'Every teacher's worst nightmare'
TEACHER yesterday won £22,000 for being wrongly sacked over sexual allegations by two girl pupils. Married Iwan Rees, 48, won his case of unfair dismissal over claims by girls aged 12 and 16.In an ordeal dubbed by education experts as “every teacher’s worst nightmare,” father-of-two Mr Rees was fired after two girls claimed he had touched them, despite a police investigation finding there were no grounds for prosecution.The two girls were pupils at the John Beddoes secondary school in Presteigne, Powys.Tribunal chairman John Thomas criticised the investigation into the girls’ allegations by the school and Powys Local Education Authority.He said, “Teachers as well as children are entitled to protection from malicious or irrational complaint against them.”We think the head teacher, John Stocker, should have provided the kind of leadership expected of him in ensuring fair play and should not have taken the back seat he took.”He left the investigation to the LEA officer, someone not familiar with either the pupils or teachers in the school. We think the investigation, regrettably, was flawed.”The Cardiff Employment Tribunal heard there were differences in statements made to police and the LEA investigator by one of the pupils, known as Girl A.Mr Thomas said, “These variations at least required further gentle probing to ensure the differences had been considered.”This was not done and we don’t think the kind of conclusions reached by that investigation could have been well-based.”Mr Thomas also said the notes of interviews conducted by LEA officer Karen Williams did not match the statements produced for the disciplinary hearing.He said, “We don’t know why this is, but it is a fact, and it indicates there was not the methodical, logical approach to the inquiry that this demanded.”There was no lawyer or child specialist present at the LEA strategy meeting to give the kind of advice that would be appropriate. A further concern is that there was no other investigation to seek other teachers’ views of the nature of the children who were providing information.”We find that the hearing was not fair – there was only limited disclosure of the statements to Mr Rees and to the disciplinary panel. The effect of this was that the panel had no opportunity to assess the veracity of the statements put before it against the background of the potential variations.”Mr Thomas concluded the disciplinary panel should have demanded further information before reaching its decision.He said, “The panel were wrong to conclude that no further questioning would have been necessary and to accept simply those matters placed before them. There appears to have been no attempt made by the hearing to deal with the matter in any kind of analytical way.”The second pupil, Girl B, complained about inappropriate behaviour over a period of two years, including an allegation that Mr Rees tried to kiss her.Mr Thomas said, “We don’t think the matter should have advanced to a disciplinary hearing when all one had was a single statement which is not substantiated in any other way.”We find that aspect should have been abandoned.”The tribunal heard Mr Rees was “an individual who is, at times, eccentric” but ruled that was no basis for finding him guilty of misconduct.Mr Thomas said, “We reject any suggestion that blameworthy conduct is to be found here.”Mr Rees, from Presteigne, agreed a £22,000 settlement with Powys County Council.Mr Rees, a teacher for more than 20 years, was represented at the hearing by Jenni Watson, of teachers’ support group Redress.She said, “This is a teacher’s worst nightmare – there are regulations to protect teachers but they weren’t followed.”There has to be accountability – the processes the LEA had were inadequate and weren’t followed anyway. They have no real understanding of the devastation their inability to do what the law requires of them causes.”Gail Saunders, spokesperson for Fact (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers) in Wales, said, “Teachers are in a very vulnerable position on the front line and we would ask all agencies to tread carefully when dealing with allegations because it is very easy to make false allegations.”When an allegation has been made the juggernaut goes into force and it is very difficult to halt it and to look rationally at the situation, especially when the public perception is that child abuse is very common, when in fact it is a very rare occurrence.”But as an organisation we know that these are not exceptional circumstances – we are quite familiar with them, and they destroy people because this is the worst crime to be accused of.”Gethin Lewis, secretary of NUT Cymru, said he welcomed any decision that protects teachers from unfounded malicious allegations.Geraint Davies, of NASUWT Cymru, added that schools have a duty of care to support their staff should they find themselves in this awkward situation.The school was the second independent grammar school to be founded in Wales, established in 1565 by local clothier and woollen manufacturer John Beddoes.According to latest figures from Powys County Council, the school had 563 pupils on its roll in January 2004.