Union issues mental health alert after teacher's attack

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The Independent Online

The danger of ignoring mental health problems was highlighted by a teaching union yesterday after dramatic video footage was released showing the moment that a stressed science master attacked a pupil with a 3kg dumbbell.

The film was made public after Peter Harvey, 50, was cleared of trying to murder a 14-year-old troublemaker at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The boy suffered a fractured skull in the attack.

In the video recorded in the corridor outside Mr Harvey's class, the victim's friends are seen crowding around a storeroom where the teacher, who was frequently tormented and humiliated by pupils, is beating him over the head with the metal weight. Mr Harvey then hurls the dumbbell at another boy trying to intervene before emerging from the room "like a man possessed". He goes back to his class pursued by the school education adviser.

The film was released by the Crown Prosecution Service, although another video of the build-up to the incident, recorded secretly in class by a girl with a camcorder, was withheld. Mr Harvey, a married father of two teenage girls, was described at his trial as a "fundamentally decent man". He never denied assaulting the boy and his case hinged on the argument that, already mentally ill, he was driven to breaking point by his unruly pupils. He had had time off work with depression and struggled to help his wife, Samantha, cope with a depressive illness that cut short her own teaching career.

Mr Harvey eventually returned to All Saints' after therapy but, when he did so, he confided to a colleague that he was worried about his inability to maintain classroom discipline.

Before the attack, he tried to wrestle a Bunsen burner from his victim, who was frequently disruptive. The boy told him to "fuck off", at which point Mr Harvey dragged him into the store room shouting, "I'll teach you to fuck off" before hitting him with the dumbbell and saying: "Die, die, die."

The science teacher was cleared of attempted murder but pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm without intent. He will be sentenced on 21 May. Yesterday, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers circulated research showing that many teachers thought of suicide if they could not cope with stress, burn-out or depression. Too often, it said, its members were afraid of asking for help because of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Chris Keates, the union general-secretary, said: "This hard-hitting report is designed to put the spotlight on the issue of mental health which is often swept under the carpet. The research highlights the need for access to support counselling and specific health intervention in the workplace."

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