The following article illustrates what it is becoming apparent: teachers are taking the lead in the fight to uphold the rights of the presumed innocent and the falsely accused. Teachers who are falsely accused are finding their lives in shambles. Some contemplate suicide. There needs to be a balance that takes allegations of sexual assault seriously but that doesn't allow a presumed innocent teacher's life to be destroyed while the investigation proceeds. He should retain his anonymity throughout the process, and the investigation needs to be conducted with all deliberate speed. If an allegation is proven false, then the teacher needs to be restored to his former responsibilities, and the student needs to be punished or removed to allow her or him to get the help she or he needs.
Teachers fear the lasting mark of sex abuse allegations
As a Welsh teacher is acquitted of abusing young boys in his care, Lisa Jones and Moira Sharkey examine where the line between protecting children and protecting their teachers really falls
THE acquittal of a teacher accused of sexually assaulting pupils has sparked fresh calls for anonymity of defendants in future cases.
FACT, an organisation set up to help teachers and carers who are falsely accused of sex crimes against children, has called for action in the wake of the case of Nicholas Lewis, 36, acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault at Cardiff Crown Court.
Mr Lewis is now intent on returning to work after he was suspended for nine months while allegations made by six pupils were investigated.
A jury of seven women and five men found him not guilty of 11 charges and Judge Roderick Denyer QC directed not guilty verdicts on two further charges.
Speaking of his relief after the trial, Mr Lewis said he was relieved that the nightmare is now behind him.
Teaching unions were united in their call for anonymity for their members involved in such cases, to afford them the best opportunity to rebuild their careers and lives.
Reacting to the case yesterday, they said a balance must be struck between children being unafraid to make a complaint against a teacher and the teacher’s right to anonymity.
David Evans, General Secretary of teaching union NUT Cymru, said confidentiality was an issue in these types of cases.
“We need to ensure that people are protected as much as possible,” said Mr Evans . . . . “There should be measures to protect teachers from allegations.
“In this country, there’s a presumption of innocence. Too often, schools and local authorities move to suspend an individual when they face an allegation.
“A quick and speedy investigation is needed when an allegation is made. If they are allowed to drag on too long, then you get further difficulties.”
Mr Evans called for cases to be looked at again if false allegations had been made.
“When the allegations are proved to be false, you would expect there to be a review as to where that allegation came about,” he said.
“But we need internal procedures so that we can mitigate against it having a lasting effect on a teacher.
“We try and work with the schools and authorities to make sure there is a way back. We try and minimise the effect on a person’s career.
“People’s perceptions are that there’s no smoke without fire, when the vast majority of allegations are proved to be false. There is a very high percentage of teachers that are completely exonerated.
“There has to be damage initially. There are stress and anxiety issues that need to be looked at and what can be done to mitigate the effects of this.”
Speaking out after his ordeal, one teacher from South Wales who was falsely accused of abusing his pupils, said the case almost drove him to suicide.
The father-of-two had been accused of hitting a pupil and two other classmates gave evidence to support the lie. He said teachers now lived in fear of allegations and that pupils now held this power over them. And once these allegations are made, he believes it is almost impossible to get on with the job.
He said: “I am innocent but people believe there is no smoke without fire and, with the way the school reacted, my reputation is ruined.”
A spokeswoman for FACT said it had around 100 calls a year from people accused of sexually assaulting pupils.
She said that the situation Mr Lewis had been placed in was “grossly unfair”.
“People working with children are increasingly having to fend off allegations which ultimately prove to be unsubstantiated,” she said. “There’s no question that it’s a growing problem for teachers.”
Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, said there has been a growing number of investigations in recent years which had ruined teachers’ lives because of the stress.
He warned that in some cases there has been evidence of malicious allegations and even collusion among pupils to bring false allegations against teachers. But he added that such cases remained a tiny minority.
“Child protection is paramount,” said Dr Dixon.
“Children are and must remain at the centre of the education system, but teachers too must be looked after. Some of our members feel that the balance has tipped and that teachers are no longer innocent until they are proved guilty.
“We need to strike a balance. There will be occasions when malicious allegations are made and there will be times when teachers are bang to rights. In any case, the key is to ensure a process is followed and that a teacher who is acquitted can get on with rebuilding their lives and their career.”
But while teachers’ leaders are keen to see their members protected, others warn that it must not come at the expense of making it more difficult for children to report genuine cases of abuse.
Simon Jones, NSPCC Cymru/Wales policy and public affairs manger, said it was paramount that children always felt able to speak out. “Children spend the majority of their time in school and teachers have a unique position of trust and a responsibility to protect them,” he said.
He warned that even when a child made a false allegation, there could be underlying reasons why they had done so.
“Any allegation that is made should be taken seriously and investigated appropriately.
“If it is found that a child has made a false allegation, it is important to assess whether there are other hidden concerns.
“This could be a cry for help or there could be problems elsewhere in the child’s life. It is important to build trust between parents, children and teachers, not barriers. Children must feel able and confident to speak out.”
Gareth Jones, secretary of teaching union ASCL Cymru, said changes to the way that investigations were carried out and the introduction of independent investigations had helped improve the system in Wales, but it had still some way to go.
“There will always be the risk that some youngsters will make false allegations, but after the initial problems with the new independent investigation service teachers are reporting that the process appears to be honest and fair and that is providing some reassurance to staff.
“These cases are incredible difficult and can have some impact on a teacher’s life.
“Once any allegation is made, a teacher is suspended and will remain so for several weeks or months, depending on how far the investigation progresses.
“It is a difficult balancing act, as we have to listen to children. We have to have meaningful child protection. I think we are getting there and progress has been made, but there is always room for improvement.”