Upskirting was not a criminal offence when seven years ago today (November 30), Sally Rees was called to the principal’s office at Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, where she was told by a police officer that an image of her had been found on USB stick within the school.

It later transpired that these images and videos were taken on a mobile phone that then student Timothy Boomer had put up Mrs. Rees’ skirt, and another teacher was also a victim.

As of Monday (November 27), upskirting, along with downblousing and cyber flashing, is now a criminal offence in Northern Ireland.

 Mrs. Rees breaks her silence to reveal her role in shaping the new law on these new offences, how being a victim of upskirting affected her, and where authorities went wrong in handling her case.

She said what happened still affects her today and “shattered my trust in the world”.

The road to justice was not a simple one. Initially, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) made a decision not to prosecute Boomer when the case was brought to them.

Mrs. Rees and her colleague had to take the PPS to judicial review to overturn an original decision not to prosecute.

She said how the case was handled shows how this type of offending was treated by the judicial system.

“The PPS barrister reviewed the evidence and at that point, they said, ‘There’s a case to answer here’. What became apparent was that the case initially had been submitted to the PPS and the evidence, nobody else had watched the videos.

“They based their evidence solely on the PACE interview of Boomer.”

It took 18 months before Mrs. Rees and the other teacher were allowed to see the videos. She said she broke down on viewing the videos.

“That was the first time that I had seen the extent to which I had been abused, how graphic and how exposed I was, and how prolonged they were – one of the videos was 47 seconds long.

“The extent of the abuse was just horrific. I just felt that I had been misled by all of the authorities.

“When we initially met with the police, they were very vague about it. We were told it wasn’t obscene because it wasn’t pornographic because you couldn’t see our genitalia.

“We were kind of given this view of, ‘I wouldn’t be too worried – you were wearing tights, you had underwear on’,” she added.


Mrs. Rees recalled how people told her: “We didn’t know it was as bad as that”.

Her voice rising, she continued: “You only ever need to know one thing – the one thing that you need to know is somebody, with their phone in their hand, put it up my skirt and filmed me.

“It doesn’t mean if that was once if [the offence] was four seconds, or 47 seconds – that is the grossest invasion of a woman’s privacy and it’s clearly sexually motivated.

“It wasn’t pictures of my elbow or my ankles – it was of my private parts.”

In February, 2019, Timothy Boomer was found guilty of five counts of committing an act of outraging public decency.

Lobbying on upskirting as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland began after his guilty conviction.

Mrs. Rees was supported in this endeavour by representatives from the NASUWT teaching union, including Justin McCamphill and Maxine Murphy-Higgins.

They went to Stormont and met MLAs where they discussed the case and the proposed law.

“I talked about the importance of recognising it [upskirting] as a sexual offence. I talked about the impact and the damage that it had done to me.


“When the new law was being brought in, there was then the debate around an extra clause being put in, because we showed that if with the new law in place, if they tried Boomer under it, he would have got away with it, because he said it wasn’t sexually motivated, and gratification wasn’t the motive for it.

“There is a clause in the law, which isn’t in the other [such] laws in England and Wales, which is around the recklessness.

“So even if you think you didn’t mean to cause harm by your actions, it was reckless for you to do it, and any other person would understand that by behaving in that way, you would cause harm,” she added.

Working with Professor Claire McGlynn, who produced a paper on image-based sexual abuse which informed Northern Ireland’s law change, Mrs. Rees also gave a presentation to the Supreme Court in July, 2019, about her experience.

Now through her role as Senior Vice-President of NASUWT, Mrs. Rees’ lobbying is focused on the workplace.

She said: “It’s important that sexual harassment in the workplace is recognised for what it is.

“Policies in school protect you if there is pupil-to-pupil misconduct, or staff-to-staff, but what was exposed in our case was there’s nothing – policy- and procedure-wise – that protects the member of staff when they’re abused by a pupil because the onus is on the pupil’s rights, and the child protection around the safeguarding of the pupil.

“There’s a lack of understanding about the impact on a member of staff when something like this happens to them.

“There’s a lack of understanding about the trauma that that person might go through.”

She detailed her trauma during this ordeal. Despite his actions, Boomer was not expelled from school, and was later made a prefect of Moving Image Arts.

Detailing the work, she said: “The focus, in terms of the schools, is that they have policies there so that they understand how to deal with it when this [kind of offence] happens, that they have a duty of care to their employees, and not just to the pupils.”

Looking back at the ordeal, she reflected on those who stood by her. “I had the backing and the support of the union. They supported us legally and emotionally throughout the whole process.

“Not everybody is privileged to be in that position. I had the support of my family, and my resilience.”

Why is she speaking out now? Why does she want to identify herself as the victim of this crime?

She said: “I want to reduce the stigma. I want to take my power back. At the end of the day, when Boomer filmed up my skirt, he took something from me, and I lost any control over that, and those acts that he did.

‘Healing thing’

“By fighting and not giving up and doing something that isn’t just for me, but for women and girls, across our society, so that they don’t have to have that experience, that’s the most healing thing.

“[It’s] the most powerful thing, because your healing happens when you actually use what happens to you to help other people.

“I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done to get the law to this point.

“I think one of the biggest and most damaging things when you’ve been a victim of sexual assault is the shame and the silence around that, and I don’t want to be silent any more,” added Mrs. Rees.