It's Every Teacher's Worst Fear; EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

Daily Mail (London), March 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

It's Every Teacher's Worst Fear; EDUCATION NOTEBOOK


Byline: LAURA CLARK

A DEDICATED teacher has spoken of the devastating toll a false indecent assault allegation took on his life and career. David Bell's two-anda-half year ordeal painfully illustrates the shocking vulnerability of teachers to unfounded claims by pupils.

The 49-year- old was forced to confront 'every teacher's worst fear' when a 12-year- old girl accused him of molesting her during a lesson.

Having been optimistic the allegation would quickly prove unfounded, he spent an astonishing two years in 'limbo' as police conducted investigations When the indecent assault charges finally collapsed in April last year, the police sergeant's son then had to wait several months before being reinstated. He remains too ill with stress to return to the job he loved at Laurelhill Community College in Lisburn, near Belfast.

In contrast, the pupil retains total anonymity and has never faced any disciplinary sanctions. Indeed, she now attends an exclusive private school where her fees of [pounds sterling]6,000 a year are covered by the local education authority.

The LEA considered the placement 'the better option', but supporters of Mr Bell are incensed that her actions appear to have been rewarded.

The saga is the latest in a catalogue of cases where teachers' careers have been wrecked by false allegations. Mr Bell's union, the NASUWT, says teachers have fallen victim to a fourfold increase in accusations over the past decade.

Members staged the union's first indefinite strike in 15 years over the LEA's 'gross mismanagement' of the accusation against Mr Bell.

Fifty-three of his colleagues picketed outside the gates for four days before the girl's mother agreed to remove her from the school.

'The past two-and-a-half years have been horrendous,' said Mr Bell, who had a 15-year unblemished teaching record. Everyone recognises there have been abuse cases where procedures and investigations have been lax, but the pendulum has swung too far. For me, the mud has stuck. I don't see how I'm ever going to shake it off.' A design and technology teacher at Laurelhill since 1991, Mr Bell's ordeal was triggered when he told a normally model pupil her work was not up to its usual standards. …

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