Headmaster is cleared of sexual harassment

VICKY WARD

Parents of pupils at Dulwich College, one of Britain's oldest and most respected independent schools, were yesterday receiving the news that headmaster Anthony Verity, 56, had been cleared of wrongdoing following the allegations of sexual harassment which have been dogging him since June, and which provoked his suspension from the school in September.

However, he will have to wait until the Board of Governors convenes on Thursday to discover if he is to be reinstated in the pounds 100,000-a-year position he has held since 1986.

The board's chairman, Sir Colin Coles, would only comment at the weekend: "The governors each have their own views, but he is certainly a headmaster of high repute."

Controversy has surrounded the board's actions ever since it waited until just a few days before the start of the autumn term to notify parents in a terse note that Mr Verity had been temporarily removed from his post, "pending further investigations of certain matters".

It was left to the combined efforts of alarmed parents and the media to try to weed out what had actually happened. It emerged that Mr Verity's secretary, Anne Ridley, 36, had claimed in April that he had sexually harassed her on a recruitment trip to Thailand the previous November. The governing body had run an internal enquiry on the matter at the start of the summer holidays, but had still not reached any conclusive findings by September.

Many parents who approved of and respected Mr Verity on account of the excellent academic results he was achieving at the school were appalled at the delay. Two parents, Sue Macdiarmid and Deborah Roslund, objected so strongly to what they deemed to be the board's mismanagement of the matter that they sent out a circular to the 1,400 parents who pay fees of up to pounds 6,000 a year for day pupils and double that for boarders.

It urged the parents either to write to Sir Colin or countersign their letter of criticism and send it to him. Their chief complaints were the length of time it seemed to be taking the board to come to any conclusion and the inappropriate language of Sir Colin's eventual letter to parents. Lastly, it urged that Mr Verity should be reinstated in his post until the inquiry was completed.

Robert Alexander, clerk to the governors, was not available yesterday to comment on the response the letter had, but one parent said that more than 150 others had written their own letters and that many more had countersigned that written by Mrs Macdiarmid.

Mrs Ridley, a staunch Catholic, who is married to a building surveyor and who has two children attending Alleyns, a nearby independent school that is affiliated to Dulwich College, has felt ostracised. "She has been unable to go back to school this term because of hostile comments from colleagues," a friend said yesterday. Mrs Ridley herself was not prepared to comment.

Public response to the news, reported in the Sunday press, that Mr Verity's name had been cleared, however, was cautious. "I am delighted," said one parent "but I do not want to come out into the open and say what I really feel about the board's handling of this because they haven't yet decided to reappoint him. I am frightened it might harry them into making the wrong decision on Thursday."

Some parents still fear that the media attention the case has provoked will persuade the governors to find a pay-off settlement for Mr Verity, and his wife, Patricia, a French teacher at the school, who has been on leave since her husband's suspension.

Yesterday, one member of the board, Dermot Engelfield, would only say that an agenda for Thursday's meeting had not yet been finalised.

Mr Verity, who is still addressed by even senior colleagues as "the master", is clearly optimistic that he will get his job back. "All the way through, the one thing I have been most concerned about is the school," he was reported as saying on Saturday. I do not feel adversarial about this in relation to my governors. They are doing their job. But everybody is now hoping that things return to normality as soon as possible. I love my job."

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