Falsely accused head wins pound;271,000

15th November 2002 at 00:00
A call to ChildLine, now thought to be malicious, led to a three-and-a-half year ordeal as John Kirk spent pound;60,000 trying to clear his name. Philippa White reports

A FORMER headteacher has spent pound;60,000 of his own money to clear his name after false allegations of inappropriate conduct were made against him.

John Kirk, 55, now working for Grimsby Town Football Club's website, is in line for a pound;271,000 pay-out from governors at Old Leake primary and nursery school near Boston.

He hopes the latest ruling from the Employment Appeals Tribunal means his three-and-a-half-year ordeal is over - but says cash cannot compensate for losing a career.

"Even though I was never even charged, it never went to court and my case has been upheld by both the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeals Tribunal, there is no way to prove yourself innocent," he said. "They will never employ me in education again and that's a total injustice."

Mr Kirk was arrested in July 1999 after allegations were made to ChildLine. He was suspended from Old Leake where he had been headteacher for five-and-a-half years.

Although no charges were brought by police, he was dismissed by governors in February 2000 after a disciplinary hearing. Governors agreed he had done nothing wrong but said he had not upheld school policies and procedures on how staff should relate to pupils.

Mr Kirk took the governors to an employment tribunal and was awarded pound;242,620 in May 2001 for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. The tribunal ruled that Mr Kirk was a "highly successful and respected head" with a "glowing Ofsted" behind him.

It said the accusations were probably malicious and referred to a Lincolnshire social services "witch hunt" placing "wholly improper" pressure on governors. Governors were accused of abdicating their responsibility.

Sex discrimination occurred, said the tribunal, because Mr Kirk had been treated less favourably than a woman headteacher would have been in the same situation.

The governors' appeal against the decision was rejected by the Employment Appeals Tribunal last month. The delay means Mr Kirk is now owed an extra pound;30,000 in interest. Legal fees have already cost him pound;60,000. Chair of governors John Gresham said he was disappointed and was considering whether to appeal again.

Steve Jackson, public relations manager for Lincolnshire County Council, said the council was likely to pay most of the settlement, although Old Leake was a foundation school. "We recognise that the school will not be able to foot the bill without substantially taking money from their own budget which would have a detrimental effect on the pupils," he said.

Mr Kirk, a father-of-two who lives in Horsington with his headteacher wife, had taught for 30 years and been a headteacher for 16.

"I can't say that I or my wife have slept properly for the last three and a half years," he said. "You feel as if you are constantly being watched - it just invades your whole life."

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