Change in law on abuse urged after suicide
Friends of a head teacher who killed himself after being accused of abusing an eight-year-old boy made an emotional appeal yesterday for names to be withheld in future until a guilty verdict. The growing number of allegations against teachers made the change imperative because the vast majority turned out to be unfounded and malicious. Although the police sought to justify the practice on the grounds that it encouraged other victims to come forward, it was unfair for innocent people to suffer.The annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers listened in silence as Dave Kitching described his last meeting with Alastair Wilbee, an Isle of Wight head, who had denied sexually assaulting the boy during a residential school trip. He described how Mr Wilbee, 47, married with two teenage children, protested his innocence but could not cope with the stigma.”He told me of his very real fears that even if he were proved to be innocent, which he proclaimed at all times, how could he ever return to work,” Mr Kitching said. “He felt his professional life was over, whatever the outcome.”Eleven days after the meeting, Mr Wilbee vanished from home and hanged himself from a tree. Two weeks ago John Matthews, the Isle of Wight coroner, recorded a verdict of suicide and criticised the system of publicising the names of accused people.Gail Whiting, Mr Wilbee’s widow, told the coroner that her husband had comforted the boy during the trip and that had been misconstrued. Mr Kitching, the head of Shanklin primary school, Isle of Wight, said his colleague had fallen apart after he learned of the accusation last May and was sent home without any member of his family or professional colleague being alerted.”That afternoon he attempted self harm,” Mr Kitching said. “His wife, unaware of the accusation, thought he was working late until she was contacted by the hospital at 8pm.” Mr Wilbee was formally suspended from Somerfields primary on May 9 and went into a deep depression, again attempting to harm himself.”The education authority acted quickly to safeguard the school but left Alastair out on a limb, isolated,” Mr Kitching said. “He was refused all access to the school and his colleagues were advised to have no contact with him. He became isolated and remained within his home for long periods.”He had remained in limbo until Aug 21 when he was charged and attended a court hearing at which he indicated that he would plead not guilty. He disappeared the day before the local newspaper was to print a report of the court appearance and his body was found by walkers two months later.Mr Kitching said: “As professionals working with children we deserve the trust of the community that we serve. We deserve the right to anonymity when an allegation is made until such time that we are proven guilty.”The union voted unanimously to campaign for the identity of teachers accused of abuse to be protected unless and until they are proved guilty. It has written to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, demanding a change in the law….