Jailed for a crime he didn't commit

In 1999, Darryl Gee was arrested on suspicion of raping a pupil. Last month, his conviction was overturned - four years after he died in prison. And he's not the only victim. Ian Herbert reports
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The Independent Online

The framed photographs that adorn the home that Darryl Gee shared with his parents provide a graphic sense of how he lived for music. There is a picture of him at the local music society, at the brass group he attended faithfully every Tuesday, and in the local amateur operatic society's orchestra pit. His parents shared his passion, too. The baton on the sitting-room piano belonged to his father, Ken, musical director for local Gilbert and Sullivan nights. Gee's mother, Molly, arranged the scores and served the teas.

Gee also carved out a career as a peripatetic brass teacher around the schools of Huddersfield and Halifax, west Yorkshire. But his life came crashing down at 7.30am one Wednesday morning in January 1999 when two plain-clothes police officers came knocking at the family's front door. Mrs Gee's encounter with them on the doorstep remains etched on her memory. "We're here to arrest Darryl Gee," they told her.

The family's world was about to change beyond recognition. Gee returned home at dusk that night, tired, pale-faced and released on police bail. "One of my pupils has accused me of raping her during a lesson," he told his mother. "It's ridiculous. They'll soon find they've made a mistake."

He was wrong. Though the allegations against him were uncorroborated and dated back 10 years, he was behind bars within 18 months, convicted of rape and sentenced to an eight-year term. His mother helped to get him an Appeal Court hearing, but there was inadequate new evidence and they lost. Eventually, the Criminal Cases Review Commission picked up the case and began a process that, last month, finally resulted in the guilty verdict being overturned by the Court of Appeal.

But it was four years too late for Gee. He died in Armley Prison, Leeds, in August 2002, from a rare blood cancer. His father passed away seven months later. "It was all too much for the pair of them," says Mrs Gee, 88, now alone with her photographs and memories. "It would have done for most people."

There can be few more graphic illustrations of the dangers to teachers posed bypupils who have an adult awareness of their rights without the sense of responsibility to pursue them honestly. Some make false allegations to "get back" at a teacher who has chided them, according to teachers' unions; others are prompted by a crush that has turned sour; and yet more are in search of attention, indicating problems at school or at home.

The playwright and former secondary school teacher Jimmy McGovern felt strongly enough to devote an episode of his series The Street to the issue. Its prevalence was also revealed in staggering figures released by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers at its recent annual conference. These showed that allegations of physical and sexual assault and abuse against teachers rose from 41 in 1991 to 164 last year, while conviction rates have fallen from 12 per cent (five teachers) in 1991 to 3.6 per cent (seven teachers) in 2004, with no conviction last year. Of the 2,210 accusations in the past 15 years, fewer than four per cent have led to a conviction.

Though the vast majority of cases are without foundation, tragedies like the Soham murders have created a presumption that teachers must be guilty and, at times, a witch-hunt mentality, according to the NASUWT, which has been campaigning since the 1990s to get anonymity before conviction for accused teachers. "After something like Soham, people are going to ask: 'Are we doing everything we can to protect children?'" says Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary. "But that can create a frenzy like the List 99 controversy [over convicted paedophiles being allowed back into schools], where allegations are presented as proof of guilt."

In recent months, Charlie King, a technology teacher and deputy head from Nottingham, was acquitted within 15 minutes by a jury of allegations that he touched girls in a lesson. And Zoë Morgan, of Burnley, Lancashire, wept after she was cleared of seducing a 13-year-old boy who, it emerged in court, had a history of behavioural problems and suspensions and had boasted about sleeping with another teacher.

But the case against Gee, brought by a girl who claimed he had raped her in the school staff room and a classroom, had flaws of different kind. Gee could not deny that he and the pupil had been alone (she was the only member of her class who was learning French horn). But unlocked rooms where anyone could catch an attacker in flagrante delicto were hardly the typical location for a violent attack. No pupil could be found to corroborate the complainant's evidence either, despite the helpline set up by Calderdale council, which feared for 400 other children whom Gee had taught.

And then there are the doubts raised by Mrs Gee's family photos. They show that Gee had a pronounced stoop, a consequence of the fact that he was born with double curvature of the spine. (He had 11 ribs on one side of his body and 13 on the other, with one protruding into his neck.) This affected his balance and made his movement slow. He often wore a leather corset to correct his posture and, when in prison, was moved to a ground floor cell because he couldn't carry his food tray up steps.

It was a piece of background detail that niggled at Geoffrey Bunch, a retired surgeon from Huddersfield who vaguely knew Gee as a member of a hospice carol concert group he ran. How could Darryl, with his ponderous movement, have raped a pupil as she sat in a chair in a classroom?

Dr Bunch began examining claims the complainant had made against another man, John Hudson, who was jailed for 12 years. They were identical to those made against Gee. A psychiatrist who examined the complainant said that her recollection was "implausible". Hudson, whose case was heard by the same trial judge as Gee's, was acquitted last year. Posthumously overturning Gee's conviction, Lady Justice Smith said that the outcome of his trial "might well have been different" had this extra evidence come to light earlier.

Gee falls into the large category of teachers, like Morgan, whose accusers have psychological or behavioural problems. But Dr Bunch also believes that he was the victim of his unusual lifestyle (he had always lived with his parents and never married) as well as his disability. "A jury takes one look at a man who stoops like that and thinks he's shifty," he said.

The NASUWT's campaign for primary legislation guaranteeing anonymity for teachers under suspicion, such as Gee, won a positive response from Charles Clarke when he was Education Secretary. Then, after examining the issue, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) found that in law it would be difficult to isolate anonymity for teachers and social workers from the more contentious issue of anonymity in any rape case.

Instead, the DfES undertook a study of 15 cases that had received a lot of publicity to establish why anonymity had not been preserved. It found that the long delay in bringing the cases to court was a major problem. "The longer the police investigation, the more likely it is to be leaked to local press by irate parents or local councillors," says NASUWT's Keates.

Consequently, a fast-track process has been agreed in a voluntary code covering multi-agency conduct in such cases, to which police, the Home Office and LEAs have signed up. The code, to be reviewed in a year, also contains a commitment to anonymity for accused teachers and a degree of "care and concern" from police officers for the accused, as well as the accuser.

The last undertaking is of most importance to King, whom a jury took 15 minutes to clear in January on charges that he touched a girl at Dayncourt School in Nottingham. "I feel very little bitterness towards the children who brought the allegations but the investigation was heavy-handed and seemed to have no discretion," he says.

"Once the so-called 'allegation' had got nowhere, the focus of the investigation turned on me. No cognisance seems to be taken [in these cases] of the fact that children have very polarised views of adults. There was an unwillingness to challenge anything the girls said, even though there were no witnesses and it was a crowded technology workshop."

King is also indignant about local newspaper coverage of the case. "It doesn't help when you see journalists talking to the police in court," he says. "The prosecution opening had far more space than the defence."

His case also touches on one of the most intense controversies surrounding school abuse cases: the police tactic of "trawling" for allegations of abuse to add to an initial complaint. The flaws of this practice were highlighted in the high-profile case against the football manager David Jones, accused of abusing boys at care homes in the 1970s, which collapsed at Liverpool Crown Court in 2000.

"If I'd burgled someone, the police wouldn't go looking or trawling for other examples," said King. "The girl brought up by the trawling process said she would never have thought of making the accusation if she hadn't been approached."

Mrs Gee is more concerned about how her son could have been convicted with no corroborating evidence. "I still don't understand why that girl said what she did," she says. "Perhaps she was deluded. Teachers shouldn't be found guilty on the basis of one individual's testimony alone."

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