Independent Investigations of Abuse by School Staff Lead to Criminal Convictions

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Byline: By Abbie Wightwick Western Mail

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. …