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School loo cameras former headteacher: ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’

67-year-old who recently retired from Upper Holloway primary where CCTV was found in children’s toilets speaks out

22 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Barrie O’Shea was at Duncombe for 30 years before retiring last summer

THE former headteacher at a primary school where hidden cameras were found in the children’s toilet has spoken out for the first time, saying he has “nothing to hide”.

Parents of students at Duncombe Primary School in Upper Holloway were left horrified last month to learn that “concealed cameras” had been in the toilets for five years.

A letter from the chairman of governors to the parents said that the discovery had been made during the summer holidays and the new headteacher, Helen Ryan, had disconnected the cameras and informed the council and the police. Police later said there was no criminal case to pursue.

Former headteacher Barrie O’Shea, 67, who had been at the school for 30 years before retiring last summer, said he had wanted to speak to parents but had been repeatedly stopped from doing so by his former school. He has now written a letter to the Tribune explaining his side. 

Parents outside the school

He told the Tribune: “It’s heartbreaking. The fact that I haven’t been able to say anything to parents is the hardest thing, and by saying something I could bring it to an end.

“People feel some things haven’t been answered but I’ve got nothing to hide or be ashamed of.”

He added: “I tried to be honest and forthright and it’s desperately sad not to have had a chance to speak to parents face to face.”

He explained that the cameras – which faced the basins and not the toilets – were installed after a suggestion from the governors to monitor vandalism and bullying in the toilets to offer ­support to children and their families. He said he does not remember exactly when this decision took place or who was the chair of governors at this time.

“We should have informed the parents at the time and should have been more open,” he said.

He said that the cameras “didn’t seem to be a bad thing” at the time of installation and added: “It wasn’t a secret.”

The “administration and members of staff” were aware of the ­cameras and they were not actively hidden from parents, he said.

In a letter this week to the Tribune, he said that “safeguards” had been put into place with footage only accessed if something had happened. He estimated that the footage was only examined once a year and two cases – one involving a child starting a fire in the toilets and another of a door being kicked down – were “resolved” through the system.

He added: “There have been signs in the school in relation to cameras around the building. However it is now clear that since the introduction of GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] in 2018 we should have modified the signage and notified parents. I apologise for our failure to carry this out.”

Mr O’Shea, who is credited for turning the fortunes of the school around during his time as headteacher, said he was on holiday in the United States during the summer when he received a 2am phone call from Islington Police and told that he was being investigated.

A police investigation concluded that there had not been any criminal activity, but an investigation has been launched by the Information Commissioner into a potential breach of data rights.

He said: “If I don’t say something now it will be too late. I want to be absolutely clear on what happened. I was the council’s education personality of the year before I retired. It couldn’t have ended on a nicer note. But this has been a thunderbolt. I think people in Islington know I’m a good person, a community minded person so for anyone at the school to think I could have been anything else has been heartbreaking.”

The new headteacher Helen Ryan refused to comment and the current chair of governors Douglas Cowie did not respond to our email for comment.

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