Weston teacher ‘may’ have abused children throughout his career

PUBLISHED: 15:23 17 December 2010 | UPDATED: 11:33 18 December 2010

North Somerset Courthouse

North Somerset Courthouse

Archant

A ‘TIGHT-KNIT’ Weston community has been ‘rocked’ by the news that a 50-year-old Weston primary school teacher could have abused children in his classes throughout his career.

Following the revelation on the front page of Thursday’s Mercury that the man has appeared in court to face allegations that he filmed himself abusing a girl in his classroom, police have confirmed they are facing the possibility that more youngsters may have become victims over the years.

Court rules mean the Mercury is not allowed to name the man or the school where he has worked for 15 years, but he is facing four separate charges, regarding two young girls in his care.

He is charged with two counts of abusing a position of trust, and two of sexually assaulting a girl aged six to eight.

He was arrested on Monday at the end of the school day after a seven-year-old pupil told her parents he had been touching her inappropriately in class.

Thirty officers assigned to the case – which has been declared a ‘major incident’ by police – searched his home, computer and classroom.

They have confiscated 20 memory sticks, one of which prosecutors say contained video footage of a man, which police believe is the teacher, touching a youngster inappropriately during class.

Experts believe the footage was filmed from underneath a school desk.

Parents were officially informed of the situation on Thursday evening, during a meeting with police and North Somerset Council officials, where they and their children were offered counselling.

At a media briefing on Friday, North Somerset Council assistant director of children and young people’s services, Steve Tanner, said: “This has rocked the community.

“There are a range of feelings among parents, including shock, disbelief, tears and upset.

“We’re working closely with police to make sure children are protected and families are supported.”

Avon and Somerset Police North Somerset district commander, Chief Superintendent Kay Wozniak, said at the meeting on Friday how the ‘tight-knit’ community has been affected by the case.

Officer in charge of the case, senior investigating officer Geoff Wessell, added: “We are looking at the number of victims involved and are mindful of the period of time involved.

“We will look back as long as we need to.”

The man denied all allegations when he was interviewed by police, but has yet to enter a formal court plea.

However, prosecutors revealed he has received two previous warnings relating to his conduct at the school where he works.

In 2004 he was interviewed by the headteacher over concerns raised by parents, and in 2008 he received a verbal warning after a teaching assistant aired fears of her own.

Both the local authority and senior police officers say Monday was the first time they had received complaints about the teacher concerned.

Mr Tanner said previous concerns were not of a ‘criminal nature’ and did not reach the threshold for the school to have to inform the council over child welfare concerns.

The teacher has been remanded in custody to appear via video link at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday.

A dedicated incident room has been set up. If a parent has concerns, or information they wish to provide they should call 0845 456 7000 or email joist@avonandsomerset.police.uk

An officer from the investigation room will call them back as soon as possible, or by 10am the next working day.

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