Child tsar backs anonymity plea

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Peter Clarke says lives ruined by false allegations. Mike Lewis reports

Teachers who give evidence to inquiries like last year's Clywch investigation into allegations of sexual abuse could in future be given anonymity.

Children's commissioner Peter Clarke wants powers to protect the identity of those appearing at his inquiries. And he told a conference of teacher unions that teachers facing serious allegations of physical or sexual abuse should remain anonymous until criminal charges are laid.

Mr Clarke's comments, at last week's annual meeting of the Standing Conference for Education in Wales (SCEW), in Aberystwyth, were welcomed by teacher representatives.

Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, said: "Teachers in Wales will be heartened by the commissioner's comments because the number of false allegations made against members of our profession is increasing.

"I have dealt with members whose lives, marriages and relationships have been shattered. Some have been suicidal and feel their world has come to an end.

"It is so easy for a child to make false accusations and when the name of the accused appears in the press the consequences can be catastrophic."

Mr Clarke told SCEW delegates that he understood concerns about teachers'

indentities being revealed, and the suffering it could cause, and conceded they had a right to anonymity.

His office is planning talks with the Welsh Assembly government about how the identities of people testifying at future inquiries can be protected.

Teachers named in Clywch had all been offered legal representation after the BBC made a successful submission to use their names under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

"In Clywch, the aim had been to have anonymity," said Mr Clarke. "We are going to try and set up regulations to see if that can be overcome, but it will be hard to achieve."

He added: "I am aware that there has been a lot of suffering on both sides, but I also have to listen to the voices of little children. In tackling this issue we should be setting an example to children by conducting ourselves in a way that they can look up to."

When pressed over the consequences which pupils bringing false allegations could be expected to face, Mr Clarke replied: "While there need to be consequences they need not necessarily be vengeful. That would not help the teacher involved.

"We must find a system that provides justice for children. There can be a number of reasons why they make allegations against a teacher. They do not all have to be malicious."

Allegations which remained on a teacher's record, even in the event of an acquittal, should "only be seen by those eyes meant to see them", he said.

"We need a better system to distinguish between 'not proven' and 'not guilty'."

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