Arrest brings home the reality of child porn

31st January 2003 at 00:00
The first time some people paid attention to the words "Operation Ore", the name of Britain's largest paedophile investigation, was probably when they saw the pictures of an anguished Pete Townshend staring out from their newspapers or television screens.

The songwriter and guitarist is one of the 1,300 people arrested so far in connection with the investigation into internet paedophilia - though, at the time of going to press, he has not been charged with any offence.

More than 7,000 names were passed to British authorities after thousands of credit card details were recovered from a US-based child pornography site.

Among the others arrested are police officers, magistrates, and a classics teacher at a public school.

It's easy to recoil with horror as we read these reports and possibly give a fleeting thought to the implications of the arrests. But then we dismiss it and move on. After all, paedophilia is one of those things that happens to other people, isn't it?

Well, I thought so, until the day, very recently, when it hit home.

All it took was one phone call to shatter any illusions I'd ever had. I could hardly believe what I was hearing: a teacher - from the primary school where I am a governor - arrested for downloading child pornography from the internet. Thoughts and questions spun round my head. What do we tell the parents? Why did he do it? Whatever will the children (primary age) make of it? Will they be able to understand? Can I understand?

How will parents react? How am I reacting? Am I angry, sad, worried, confused, or all of these at once? What will it do to the school's reputation? What will it do to this man's lifecareerstate of mind? Is he guilty? And what if he's not guilty?

He was immediately suspended, of course, and a letter sent to all parents - we received some helpful advice from our local education authority. His name was not disclosed for legal reasons. But parents are an enterprising lot, and one parent firmly declared: "I just asked Jordan which teacher was absent from school, so then I knew who it was who'd done it."

There is no answer to that, but it means the parents now know who the guilty or, rather, innocent-until-proven-guilty, party is. And the teacher wasn't someone researching for a book (as Pete Townshend claims in his defence).

The emotions experienced by everyone involved - staff, governors, parents - went through the same stages: shock and disbelief, followed by the feeling of hurt (we felt let down by someone we trusted and respected as a professional); and, finally, an overwhelming sadness. Sadness for our children, our school and ourselves as colleagues, but also for the teacher himself.

And now there are the practicalities to face: a teacher suspended on full pay (for how long? We don't know, as this situation is, thankfully, new to us); and supply cover to be paid for. To add to our disbelief, the school might have to pay for any counselling the teacher needs. We are also left with a class of confused children.

But there's always a bright side, I suppose. After suffering such a devastating experience, the school's impending Ofsted inspection suddenly seems trivial.

Max Field is a governor of a primary school in the north of England. He writes under a pseudonym

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