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Sex case rise sparks 'don't work alone' call

MP urges teachers to protect themselves from pupils' malicious claims. Martin Farrell reports.

Teachers have been warned not to teach "vulnerable" children alone because of increasing fears over malicious sex abuse allegations.

An influential MP cautioned teachers to protect themselves against the risk of ex-pupils making false allegations to secure compensation. Claire Curtis-Thomas, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on abuse investigations, said there needed to be a major change in the way child sex abuse investigations were handled.

Her comments follow a union poll which reveals allegations have been made against 1,742 teachers in the past decade - but just 69 have been convicted.

Mrs Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby, said: "I am immensely concerned that there are several sections of the working population exposed to false allegations." She said her advice to professionals would be to "just stay away" because the risk was now so great that children would make allegations against them 20 or 30 years on.

"I would not encourage anyone to work with disturbed and vulnerable children where they would find themselves in a one-to-one situation. I know these children deserve an education, but until there is reform, I would strongly counsel anyone against it."

Mrs Curtis-Thomas is speaking at a national conference about false allegations. The United Campaign Against False Allegations of Abuse, a collection of organisations lobbying for reform of the way accusations against public-sector staff are handled, holds its third annual conference in London next week.

Campaigners will renew calls for anonymity for anyone accused of a sex attack before they are found guilty. And they will demand changes to the law governing the way police interview people making allegations.

Two of the campaign's leaders Former teachers Rory O'Brien and Mike Lawson spoke this week of their ordeals after being wrongly accused of abusing former pupils. Mr Lawson spent almost three years in jail and Mr O'Brien served six weeks before their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Mrs Curtis-Thomas said it was becoming so difficult to clear a teacher's name, people should not take up jobs where they are expected to work one-to-one with vulnerable youngsters, including young offenders units.

Her comments angered the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Chris Keates, NASUWT deputy general secretary, said: "It would be wrong to start talking about refusing to teach certain children, there is a much more straight-forward solution.

"There should be anonymity for people accused. Our biggest problems are that names are released to the media before there is any proof of guilt.

This has led to people losing their jobs, their health suffers and family life becomes intolerable."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, echoed the NASUWT concerns, adding: "Any pupil still at school who makes a false accusation should be permanently excluded."

The Department for Education and Skills refused to be drawn on Mrs Curtis-Thomas's comments, but said all schools should have rigorous procedures for handling abuse claims.

A spokesman rejected calls for anonymity and said: "Press freedom to report cases is an essential part of the criminal justice system and can encourage victims and witnesses to come forward."

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