Teachers to sue over false claims

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS DEMANDED new safeguards yesterday to protect the "forgotten army" of thousands of staff whose careers were destroyed by false and malicious allegations of physical and sexual abuse by pupils.

The second largest teaching union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, called for staff accused of abusing pupils to be granted anonymity and said children who made allegations should be suspended immediately and expelled if the claims proved to be malicious.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said nearly 1,000 of his members had faced allegations of abuse over the past eight years, but across the profession the figure could be three times as large. Three quarters of the claims were dismissed out of hand and only a tiny number eventually resulted in a conviction.

But he said many staff cleared of wrongdoing suffered wrecked careers and ruined lives. Few could return to school even after being proved innocent and many never worked again, he said. Three union members had committed suicide after facing allegations.

Delegates at the union's annual conference in Eastbourne unanimously backed a call for reform and detailed a catalogue of cases in which malicious allegations had been made against their colleagues.

Mr de Gruchy said the number of false claims was increasing and called for stern action against pupils who invented stories of abuse by staff.

He said: "I think it's a very serious case which should normally result in expulsion. Rather like physical assault on other kids or teachers, they have to pay the price and that price is expulsion." He criticised Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, for failing to back moves to grant anonymity to accused teachers. Mr de Gruchy said staff should enjoy similar protection to that granted to rape and sexual abuse victims. Teachers accused of abuse should not be named until convicted of a crime, he said.

Steve Luscombe, a delegate from London, said in one case a teacher was accused of touching a 15-year-old boy "in a way which could imply a certain sexual innuendo".

The teacher was cleared after investigation "but the pain, indignity and hurt was there. He said, `I have done all these years in teaching and someone can throw this out at me.' Two terms later he resigned and he is no longer in teaching."

In another case, Mr Luscombe said, a young married junior school teacher suffered a nervous breakdown after being cleared of touching a girl pupil.

Mr Luscombe said: "First day back, the parents waited to collect their children. The hubbub of the parents went silent. Parents withdrew children from school. One said, `My child is not to go swimming with Mr So-and- so.'

"A nervous breakdown followed. He could not face it any more and he threw in his resignation. Financial crisis: he could not pay his mortgage. The family was in turmoil; what a trail of sadness." The teacher and his wife later needed medical treatment for depression, he said.

The Government announced the first 21 of its Sure Start projects yesterday to provide children with a better start in life. The projects, directed at disadvantaged areas, offer parents advice and support on health, education and child development.

The first are expected to start in early summer.