Ordeal by pupil claims

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Teacher cleared of wrongdoing calls for major changes to school disciplinary procedures. David Hughes reports

A teacher wrongly sacked over allegations by two girl pupils has called for the overhaul of the disciplinary procedure that put him through a three-year "nightmare".

Iwan Rees, 48, was this week awarded pound;22,000 compensation after winning his unfair dismissal case over the claims.

Mr Rees was fired after 20 years in teaching after two girls claimed he had touched them - despite a police investigation finding there were no grounds to prosecute.

He was dismissed from his post as a Welsh teacher at John Beddoes school, Presteigne, Powys, in 2002. But a Cardiff employment tribunal said Powys council's investigation and disciplinary procedure was "flawed".

After the hearing Mr Rees, a married father of two, described the time since the allegations were made as "hell".

He said: "Changes must be instigated within the LEA to make sure that no other teacher has to go through the hell that myself and my family have gone through.

"The past three years have been a nightmare. There needs to be a major change in the way the school and LEA approach things - there needs to be accountability."

Mr Rees, who taught Welsh at John Beddoes, now hopes to resume his career.

He was represented at the hearing by Jenni Watson, of teachers' support group Redress.

She said: "This is a teacher's worst nightmare. There are regulations to protect teachers but they weren't followed.

"There has to be accountability. The processes the LEA had were inadequate and weren't followed anyway. Investigations and hearings have to be even-handed. It's staggering that they were not."

A spokesperson for Powys county council said the LEA and governing body had a duty to investigate serious complaints made by children.

But the authority accepted the tribunal's findings that errors crept into its investigations and subsequent disciplinary procedures, which "consequently rendered the applicant's dismissal unfair". The procedural issues raised by the tribunal are already being addressed, he added.

The tribunal heard the allegations were made by two girls aged 12 and 16.

Tribunal chairman John Thomas criticised the investigation into the girls'

allegations by the school and Powys.

He said: "Teachers as well as children are entitled to protection from malicious or irrational complaint against them. We think the (then) headteacher, John Stocker, should have provided the kind of leadership expected of him in ensuring fair play and should not have taken the back seat he took.

"He left the investigation to the LEA officer, someone not familiar with either the pupils or teachers in the school. We think the investigation, regrettably, was flawed."

The tribunal heard there were differences in the statements made to police and the LEA investigator by one of the pupils, known only as Girl A.

Mr Thomas said these differences should have been explored, and that notes of interviews conducted by LEA officer Karen Williams did not match the statements produced for the disciplinary hearing. He concluded that the disciplinary panel should have demanded further information before reaching its decision.

The second pupil, Girl B, complained about inappropriate behaviour over a period of two years, including an allegation Mr Rees tried to kiss her.

Mr Thomas said: "We don't think the matter should have advanced to a disciplinary hearing when all one had as a result of the investigation was a single statement which is not substantiated in any other way."

The tribunal heard Mr Rees, from Presteigne, was "an individual who is, at times, eccentric" but ruled that was no basis for finding him guilty of misconduct.

He agreed a pound;22,000 settlement with Powys.

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