Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

TEACHER CLEARED OF SEX CHARGES; Two-Year Delay in Case Is Slammed by Judge

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

TEACHER CLEARED OF SEX CHARGES; Two-Year Delay in Case Is Slammed by Judge

Article excerpt

Byline: GARETH LIGHTFOOT

A TEACHER has been cleared of sexually touching three pupils - with the judge slamming an "unacceptable" two-year delay in the court case.

A jury unanimously acquitted Neil Francis, 33, of all eight counts of sexual assault after just 45 minutes' consideration yesterday afternoon.

The married man, of Castlemartin, Ingleby Barwick, who always denied all of the charges, remained calm as the verdicts were announced.

Quiet but heavy sobs came from one of his supporters in Teesside Crown Court public gallery, before he was hugged as he left the dock.

His career hangs in the balance as he is still suspended from his job.

"These allegations blister and burn a person," defence barrister Peter Makepeace told jurors in the four-day trial.

"They destroy a teacher utterly, irrelevant of whether they are proved or not.

"His family and his wife are going to have to try and scrape the pieces together.

That damage, that destruction, has already taken place.

"There is no allegation more profoundly cruel than sexual abuse of children." Francis was accused of touching three girls under 13 in a sexual way, stroking or rubbing their arms, legs, backs or hair, over several months at a North Yorkshire primary school.

After the verdicts, Judge Peter Armstrong criticised delays in the sensitive case which left both Francis and the young complainants in limbo.

"This should have been tried in six months," he stated.

"When you have witnesses of this age, it's just not appropriate that they should have had to wait for two years." The court had heard it took a year for Francis to be arrested after allegations were made. Only after his first police interview did he learn what the allegations were..

In the meantime, he was suspended from work, did not know what was going on and said he lived in dread. …

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