Head who failed to spot classroom paedophile goes before hearing

Chris Hood

Chris Hood - Credit: Archant

A SCHOOL head who failed to spot that a paedophile teacher had been filming child abuse in his classrooms for a decade is today bidding to return to teaching – while the parents of victims want him banned from schools for life.

Nigel Leat

Nigel Leat - Credit: Archant

A Teaching Agency panel has been hearing this week that Chris Hood was warned a number of times about predator Nigel Leat’s inappropriate behaviour, yet never responded appropriately or recorded colleagues’ concerns.

Leat was jailed indefinitely in 2011 after admitting dozens of sexual offences against his pupils, which he filmed in his classroom over a number of years.

Mr Hood was in charge at Hillside First School in Worle - now renamed Worle Village Primary School - when the majority of Leat’s horrifying crimes were carried out.

A serious case review revealed in 2012 that Leat could have been stopped up to 14 years earlier if the 30 concerns raised over his ‘inappropriate’ behaviour had not been ignored.

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The review said complaints which were made to senior teachers about Leat’s behaviour towards pupils included 11 reported to Mr Hood that were not taken any further or reported to safeguarding officers.

Some should also have been an immediate red flag and reported to officials.

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On Monday, Mr Hood was called to appear at a professional conduct panel of the Teaching Agency, which has the power to ban him from undertaking unsupervised teaching work in future.

He has already been dismissed from Hillside for ‘gross misconduct’ following a period of suspension after Leat’s arrest in 2011.

But Hillside parents say dismissal is not enough; they want him to be struck off completely with no chance of returning to the teaching profession.

One mother whose child was taught by Leat told the Mercury this week: “Chris Hood had enough warnings about Leat. He has a lot to answer for.

“Although others could have reported concerns higher, he was the headmaster.

“When we send our children to school we want to know they are safe.

“I just can’t imagine how this could have happened.”

At the hearing this week in Coventry Melinka Berridge, outlining the case for the Teaching Agency, said although deputy headteacher Michelle Bamford was the school’s lead on safeguarding children during some of the time Leat taught there, Mr Hood held the role for other periods.

She said he was responsible, as headteacher, for reporting suspicions to the relevant agencies - but he did not.

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Instead he responded to concerns in a manner that freed Leat to behave in a way ‘not compatible’ with safeguarding children.

The hearing heard that among the concerns raised to Mr Hood was a report that Leat had shown a naked image to pupils and urged them not to tell their parents.

The panel was told Mr Hood said he was unsure if he had given Leat an official verbal warning for it but he removed the incident from Leat’s file after six months.

On another occasion, highlighted at the hearing, a female pupil said she was ‘missing cuddles’ with Leat.

The panel was told Mr Hood said he remembered the incident but Leat would have come up with a plausible explanation.

Other concerns staff and parents say they reported to Mr Hood included children being shown inappropriate images on a school camera, Leat being found semi-dressed in his Worle classroom, when he claimed he was changing for PE, and Leat being accused of being too ‘tactile’ with pupils by a parent who refused to let her child be taught by him.

A father whose child was taught by Leat told the Mercury this week: “Mr Hood was responsible for keeping our children safe.

“He should be struck off completely.”

At this week’s hearing Richard Harris, who is representing Mr Hood said: “Leat and Leat alone was responsible for what happened at Hillside First School.

“Mr Hood was unaware of the serious and depraved conduct of Leat.

“There are allegations that of course, if they were part of a history of reports concerning the teacher’s behaviour, point to the head’s failure.

“But in isolation they fall significantly below the threshold for reporting safeguarding concerns.

“If any member of staff was aware that Leat was a risk it was a gross failure on their part not to report the concerns to Mr Hood, the police, council, NSPCC, local authority or anybody whatsoever.”

Mr Hood says some of the allegations made about Leat were not reported to him, but the hearing this week heard how deputy headteacher Michelle Bamford say she reported concerns raised by others to Mr Hood.

Leat joined the school in 1995 and Mr Hood was appointed headteacher in 2001.

The professional conduct panel is not expected to make a recommendation for several weeks.

If a prohibition order making sure Mr Hood cannot teach unsupervised is found to be appropriate it would need to be recommended to the secretary of state.

Authorities accept Leat acted alone in filming himself abusing children in his classroom and Mr Hood has never been accused by officials of criminal conduct.

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