Teacher cleared of attempting to murder pupil

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A teacher who snapped and attacked a pupil who had been goading him was cleared of attempted murder and causing grevious bodily harm with intent today.

The jury at Nottingham Crown Court took less than two hours to clear father-of-two Peter Harvey, 50, who had admitted causing grievous bodily harm without intent.

Harvey attacked the 14-year-old boy with a 3kg weight during a lesson at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield last July.

The court heard that he shouted "die, die, die" as he bludgeoned the boy with the weight after the pupil 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.

His lawyer argued he was in such a state when he battered the boy, a known trouble-maker, he could not have possibly intended to kill or seriously harm him.

The judge said he would not send the teacher to jail for grievous bodily harm which he had admitted. Harvey spent eight months on remand awaiting trial before being bailed earlier this month.

Judge Michael Stokes QC said: "Common sense has prevailed now we have heard all the evidence.

"These are not easy cases and it's plainly in the public interest where an event of this nature takes place in a school that the jury representing the public should consider the level of guilt."

Turning to Harvey, the judge added: "I'm not going to send you to prison for this offence. I'm not even going to impose a suspended sentence. That would be wrong given that you have already served a sentence longer than can be lawfully suspended.

"This court is looking to impose a community order which will assist you with the problems that you have had."

Harvey bowed his head as the jury of six men and six women returned its unanimous verdict of not guilty.

He left by a side exit and will return to court to be sentenced for grievous bodily harm on May 21.

After the attack science teacher Harvey, who had just gone back to work after several months off with stress, told police he thought he had killed the boy.

Transcripts of an interview with detectives were read out in court.

Harvey said: "I can't remember it too well but I do recall it was like watching it on television, like it was not actually happening to me.

"I can remember the boy saying 'f*** off' and when that happened I was not really there."

Harvey said: "We went through the door into the prep room and I remember standing over him with this metal weight and I remember hitting him twice.

"Something happened and I'm sure I dropped it. I remember feeling really peaceful."

He added: "The nice guy (education adviser Shahrukh Mugaseth) went with me to the police station and I could see my reflection in the screen.

"It was me but it was horrible me. I wanted to destroy it but I couldn't get my hands up so I headbutted it.

"I just kept seeing the boy's head with me hitting it twice. I kept seeing it all the time and I thought I had killed him."

Harvey said he planned a practical experiment melting ice in the Year 9 lesson on the day of the attack.

He admitted he should have called a senior manager after he became angry and kicked the bag of a 14-year-old girl who was playing with the blinds in the classroom.

The court heard from two former pupils at the school, who described Harvey as a "charismatic" teacher who cared deeply about his students.

Caroline Frith, who left the school in 2004, said she was inspired to become a history teacher by Harvey.

She said: "He was a very good teacher in every aspect. He was incredibly charismatic and he commanded the respect of his students.

"He put a lot of planning into his work and he could get the children involved and enthused about science."

Harvey, who did not go into the witness box during his trial, was also described as a "caring and giving" man who would regularly take part in school plays. On one occasion he grew a beard for the role of Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist.

But he had struggled to help his wife Samantha cope with depression after she had to give up her job as a teacher because of her illness.

The couple have two teenage daughters, one of whom has Asperger's Syndrome.

Nick Harding, a magistrate and friend of Harvey's for 20 years, said he was an "extraordinary" teacher.

He said: "Peter was devoted to the job and about his subject. Peter is a very caring, loving and giving man. I have never seen him be anything but that."

Stuart Rafferty QC, prosecuting, had described the case as a tragedy but told the jurors they should not acquit Harvey because they had sympathy for him.

The court was told that shortly before he was signed off sick with depression and stress in December 2008, he had become "snappy" with pupils. On one occasion he "exploded" after he caught a girl chewing gum.

He told police he had become afraid of crowds and said he once felt like "gouging" out the eyes of someone who was staring at him.

Harvey said that after he was signed off he was referred to a counsellor who said he was "too placid and gentle" and "needed to let it all out".

He said that despite his violent thoughts, he was told by his counsellor there were "several steps to go" from having the thoughts to actually acting on them.

In April 2009, he told his doctor and therapist he felt more positive and was he allowed to go on a "phased return" to his school.

But the day before the attack he told a colleague he had become frustrated at his inability to control his students

His colleague David Hopwood said: "The day before the incident took place, I can remember having a conversation with him when he said he was finding it odd because, for the first time in 20 years, he was finding it difficult to keep the same order in the classroom because it had always been excellent."

Mr Hopwood, a teacher at the school for five years, agreed with Rex Tedd QC, defending, that once a teacher lost control of a class it could prove difficult to regain order as pupils would "take advantage" of a tutor they could wind up.

He said Harvey had been assaulted once by a pupil, while he knew other teachers had been attacked at the 1,000-student school, which had a good reputation in the town and for which there was competition for places.

The court also heard from Shahrukh Mugaseth, who had been brought back from retirement to act as an education adviser at the school in October 2008. He had been observing Mr Hopwood's lesson in a classroom next to Harvey's at the time of the attack.

He was also the teacher who told Harvey to go home and seek medical help after he said he was suffering from stress and depression in December 2008.

But he said he was not involved in the decision to allow Harvey to return to work.

Describing the moments immediately after Harvey attacked the boy, Mr Mugaseth said: "When I saw him, his eyes were closed very tight, his fists were clenched and I can only describe it as though he was in a state of trauma.

"He was speaking, not to anyone in particular, and he was saying 'die'. He repeated it about half a dozen times. It was as if no-one else was with him, as if he was speaking to himself."

Mr Mugaseth said he escorted Harvey, whose forearms and trousers were covered in blood, to the headteacher's office.

He added: "He was making a low-level howling noise. He said 'I killed the boy, I killed the boy. This is not me, this is not me."'

The court also heard that the boy Harvey attacked was the "leading light" in trouble in his classroom.

He had been in trouble for disrupting classes nine times before he was attacked, suffering a fractured skull.

The court heard that the last thing the boy remembered was swearing at Harvey, who replied: "I'll teach you to f*** off."

Chief Inspector Paul Winter, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "This was an extremely complicated investigation.

"Given the circumstances surrounding the incident and the number of children involved, it also needed to be managed in a highly sensitive way by officers with specialist skills.

"Throughout the inquiry, we have supported the family and the boy concerned and have also worked closely with both the school and the local education authority (Nottinghamshire County Council).

"Through careful and painstaking inquiries, we gathered all evidence that was available to us and following detailed consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service a decision was taken to bring the case to court.

"We acknowledge the decision of the jury and hope that today's verdict will bring some degree of closure to all those involved and allow them to move on with their lives."

Judge questioned decision to prosecute

Trial judge Michael Stokes QC expressed concern about the prosecution of Peter Harvey, it can be revealed today.

Harvey never denied he attacked the boy and his case hinged on the argument that, already mentally ill, he was driven to breaking point by an unruly class of badly behaved pupils.

His lawyers claimed he was not in a fit state of mind to know what he was doing and pupils who witnessed the attack supported this version of events.

One 14-year-old girl said she told the science teacher she thought he was having a mental breakdown shortly before the attack, while another boy, now 15, described Harvey as a man "possessed".

But despite the evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to pursue a trial against Harvey costing tens of thousands of pounds.

Following the conclusion of the prosecution's evidence on Wednesday, Rex Tedd QC, defending, applied for the attempted murder charge to be thrown out.

In an exchange with prosecutor Stuart Rafferty QC, which could not be reported at the time for legal reasons, Judge Stokes said: "In most cases of this nature one expects the Crown to make a sensible decision.

"Isn't there a risk for the Crown that if you invite the jury to conclude this man intended to commit the crime of murder, you run the risk that (they find) he had no intent at all?"

Mr Rafferty replied: "If that happens, that is something the Crown will have to live with. We have taken the stance we have. If it rebounds on the Crown, we cannot complain."

The judge replied: "But others might."

Making his ruling, the judge added: "Many will be surprised from the evidence we have heard that the Crown should still pursue this case against a man of previous good character.

"Given the considerable amount of evidence we have heard from witnesses, Mr Harvey was in such a state of mind that many might conclude that he was 'not really with it' to use the expression used by one witness.

"Despite the submissions of Mr Tedd and my inclination, my strong inclination, to the contrary, the Crown has decided to persist with its action.

"There is strong evidence to suggest that the way Mr Harvey was acting at the time, he did not appreciate what he was doing.

"It does seem to me that by continuing with this case the Crown may discover their attitude rebounds on them."

The stakes were not only high for the prosecution but also for Harvey.

Attempted murder and grievous bodily harm with intent both carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.

But the charge Harvey admitted, that of grievous bodily harm without intent, only carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Following his acquittal, Judge Stokes told Harvey he would not impose a custodial sentence and would instead impose a community order.

Speaking at a press conference after the hearing, Chris Keates from teachers' union NASUWT said: "I think any teacher who's been following the events of this week will recognise that if you come together with such an explosive combination of events, that circumstances like this can actually occur.

Mr Keates added that he knew Mr Harvey and the NASUWT, were both "extremely concerned that actually lessons are learned from what's happened from these very difficult and tragic circumstances".

Rob Skelton, service director at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: "This was a very difficult case but it was highly unusual. Schools are normally very safe places. What occurred was out of the ordinary and totally unexpected, particularly in this school which enjoys a good reputation locally.

"The court heard that Mr Harvey had received support from health professionals and the local authority while he was unwell. His return to work was agreed with health professionals, the local authority, the school and Mr Harvey himself.

"The governing body of All Saints School will now deal with his employment issues under their own internal procedures."