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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 15:26 GMT
Teacher cleared of scarf 'attack'
Hazel Dick
Hazel Dick was cleared of forcibly removing the pupil's headscarf
A teacher accused of religiously abusing and assaulting a Muslim pupil has been found not guilty.

Hazel Dick, 43, denied forcibly removing 15-year-old Seleena Sabeel's headscarf during an argument.

The court heard Ms Dick, the head of science at Bretton Woods Community School in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, had a 16-year unblemished record.

Peterborough Crown Court was told the girl had a record of poor behaviour including violence and abuse.

The jury took 45 minutes to clear Ms Dick, who lives in the Gunthorpe area of Peterborough, of carrying out religiously aggravated assault at the school last March.

'Told to change scarf'

The court had heard claims that Dick called Islam a "joke" during an incident in March 2003 after the girl was told to change her hijab scarf because it was not correct school uniform.

The prosecution alleged that Dick became annoyed and pulled the scarf from the girl's neck, causing a 2cm (1in) pin scratch.

Ms Dick told the court she merely helped the girl remove the hijab so that her head was not exposed in public for any length of time.

But the scarf had been totally unfastened and "slipped" off the girl's head with ease, she said.

'Good wishes of court'

She admitted accusing the now 16-year-old of having little respect for Islam after the girl exposed her head while changing the hijab in full view of two boys in the school corridor.

Discharging the science head on Thursday, Judge Nicholas Coleman said: "I hope, Ms Dick, that you can resume your career as soon as possible and put this behind you.

"You go with the good wishes of the court."

Ms Dick, who sat sobbing in the dock, replied: "Thank you very much."

After the hearing Ms Dick said she was relieved and planned a big celebration.

'Relief is deserved'

The head of Bretton Woods Community School, John Gribble, said he was absolutely delighted with the verdict for Ms Dick.

"She has been through a year-long trial and her relief is deserved," he said.

He said the teacher had never been suspended from the school and had continued to serve her pupils with great dignity and resilience.

Mr Gribble said Seleena would be allowed to continue at school while an internal investigation was carried out into her false claims of assault.

"She remains a student at the school. She is working for GCSEs and we would wish her to succeed in that."

After the verdict Judge Coleman removed a court order which had banned the naming of Ms Dick's accuser.

Vindicated

Hazel Dick was supported by her union the NUT. Doug McAvoy, NUT General Secretary, said: "Hazel Dick is another in a long list of teachers who have been subjected to malicious and unfounded allegations of assault.

"Throughout, she has insisted on her innocence and has now been vindicated.

"But she has had to endure the traumatic experience of being accused of totally unacceptable behaviour of a racist nature as well as the indignity of facing a criminal charge."

The other main teaching union, the NASUWT, is campaigning for anonymity for teachers facing allegations from pupils.

Chris Keates, its deputy general secretary, said: "This teacher's reputation has been unjustly impugned.

"The public exposure and comment could have been avoided without prejudice to either the investigation or the outcome of the legal process if the teacher had been granted anonymity."


SEE ALSO:
Scarf row teacher denies 'slur'
10 Mar 04  |  Cambridgeshire
Scarf trial teacher 'outstanding'
09 Mar 04  |  Cambridgeshire
Girl accused of lies over assault
08 Mar 04  |  Cambridgeshire


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