Sentence for Bath sexual abuse teacher comes under fire
A Bath teacher who had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old pupil which left her feeling suicidal has escaped jail – and being publicly identified.
The 44-year-old appeared at Bristol Crown Court last week for sentencing after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust.
The teacher was given a suspended sentence, meaning he will not go to jail unless he offends again.
And in a highly unusual move, Judge David Ticehurst upheld a request from the head teacher of the school to ban the media from naming the defendant, because of fears that this could lead to the victim being identified.
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Both the sentence and the ban on naming the defendant have prompted concern from legal and child protection experts, particularly in the light of the issues raised by the Jimmy Savile case.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, was concerned by the defence barrister’s statement that the teacher was “a man of impeccable character who made a fool of himself.”
He said: “I can’t help thinking, as is so often in these kinds of cases, that the offender – a teacher – gets as much, if not more, sympathy than the victim.
“And believe me, a 16-year-old schoolgirl and a middle aged man is not a relationship. It is abuse.
“Time and again, teachers violate this boundary and get away with it.
“ Granted, he has lost his career, he may lose his family too but teachers are placed with a sacred care and if they don’t respect that I think society needs to make it clear that it is unacceptable by imposing tougher sentences.
“I also can’t help thinking that if it was the judge’s or the defence barrister’s daughter who had been assaulted by this man they might not be so eager to suspend the sentence.”
A letter, outlining why the Chronicle felt it was important the defendant was named and why it would not jeopardise the victim’s anonymity, was presented to the court at a sentencing hearing.
However, although Judge Ticehurst accepted that it made a strong case and agreed that it was an important principle that justice was seen to be done, he said the victim was too vulnerable and took, in his words, the “exceptional decision” to ban the Chronicle from naming the defendant or the school.
We would have run this story last week had it not been for a last-minute letter from the school’s legal team containing what our lawyer has described as “unfounded threats”.
It claimed said that if we reported this story as we have now done, we would be in breach of the order made by the judge.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, which campaigns for media freedom, said: “The first consideration is that people who are found guilty in court should be named. The public have a right to know.
“It is at least pleasing that the judge in this case recognised that interfering in that vital principle should be an exception in only very serious circumstances. The huge publicity which has been surrounding sexual abuse in recent weeks shows why it is important to name offenders.”
Local child protection expert David Niven said: “If we don’t encourage people to come forward and show justice is seen to be done, then I feel very strongly that a lot will be hidden and a lot of people will get away with things.”
Sarah Branthwaite, the solicitor from law firm Foot Anstey representing the Chronicle, said: “The press are the eyes and ears of the public, which is why the Chronicle thought it was important to raise this matter with the court.
“Judge Ticehurst recognised that it is important to name offenders and only in exceptional circumstances should anonymity be granted.”
Judge Ticehurst gave the teacher, who has resigned from the school, a one-year prison sentence suspended for two years, banned him from working with children and ordered him to sign on to the sex offenders’ register for ten years.
He told the defendant: “I accept you are a crushed man. It is not just you who have suffered, (the victim) has suffered, your family has suffered, your parents, your children, your wife, and all because of some misled moments of passion.”