Coroner adds voice to anonymity call

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Inquest hears that head hanged himself after facing child sex charges. Stephen Lucas reports

The suicide of a headteacher charged with indecently assaulting a boy has prompted a coroner to call for the accused to retain their anonymity in such cases.

Isle of Wight coroner John Matthews said the distress caused by the allegation against Alastair Wilbee led him to commit suicide.

Mr Wilbee, 47, was suspended from Summerfields primary school in Newport on May 6, 2003, after he was accused of indecently assaulting a boy under 14 during a residential course.

On the same day, the father of two drove to a field and tried to take his own life by attaching a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car and feeding it through one of the windows. However, the owner of the field spotted the vehicle and Mr Wilbee was taken to hospital.

Three days later Mr Wilbee disappeared from his Shanklin home but was returned by police.

On August 13 he was charged and eight days later appeared in court for a preliminary hearing. On August 28, the day before a local newspaper was due to publish the allegations, Mr Wilbee vanished from home.

Speaking at the inquest Gail Whiting, his widow, said: "He was totally devastated. His world had collapsed. He became very anxious and felt he couldn't go on teaching and obviously that his standing in the community would be drastically changed."

Local resident Lance Hopwell discovered Mr Wilbee's body three months later hanging by a rope from a tree at Cowleaze, close to Mr Wilbee's home.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has been campaigning for anonymity for teachers accused of abuse for four years.

Speaking at the NASUWT conference in Llandudno last week, Education Secretary Charles Clarke said he would look seriously at the issue, though he stopped short of promising legal change.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "It helps when people in Mr Matthews' position call for anonymity. In the last eight years three of our members have committed suicide because of this kind of thing.

That is what prompted us to start our campaign.

"Mr Wilbee's case illustrates graphically the devastation allegations cause to individuals and their families. We are fully in favour of allegations being investigated, but away from the glare of publicity."

Gavin Rogers, Summerfields' chair of governors, said: "The school is naturally saddened by the death of our former headteacher. However, staff, children and the parent community wish to move on. While none of us will forget the events of last year, the school is rightly focusing on the most important task of educating our children."

Conferences 16

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