Belfast Telegraph

Teacher cleared of groping pupil at Belfast school wins unfair sacking case

By Nevin Farrell

A teacher cleared of sexually assaulting a pupil but then sacked by his Belfast school has won a claim for unfair dismissal.

The man, who is not identified, had been accused of hugging a girl, trying to kiss her and making inappropriate comments in a photocopying room at the unidentified school in 2011.

The allegation was that the pupil, whose age was not revealed, asked the teacher for the price of photocopying and he replied there was no price "just a smile and a hug". He was then accused of grabbing her around the waist and trying to kiss her.

The case went to court, but the teacher was acquitted by a district judge in 2013 who said there were "significant doubts" about the case.

The judge expressed concerns about the number of pupils and staff who were in the vicinity when the alleged incident occurred, with no less than two people having entered the store room when the pupil was there.

He also said that no one had seen the girl running from the room in distress, and pointed out that the complainant had not reported the sexual assault to anyone until three months later.

The judgment further stated that the school principal was asked in cross-examination whether it was likely that an assault would have taken place on such a busy afternoon, but the principal responded that the teacher may have been "excited" because he was going to the rugby semi-finals in Dublin that afternoon. The judgment stated: "That response was bizarre."

After the court proceedings the teacher was investigated by the school, which decided to fire him.

He appealed to the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), which found the school's disciplinary process had shown "significant failures". The LRA upheld his appeal and recommended that he should return to his post "at the earliest practical date".

However, the school's board of governors ignored the LRA decision, a move described as "bizarre" by the employment tribunal. The tribunal also described some of the school's arguments during the case as "nonsense".

The tribunal will sit again on July 31 to consider what remedy should be offered to the teacher.

Belfast Telegraph

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