Community order for pupil attack teacher

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The Independent Online

A teacher who snapped and attacked a pupil who had been goading him was spared a prison sentence today when he was handed a two-year community order.





Peter Harvey, 50, attacked the 14-year-old schoolboy at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, on July 8 last year after repeatedly being taunted by pupils in his science class.



Last month, a jury at Nottingham Crown Court took just an hour to clear Harvey of attempting to murder the boy or intending to cause him serious injury.



The married father of two, who earlier admitted causing grievous bodily harm without intent, bludgeoned the boy with a 6.6lb (3kg) dumbbell while shouting "Die, die, die".



But the jury accepted his barrister's claims that his pupils had driven him over the edge and he did not know what he was doing when the youngster, now 15 and a known trouble-maker, told him to "F*** off".



It emerged during the four-day trial that pupils at the school were trying to wind up Harvey so his reaction could be caught on a camcorder being used secretly by a girl in the class.



The footage was then to be passed around the school as a way of "humiliating" Harvey.







Passing sentence, Judge Michael Stokes QC said: "On any view this is a tragic case.



"You are a thoroughly decent man and for well over 20 years you have been a dedicated and successful school teacher.



"The incident involving the 14-year-old boy whom you assaulted was brought about, I have no doubt, by a number of factors combining together and producing in you a quite disproportionate reaction to misbehaviour, abuse and rank disobedience by him and some of his classmates.



"In previous years you would have handled this easily and professionally but in July of last year you were far from well.



"You were undoubtedly suffering from depression, stress and a serious lack of confidence."



Harvey did not react to the judge's comments as he stood staring ahead in the dock.



He was supported in the public gallery by members of his family, including his wife, Samantha.







Harvey, described as a "fundamentally decent man", had been teaching for 20 years and was highly regarded by teachers and staff at All Saints' school.



A keen singer, church-goer and a father of two teenage daughters, one of whom has Asperger's Syndrome, he would regularly take part in school plays and once grew a beard so he could perform as Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist.



Former pupils described him as a "charismatic" teacher who cared deeply about his students.



But five years ago cracks started to show in the teacher's personal life.



His wife was diagnosed with severe depression, which forced her to temporarily give up work as a teacher, while Harvey became increasingly unhappy about the behaviour of some pupils.



On one occasion, a boy who could not be disciplined by a colleague was placed in Harvey's class only to assault him, while another unruly yob pushed him into a bush after he stuck up for a female teacher.



In late 2008, Harvey said he was becoming increasingly "snappy" with students, "exploding" at one girl after he caught her chewing gum.



He was signed off in December 2008 after telling the school's education adviser, Shahrukh Mugaseth, that he was having violent thoughts and feared he would seriously harm somebody.



But he was allowed to return in April last year after receiving therapy from a counsellor who told him he was too "gentle and placid" and needed to be better at letting his anger out.



Cruelly, pupils in Harvey's Year 9 science class seem to have latched on to his health problems and targeted him as a result.



In the moments before the attack, one of the boy's classmates, a girl now aged 15, secretly filmed Harvey telling him to put down a wooden metre-long ruler he was using in a mock sword-fight with another pupil.



The girl can also be heard to encourage other pupils to goad Harvey as the class descended into "uproar", with students playing volleyball with scrunched up bits of paper and calling the teacher a "psycho".



One girl even walked up to Harvey and claimed he was having a "mental breakdown".



The taunting was part of a concerted effort to wind up Harvey so his reaction could be caught on camera and the footage passed around the school in order to "humiliate" the teacher.



The final insult, which lit the "blue touch paper", came when the boy told Harvey to "F*** off". The teacher responded: "I'll teach you to 'f*** off"', before, in actions described "like a man possessed", he grabbed the boy by the collar and dragged him out of the classroom.



CCTV footage released by Nottinghamshire Crown Prosecution Service following the trial shows the moments pupils crowded around a storeroom opposite Harvey's class as he hit the pupil twice about the head with the dumbbell.



The clip, shown to jurors, shows the pupils then running for help as Harvey emerges from the room.



In the video, Mr Mugaseth emerges from a neighbouring classroom, where he was observing a lesson, to witness the frantic scenes.



Meanwhile, the youngster, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is lying out of shot, critically injured with a fractured skull. He also lost some hearing in his right ear following the beating.



Had Harvey been convicted of attempted murder, or even grievous bodily harm with intent, he could have faced a life term behind bars.



But from the evidence of witnesses during last month's trial it became apparent that Harvey had lost control when he attacked the boy and could not have intended to harm him.



Judge Michael Stokes QC, the Recorder of Nottingham, even went so far as to urge Stuart Rafferty QC, prosecuting, to drop the charges halfway through the trial.



The judge urged the CPS to accept Harvey's plea of guilty to causing grievous bodily harm without intent, a lesser charge which carries a maximum jail sentence of five years.



After the jury cleared Harvey of the more serious charges, Judge Stokes said "common sense had prevailed".



He told Harvey then he had no intention of sending him to prison as he had already been incarcerated for eight months while awaiting trial.



Following the trial, teaching union leaders said schools should introduce tougher measures to clamp down on the use of mobile technology in lessons.



Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers' union the NASUWT, said schools needed to do more to prevent their abuse in classrooms.



She added: "The incident arose out of an explosive combination of events - a teacher who was in a fragile state of health and a group of pupils who recognised this and decided to exploit it.



"Once again, inappropriate use of mobile technology in the hands of pupils raises its head and was a catalyst for a large part of the behaviour. Pupils were clearly playing to the camera."







The court heard Harvey, who now faces a disciplinary hearing, will not be allowed to work with children again.



His pay stopped in April and his union, the NASUWT, is hoping he will receive a "sympathetic" hearing which will allow him to take retirement on the grounds of ill health.



If not, the union will be seeking "legal redress", general secretary Chris Keates said.



Harvey has not been paid since the end of his trial in April and is currently not entitled to any benefits, she added.



Judge Stokes said the sentence was not a reflection of the seriousness of the assault.



He said: "In ordinary circumstances, anyone treating a child in this way, whatever the provocation, should expect to receive a custodial sentence.



"But the circumstances of this case were truly exceptional and the defendant has served quite a lengthy period in custody in any event."



The judge added: "This was a tragic case where a young boy, no worse and no better than many boys of his age, was badly hurt in circumstances which no one could possibly have predicted. Happily, he has recovered with no serious permanent disability.



"No one should rush to judgment and seek to apportion blame beyond that implicit in the verdict of the jury."