'Decent man' who beat pupil with dumb-bell is spared jail sentence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A stressed teacher who snapped and beat a 14-year-old boy about the head with a dumbbell was spared a prison sentence yesterday and instead sentenced to a two-year community order.

Peter Harvey, 50, a science teacher at All Saints' Roman Catholic school in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was cleared of attempting to murder the boy but admitted causing grievous bodily harm.

Passing sentence, Judge Michael Stokes QC said: "You are a thoroughly decent man and for 20 years you have been a dedicated and successful school teacher."

He added that the assault had happened as a result of "a number of factors combining together and producing in you a quite disproportionate reaction to misbehaviour, abuse and disobedience by him and some of his classmates.

"In previous years you would have handled this easily and professionally but in July of this year you were far from well," he added. "You were undoubtedly suffering from depression, stress and a lack of confidence."

When the jury cleared Mr Harvey of attempted murder nearly a month ago, the judge described it a "common sense" verdict.

But the teacher still faces a General Teaching Council (GTC) disciplinary hearing, which is expected automatically to disqualify him from teaching in the future.

He also faces an internal disciplinary hearing at his school, which stopped paying his salary from the date of his conviction last month. He is currently seeking an ill-health retirement deal.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The events of a day last year have changed the lives of Mr Harvey, his wife and family for ever.

"His career, a job at which he excelled and which he loved, is in ruins. Despite the fact that he has received sympathetic treatment at the hands of the court, though, his employers are showing no sympathy.

Video: Community order for attack teacher

"It has been clear to all, throughout the court proceedings, that Mr Harvey is unwell and was so at the time of the incident. It is therefore in our view quite unnecessary and inappropriate for the school governors and the local authority to seek to dismiss Mr Harvey, rather than to support an application for ill-health retirement."

The union warned it would consider legal action over his dismissal. "He will end up before the GTC – anybody who has got a criminal record does – and be disqualified from teaching, so it's not as if he can sneak back into the classroom if he gets ill-health early retirement," said Ms Keates.

She added that she would be writing to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the implications of the case. The union wants it to be made easier for teachers suffering from stress-related conditions to seek help without jeopardising their careers.

Mr Harvey, who bludgeoned the boy with the dumbbell shouting "die, die, die", had been off work suffering from depression before the incident. He had told the school's education adviser, Shahrukh Mugaseth, that he was having violent thoughts and feared he would seriously harm someone.

He was allowed to return 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.

The jury accepted his barrister's claims that his pupils had driven him over the edge when the youngster told him to "fuck off". It emerged during the trial that pupils at the school had been trying to irritate him so they could record his reaction on a camcorder.

Mr Harvey's wife, Samantha, had also been diagnosed with severe depression which forced her temporarily to give up work as a teacher. The couple have two children, one of whom suffers from Asperger's syndrome. Former pupils described him as a "charismatic" teacher who cared deeply about his pupils.