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'Hijab abuse' teacher cleared

Head of science suffers racist hate mail despite being innocent of assault on Muslim pupil. Stephen Lucas reports

The head of a Peterborough school spoke this week of his delight after science teacher Hazel Dick was cleared of religious abuse and assault.

Ms Dick, head of science at Bretton Woods community school, wept when she was found not guilty of religiously aggravated assault against 16-year-old Seleena Sabeel at Peterborough Crown Court.

John Gribble, head of the 850-pupil school, said: "I am delighted for Hazel. She has been a valued colleague of mine for 16 years.

"She has been subjected to a year of hell and broke down in tears when the verdict was announced - it was a huge relief for her. She was overwhelmed."

Ms Dick, 43, has been recuperating at home since her three-day trial ended last Thursday. An earlier trial in January was halted on its second day following a series of legal discussions.

Police are now investigating racist hate mail sent to Ms Dick following allegations by Seleena Sabeel that on March 26 last year the teacher made her neck bleed when she pulled a hijab - Muslim headscarf - from her head.

The teenager, now studying GCSEs at the school, further alleged that Ms Dick said: "You have as much respect for Allah as I have for the sole of my shoe."

Mr Gribble said: "Hazel has had hate mail from some kind of Muslim group saying she should be sacked. The letters were obnoxious and some of them were personally abusive. The police are investigating. That is what happens when people jump to conclusions. The pressure would have been nowhere near as much if she had had anonymity until after the trial."

The school is conducting its own investigation into the allegations and the National Union of Teachers, which has supported Ms Dick throughout her year-long ordeal, wants the pupil to be disciplined.

Alan Williams, regional official, said: "We would expect some action to be taken against the girl. The most important consideration is to enable Hazel to return to her work with the least possible stress."

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "Pupils or parents making such false allegations must face action to deter copycat behaviour from others."

Ms Dick has refused to comment on the case.

Speaking outside the court last week, Kenny Vaughan, her brother, said: "My sister is relieved that this ordeal is over. She had to stay strong to clear her name of the false allegations levelled at her."

Mr Gribble said Ms Dick had been bombarded with cards and flowers from pupils, ex-pupils and colleagues since the end of the trial. "She could open a flower shop," he added.

Restrictions on reporting Seleena Sabeel's name were lifted at the end of the trial. Neither she nor her family was available for comment.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is campaigning for teachers accused by pupils of abuse to be given anonymity until after their cases are heard.

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