The day my life changed - False accusation of assault nearly ended my career

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Assumption of guilt caused lasting damage even though pupil confessed her lie

I was teaching Year 8 French and it was quite a troublesome class. At the end of the lesson I kept one girl back and gave her a bit of a telling off for being disruptive. At first, she was quite confrontational, then she got upset. After class, her friend came along and said to me: "You shouldn't make someone cry," but I thought nothing of it. Even though this girl seemed cheeky, the main thing on my mind was that I had upset someone.

I work in a boarding school and my flat is on the school site. I got a phone call at about 8pm from the head of pastoral care, saying that the girl who had told me not to make her friend cry had accused me of slapping her on the back. She claimed that she had a mark to prove it.

This girl was always causing trouble, but she had an incredibly difficult father. He was always complaining about everything and was totally unreasonable. He phoned the headmaster to say that his daughter had made the allegation. My wife and I run a house for 48 girls and he wanted me removed from my post.

My wife was shocked that this could have happened. The moment that I left the house was strange. I felt as though I had done something wrong. I was in a bit of a daze and suddenly could not remember exactly what happened. I knew that I had seen my accuser and was sure I had not touched her, but I just couldn't quite remember.

It was a very restless night. The problem was that this girl was very troubled. Her father was appalling, and in a way I didn't blame her. I knew I was really fighting against her parents.

The next day I was taken off lessons. The school is very well run and professional so I was quickly interviewed, but then I was isolated and told to stay in my flat while they tried to establish what happened and interviewed everyone who could have seen something.

They started the process at 9am and by lunchtime there was still no outcome. I rang in every so often and became more and more upset as it went on. If someone doesn't tell the truth, the consequences are unthinkable. Two things were going through my mind. First, the shame of it: you don't want to be known as someone who hits children. I was also worried about losing my job.

At about 4pm the deputy head rang to say that the girl had "coughed". I was relieved and glad it was over. But it wasn't as if I could walk with my head held high. I consider myself quite a popular teacher and well-liked among parents, but I thought people were still looking at me just to see how I was reacting.

I went back to lessons the next day as if nothing had happened. There was a lot of support from colleagues in the end, mainly because this girl was known as trouble. She loved any kind of attention and was able to cause an enormous amount at the time.

My accuser was suspended for four days, but she had no understanding that she had done anything wrong. I had to teach her after that. A few months later, her parents emailed me and asked me to sort out special revision for her. There was never any acknowledgement from them to say the whole thing had been a big mistake. This is what really makes me furious.

Teachers are made to feel guilty of a crime the moment any allegation involving physical contact is made. In this case, it was dealt with quite well and I suppose you should investigate every allegation made. But you have got to be so careful as a teacher and not touch anybody. I am now very wary of putting myself in any potentially risky position.

As told to Meabh Ritchie.

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