Nuisance-text deputy cleared

26th May 2006 at 01:00
A deputy head accused of harassing female members of staff broke down in tears when he was cleared of unacceptable professional conduct.

Philip Searson, who taught at William Lilley infant and nursery school in Stapleford, Nottingham, was charged with bullying and harassing his colleagues.

England's General Teaching Council heard how he had sent flirty and informal text messages to teachers Helen Fores and Julie Hemsley. He often sent up to 12 texts a day.

He referred to himself in some texts as "your favourite deputy" and "uncle Philip" and to the teachers as "you naughty girl" and "you little tease".

But Mr Searson, who was sacked from the school in March 2004, said he never intended any of his text messages to be "over familiar" and they did not constitute harassment.

The disciplinary hearing in Birmingham last week heard that he was the only male teacher at the school and accepted as "one of the girls".

"The school had a soft, cuddly feel," he said. "The boundaries were not clear and I lowered mine in accordance."

Ms Fores told the disciplinary hearing that Mr Searson got her mobile telephone number from her job application form. He was her NQT mentor.

She said Mr Searson would send her text messages late in the evenings and at weekends. He also sent her a text while she was on holiday in Prague with her boyfriend.

"It was a very difficult situation for me," she said. "He was in a position of authority over me. I was at a new school and tried to maintain the best relationship."

Ms Fores told the committee she initially wondered whether Mr Searson was gay so did not feel sexually threatened.

Ms Hemsley said that at first she saw Mr Searson as a friend and a colleague but he became a nuisance and made life difficult for her professionally.

"I saw a very different side to him. I changed my view of the relationship with him."

Mr Searson told the hearing that he became extremely emotional and anxious when the allegations were made in March 2004 and was diagnosed with depression.

"Allegations from a close platonic friend caused me so much grief I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown," he said.

Mr Searson received counselling after the allegations and admitted to intruding into the private lives and personal time of his accusers but denied harassment and bullying.

Elaine Gosswell-Cross, his representative, said: "His behaviour was initially condoned and it was not communicated to him that the situation had changed.

"The complaints had a profound effect on him and he bitterly regrets the situation that arose."

Mr Searson is now working at Snape Wood primary in Nottingham. Jackie Holden, headteacher, said: "He is an extremely valued member of my team."


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