Teacher cleared of attempting to murder pupil with dumb-bell

Jury acquits science master after hearing he was tormented and humiliated by class

A science teacher who bludgeoned an unruly pupil with a 3kg dumb-bell while shouting "die, die, die" was cleared yesterday of trying to murder the boy.

Jurors took less than two hours to acquit Peter Harvey, 50, of attempted murder and grievous bodily harm with intent. The four-day trial at Nottingham Crown Court was told the father of two teenage girls – one of whom has Asperger's syndrome – was a "caring and giving man" who was frequently tormented by pupils before the attack.

After the verdicts, Judge Michael Stokes QC, who had earlier questioned the decision to prosecute the teacher, said "common sense has prevailed". He said Mr Harvey would not be imprisoned or face a suspended jail term when he returns for sentencing on 21 May.

The teacher never denied assaulting 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 at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, last July.

Mr Harvey, who admitted causing grievous bodily harm without intent, told police he felt as if he was watching himself on television as he beat his 14-year-old victim twice about the head. The teenager suffered a fractured skull and spent five days in hospital but has since recovered.

The defendant returned to teaching shortly before the assault after having time off for stress, the court heard. He spent eight months on remand and was given bail just before the trial.

Judge Stokes said: "Common sense has prevailed now we have heard all the evidence. These are not easy cases and it is 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 ... This court is looking to impose a community order which will assist you with the problems you have had."

Mr Harvey's lawyers said he had struggled to help his wife, Samantha, cope with a depressive illness that forced her to quit her own teaching job. He went to school on the day of the attack with the intention of taking his year nine class through a practical experiment on melting ice. The lesson descended into chaos when some pupils goaded Mr Harvey so that a girl who was secretly using a camcorder could record his reactions in a ploy to humiliate him. It was claimed the footage was meant to be passed around the school.

The teacher first kicked the bag of a girl who was playing with the window blinds in the classroom. Rex Tedd QC, for the defence, said Mr Harvey admitted that he should have summoned a senior staff member to help at this point, but continued with the lesson instead.

The 14-year-old boy, who was known for being disruptive in class, then began waving a wooden metre rule and was chased around the room by Mr Harvey, whom he told to "fuck off".

Mr Harvey grabbed the student by the collar, dragged him into a side room and beat him with the dumb-bell, leaving him bleeding and semi-conscious.

In an interview with detectives, Mr Harvey said his memory of the incident was hazy but he thought he had killed the boy. He 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 'fuck off' and when that happened I was not really there.

"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."

Explaining how he saw his reflection in a screen while awaiting questioning at a police station, Mr Harvey added: "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."

Mr Tedd told jurors that by the time of the assault, Mr Harvey was in such a state he could not have intended to kill or seriously harm the pupil.

During the trial, a former pupil who appeared as a character witness described Mr Harvey, who had taught at All Saints' for 16 years, as a talented and enthusiastic teacher. Caroline Frith said he had inspired her to become a history teacher after she left the school in 2004. "He was a very good teacher in every aspect," she added. "He was incredibly charismatic and he commanded the respect of his students."

Chris Keates, leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, said after the hearing: "Any teacher who has been following [this case] will recognise that if you come together with such an explosive combination of events, circumstances like this can actually occur."

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