James Pretsell represents Teacher cleared of sexual misconduct

Published: 06/11/2014 | News

James Pretsell represented Mr H, a teacher, who was accused of sexual misconduct.

Mr H is an accomplished sportsman and in 2013 was working as a PE teacher at a Sixth Form College. During the Easter holidays he went to a night club in the town where the College is located to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was Student Night at the nightclub and many students from the Sixth Form College were also there.

While in the nightclub Mr H’s behaviour was completely out of character. He was unsteady on his feet. He slurred his words. He almost lost consciousness. He also kissed three female pupils from the College. It was alleged by one of those pupils that at closing time Mr H took her from the nightclub by the hand, pressed her up against a shuttered shop and kissed her intensely using his tongue. It was also alleged that Mr H stroked her legs while sitting on a bench outside the nightclub.

After the night in question Mr H had at best a hazy recollection of what had happened. Rumours of what had occurred spread amongst the students over the weekend. Mr H learned of the rumours and obtained the mobile numbers of two of the pupils he kissed and spoke to one of them. Within days staff at the Sixth Form College became aware of the rumours. An investigation was carried out by the Sixth Form College as a consequence of which disciplinary proceedings were brought against Mr H for gross misconduct.

Mr H protested his innocence throughout the investigation and disciplinary process. He had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol but the alleged behaviour was entirely out of character and disproportionate to the amount of alcohol consumed. His belief was that one of his drinks must have been spiked with drugs in the nightclub. Mr H’s case was rejected in the disciplinary proceedings and his employment was terminated. The case was then referred to the National College for Teaching and Leadership (‘the NCTL’) which by virtue of legislation exercises a supervisory and disciplinary function in respect of the teaching profession.

A series of allegations of professional misconduct were made by the NCTL against Mr H concerning his behaviour towards the pupils inside and outside the nightclub and his subsequent conduct in obtaining mobile phone numbers and speaking to one of the pupils. If such misconduct was found proven, the NCTL would have to consider recommending to the Secretary of State for Education that she make a prohibition order banning Mr H from teaching for life subject to the possibility of review after two years at the earliest, if indeed at all. In a case involving allegations of sexual misconduct, such as this one, the overwhelming likelihood was that such an order would be recommended and the possibility of reviewing that order at all would be very slight. Such an order would have life changing consequences for Mr H. He had taught all of his life and had, since losing his employment, obtained what for him was a dream job running the Education and Welfare Unit of a professional football club. If a prohibition order was made he would lose his employment and was unlikely to be able to teach again.

The case was heard over three days by the Professional Conduct Panel of the NCTL. The Panel heard live evidence from all of the pupils who were alleged to have been victims of Mr H’s behaviour. Under cross examination all three of the pupils agreed that there had been no sexual motivation on the part of Mr H when he kissed them in the nightclub. They were kissed by Mr H in the way that one may be kissed when greeted. The Panel rejected the serious accusation made against Mr H that he had kissed one of the pupils intensely with his tongue while pressing her against a shuttered shop. Crucially the Panel accepted that Mr H’s drink was likely to have been spiked and so his conduct during the night could not constitute professional misconduct since he was in a state of involuntary intoxication. Furthermore, although falling below an acceptable standard, Mr H’s conduct in obtaining mobile telephone numbers and phoning one of the pupils did not constitute such a serious departure from those standards so as to amount to unacceptable conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute.

Mr H was cleared of committing any professional misconduct and the Panel was not required to consider whether to recommend that a prohibition order be made against him.

Author: James Pretsell Farrars (chambers@farrarsbuilding.co.uk)