Answers demanded over teacher paedophile scandal

CHILD welfare experts will say today (Thurs) whether more could have been done to protect children who were sexually abused by their teacher at a Worle school – and the Mercury is demanding answers to the questions below.

A serious case review was launched last year after Nigel Leat was jailed for carrying out years of horrifying sex attacks on his pupils under the noses of colleagues and other education professionals.

Now, months after parents were expected to hear the outcome of the investigations by an independent board of specialists, they will finally hear what they have to say.

Despite praise from the police and North Somerset Council over the Mercury’s coverage of the story, the board decided to choose the day after the paper goes to press to stage its media briefing on the review outcome.

So we have spoken to parents and put together a list of questions on their behalf they have demanded should be answered by the council or the board.

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Mercury managing editor Judi Kisiel said: “Parents have been waiting for more than a year for their questions to be answered, and during that time they have relied on the Mercury to share information which authorities would not.

“It’s therefore disappointing this hearing has been arranged for a time which sidelines Weston’s newspaper - so we are giving public notice of the questions which parents expect, and deserve, to have answered.”

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The Mercury understands behind-closed-doors meetings were due to be held with parents last night (Wed) at both Hillside First and St Martin’s schools in Worle, to inform them of the outcome of the review.

The Mercury says parents deserve answers to these key questions to help reassure them there can never be a repeat of such sickening assaults, which took place on youngsters aged just six and seven.

The teacher got away with filming himself abusing youngsters in his classroom for years.

Despite concerns being raised by a teaching assistant about his ‘tactile’ behaviour towards pupils, the teacher remained employed at the school.

It was only when one pupil admitted to their parents they had been abused by Leat that a major police operation was launched, uncovering several other victims.

School headteacher Chris Hood has since been sacked following a disciplinary investigation, although it was stressed he had no criminal involvement in the case.

A spokesman for North Somerset Safeguarding Children Board said: “The purpose of the review is to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt from the case about the way in which local professionals and organisations work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children

“It is also to identify clearly what those lessons are, how they will be acted on and what is expected to change as a result and as a consequence, improve inter-agency working and better safeguard and promote the welfare of children.”

Parents of Hillside pupils were upset after the Mercury broke the story of Leat’s alleged abuse in December 2010 - they say they had not been told of the allegations before they read our story.

They say they continued to feel like they had been ‘left in the dark’ in the following months, particularly after they were promised this week’s serious case review outcome last autumn.

Leat was put behind bars in June at Bristol Crown Court for 34 different charges relating to abuse of pupils in his care and was handed a determinate sentence of 24 years.

More than 400 videos of Leat abusing his victims in the Church Road school were taken into account when the judge passed sentence.

Questions that need answering:

? Parents first learned of Leat’s arrest through the Mercury. Why were they not informed sooner?

? What checks into Leat’s background were carried out when he joined the school?

? Why was Leat allowed to keep the same classroom for years while other teachers were regularly moved?

? More than once, a teaching assistant raised concerns about Leat’s ‘close relationship’ with pupils. What action was taken when these concerns were raised?

? Should these concerns have been taken more seriously? Was this a missed opportunity to halt Leat’s abuse?

? What signs – relating to pupil behaviour and attainment – were missed, which could have drawn attention to Leat’s behaviour?

? Parents were promised answers by the autumn. Why has it taken until now, more than a year after Leat’s arrest, to conclude this inquiry?

? What has been learned? What will be done to ensure no teacher can ever abuse pupils in this way – and stay undetected for so long – again?

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