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EDITIONS
Unions 2000 Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Teacher's tears over false assault claim
Adrian Wells
Adrian Wells: "No-one else should take my pain"
By Gary Eason at the ATL conference in Belfast

A teacher broke down in tears as he told a union conference how a pupil had falsely accused him of assault.

Maths teacher Adrian Wells, 44, from Aberystwyth, mid-Wales, said: "No one else should take my pain. No one else should suffer what I have suffered."


It is far easier to suspend a teacher than it is to suspend a pupil.

Adrian Wells
He received a standing ovation from delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference, in Belfast, after calling for greater safeguards within the child protection system for innocent teachers.

The ATL's general secretary, Peter Smith, said there should be a review of the Children Act 1989 - with its presumption that children are telling the truth - in view of how easy it is for false allegations to be made against teachers.

The union says it is dealing with a rising number of cases - about 90% of which prove to be false.

But those concerned with child welfare are worried at any move that might discourage children from speaking out when they have been attacked.

'Punched'

As Mr Wells began speaking to his resolution calling for greater safeguards, he described the experience of "a colleague". Last October a 12-year-old boy had accused him of having punched him in the forehead.

The boy's parents complained directly to the police.

"It's not the first time nor indeed the last that this pupil has made such an allegation," he said.

The head teacher acted swiftly the next day to get evidence from potential witnesses.

As a result, the teacher was not suspended as might normally be done in such a case to avoid potential tampering with the evidence.

The case had to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, as the law requires.

"Despite being firm in the knowledge that the claim was false, this colleague endured three months of agony, hell, and who knows what more before being told that no further action was being taken," Mr Wells said.

Choking back tears

The boy involved bragged of his actions and continued to act defiantly, openly inciting others to be disruptive.

The situations were perhaps rare, Mr Wells said, but he knew of other cases in the Dyfed area.

He then paused, choking back tears, before revealing: "The more perceptive among you will realise I'm telling my own story."

Another delegate, Sylvia Mason, said everyone believed in the right of children to speak out and to be believed, and she wanted no return to "the bad old days".

But teachers were vulnerable. She knew of one in her area - Gwent - who had been accused by a 14-year-old boy of assault. The allegation was later withdrawn.

"The teacher is a broken man," she said.

Self-worth

Mr Wells said later that he doubted this would be practicable in many cases - and the child had a right to be educated.

"I fervently believe that education has a lot to offer every person and that the least able have got the most to learn from the best teachers," he said.

The case had changed him, however, making him question his own self-worth.

There was also the lingering effect in the minds of others, given the standard phrase from the prosecution service that there was "insufficient evidence to carry the case forward".

His general secretary is worried that the union has seen the number of alleged assaults rise from 70 in 1996 to 120 last year - almost all subsequently shown to be without foundation. Most arise from attempts by teachers to break up fights in schools.

'Most child abuse unreported'

"Nobody wants teachers to have a licence to use children as punchbags or to see a return to the sort of tyrannical bullying which in the last century went on in some schools: the question is whether the pendulum has swung too far," Peter Smith said.

"I think a sensible government would want to look at the Children Act in the context of how we know it to be working, and how easy it is for false allegations to be made."

The head of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mike Taylor, would be worried by such a move.

"Most child abuse goes unreported," he said.

"The danger is that this will discourage children from speaking out and voicing their fears and concerns.

"All accusations of abuse should be taken seriously with a proper, independent investigation."

See also:

11 Nov 99 | UK Education
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