
Former high school principal Robin McGrath has been acquitted of four counts of assault and one count of uttering threats toward children in a K-7 school in Conception Bay South.
Judge David Orr dismissed the charges Tuesday morning in provincial court in St. John's.
Over the course of McGrath's trial, witnesses raised 13 different allegations against McGrath, involving the 2017-18 school year.
The Crown accused McGrath of assaulting four children with special needs, including stepping on a child's hand, dousing another child with water until they vomited and dragging a child from their car into the school.
The names of children, teachers and the school cannot be named due to a publication ban.
Witnesses told stories of fear and toxicity in the school, while McGrath denied all allegations against him.
In Orr's decision, he said the failure of witnesses to report the alleged assaults as they occurred was a key issue in the trial, as a complaint had not been heard since June 2018.
The trial also put several staff members in alleged conflict with each other, which led to conflicting descriptions of some events. Orr said it was difficult to assess credibility and reliability in the case.
During the trial, defence lawyer Tom Johnson told the court McGrath was protected by Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which states that every school teacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force to correct a pupil or child under his care, if the force doesn't exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.
Orr said he was satisfied the section applied in the case, as the Crown would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force was excessive.
Verdict 'long time coming', McGrath's lawyer says
Following the decision, Johnson told reporters the verdict came as welcome news.
"It's a long time coming. We expected this verdict, to be honest," Johnson said. "Obviously we're relieved we got a verdict that we expected.… It's 970-odd days approximately since Mr. McGrath left the school, so it's been a very tough time on the family. I'm sure he's very relieved."
Johnson said the trial proved the importance of a fair trial and experienced judges in the justice system, saying the concerns Orr had over credibility were echoed by his team on multiple occasions.
WATCH | Lawyer Tom Johnson speaks with reporters following the dismissal of charges against Robin McGrath:
"The judge's reasons must speak for themselves," he said. "There was serious credibility and reliability concerns raised during this trial, and thankfully the court recognized them in the dismissal of every charge.
"Had the public been able to hear what went on in that courtroom from top to bottom, they would have expected this outcome just like we did."
He called on the public to put themselves in the shoes of his client's family in a difficult time.
"There's a lot on the line for the Robin McGraths of the world. They get vilified publicly, and now we see that 900 and some-odd days later, the dismissal of all the charges," he said. "The evidence is what ruled.
"It's time for the public to recognize, as they're sitting watching the news, that if it was them who was accused … or their son or their daughter or their loved one, they would want to be presumed innocent until the matter was dealt with. Why is it that we have such a hard time gathering that thought when we don't know the person? It's disappointing.… This has been an ongoing problem for a long time."
With files from Jeremy Eaton