Potential For Lives To Be Ruined Despite New Laws

A retired Welsh headteacher, once falsely accused of assaulting a pupil, recalled her nightmare yesterday after new laws were introduced to protect teachers. Marje Evans said new laws giving teachers greater powers to break up fights, confiscate mobile phones and discipline pupils outside school, may not stop people like herself ending up in court.

The new laws, enshrined in the Education Act, have also received a mixed response from teaching unions. The Cardiff-based national helpline, Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers, also warned those working with young people to be wary until the new laws had been tested.

Gail Saunders from Fact said there was a “steady stream” of teachers falsely accused of assaulting or touching pupils. “We get two or three calls to our helpline each week from teachers around the UK facing accusations. A majority of these eventually prove to be groundless,” she said. We welcome the new laws as a start and a clarification, but it remains to be seen what protection will really be provided.”

Mrs Evans, former head of St Mary’s Junior School in Caldicot, recalled her “nightmare” and said she feared it could still happen again to someone else. The school year had only just begun when she was falsely accused of slapping a 10-year-old pupil in September 1999. She was suspended for 18 months before a court and an internal investigation cleared her.

The first court case found her guilty of assault, but she was then cleared after a judicial review. This was not enough however. She then had to go through an internal disciplinary procedure at the school which took several months before also clearing her name.

Mrs Evans returned to her job in March 2001, 18 months after the original false allegation. Recalling events, she said teachers were still at risk of being wrongly accused, despite the new law.

“It was like a nightmare. It was as if I was living in a different world. It’s incomprehensible people can make allegations that aren’t true,” she said. “A 10-year-old boy accused me of slapping him. He had been very disruptive so I got his mum in and explained the situation that I had to restrain him because he had started to punch and kick me. I told her everything and she went away apparently happily. A couple of days later I heard from Monmouthshire County Council that a complaint had been made against me.

“I went to county hall with my NUT representative the next day and talked about suspension without even being asked my opinion about what happened. The school governors supported me but the police were adamant I was not allowed on site. I was suspended for 18 months, went through various court cases and judicial review. I was found guilty, appealed and was exonerated. I was in my 50s when it happened. It could have destroyed a younger teacher. These false allegations have the potential to ruin lives.”