Welsh School Staff Convicted Of Abuse

Cases of abuse by school staff in Wales referred to independent investigators have led to criminal convictions, it emerged last night.

The 92 cases of alleged abuse referred to a private watchdog in the past year include allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, lack of care, sending inappropriate text messages and inappropriate use of computers.

Details are contained in the annual review of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, seen by the Western Mail.

In the report, Deputy Children’s Commissioner Maria Battle says she was told by investigators “there was no evidence of malicious false allegations by pupils” – a claim persistently made by teaching and headteachers’ leaders.

Detailing a meeting with the independent investigators last summer, Ms Battle says in the report, “Although they (independent investigators) felt some of the matters were minor, a minority of the investigations involved major issues and some have led to criminal convictions.”

Last night, speaking to the Western Mail, Ms Battle said the system was working well and “Wales should be proud” to be the only UK nation to have an independent service.

The Assembly Government hired Servoca Dream (previously the Dream Group) last year in response to the Clywch Inquiry and has just signed another two-year contract with the firm.

Under the contract, allegations of abuse are passed on to Servoca Dream by school governors, if a Local Education Authority panel, including police and social workers, are unable to find sufficient evidence to stand the allegations up in court, but which might require further action.

Last night Monmouth Conservative MP David Davies said the practice called into question the reliability of the LEA panels.

“Allegations like this need to be fully investigated and taken very seriously,” he said.

“This leaves one wondering whether LEAs are the right people to carry out these sorts of investigations.”

Ms Battle said it showed the independent investigations were valid and working well as added protection.

Information gained by the Western Mail under a Freedom of Information request, showed that of 92 referrals investigated between October 2006 and September this year, five have resulted in formal disciplinary action.

Servoca Dream of Winchester said separately that it has now been involved in 99 cases.

The Assembly Government refused to say what action had been taken, although the Children’s Commissioner’s report reveals there were criminal convictions.

Teachers’ leaders said the current system lacks transparency, and called for more action against pupils making false accusations.

Some head teachers are also angered at their exclusion from Servoca Dream’s inquiries.

Chris Howard, head of Lewis Boys School, Pengam, said that investigators – all of whom are former police officers, teachers or social workers – had improved the way they carried out inquiries.

But he said investigations were still too lengthy and the outcomes too secretive.

“We need greater transparency,” said Dr Howard, who is also a representative for the National Association of Head Teachers.

“How many pupils have been dealt with, and in what way, as a result of false allegations?

“Only five referrals led to disciplinary action. What action was taken?”

Teaching unions and head teachers’ organisations said cases could range from a teacher pushing or taunting a pupil to more serious offences about which there is not enough evidence for court, but which could still lead to dismissal.

“These investigations can take six to eight weeks during which time teachers are under a high degree of stress,” Dr Howard added.

Philip Dixon, director of teachers’ and lecturers’ union ATL Cymru, said, “There are flaws in the system. These figures show just 5% of cases led to disciplinary action. They are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Child protection is paramount but we would like to see parents and pupils bringing false allegations brought to book.

“We have come across several cases investigated where allegations have been false and malicious.

“There needs to be clearer guidelines to governors about when to refer cases.”

Bob Sherwood, Servoca Dream’s investigations officer in charge of the Assembly Government contract, said, “Sometimes allegations are made that are very hard to prove or disprove. We have had enormous support from teaching unions.”

Ms Battle agreed the system needed to be clearer and she will be raising the matter at a meeting with Assembly Education Minister Jane Hutt next week.

Her report admits there have been problems.

“There have been difficulties and inconsistencies in the sharing of information and evidence by statutory agencies, police and social services. This has caused delays and, in the worst cases, the re-interviewing of children and governors proceeding without all the available evidence.”

She adds that there is still confusion about the role of the investigators, and agency staff employed by schools are not covered by the procedures.

Servoca Dream was hired as a result of the Clywch Inquiry. The inquiry investigated the 14-year reign of sexual abuse by teacher John Owen of Penrhys Road, Tylorstown.

Owen taught drama at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen from 1974-91. There was a string of suspicions about his behaviour.

It was only in 2001 that he faced five charges of sexually abusing young boys. He killed himself the day before his trial.