A teacher has lost a ground-breaking legal battle to clear his name, the consequences of which mean that he is most unlikely ever to get another job involving children.
John Pinnington, a 59 year old teacher, was falsely accused of sexually abusing three former pupils. A police investigation was carried out but no action was taken. However, the mere fact that allegations had been made resulted in Mr Pinnington being fired from his job as deputy-head of a college for young autistic adults. The allegations related to his time at a different school.
The allegations are now included on the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate and must be disclosed when applications are made for any employment involving children.
Lord Justice Richards (who was acquitted last year on two charges of indecent exposure) ruled that although the accusations had serious weaknesses and could not be substantiated, it didn’t mean they could be entirely negated and added that ‘In relation to employment with children or vulnerable adults, it is information of which an employer should be aware. It is then for the employer to decide whether the employment of the person concerned involves an unacceptable risk.’
He added that future employers ‘should be aware’ of the accusations, however weak and unreliable they may be.
Different police forces in England apply different criteria as to what excatly constitutes an allegation, there is no set standard, which means that this latest ruling could open the doorway for any disgruntled pupil to make an allegation and, depending upon where you are in the country, ruin the life and future career prospects of an individual.
Ignoring the specific case and looking at the broader picture, is such a ruling fair and correct?
Someone who is totally innocent would have every right to feel agrieved. However, we all know that the legal system will also allow the guilty to be acquitted through technicalities, clever legal counsel or some other means – O J Simpson was acquitted in a criminal court but found guilty in a civil suit.
‘Case not proven’ or ‘unsubstantiated claim’ does not automatically mean ‘innocent’, although it can also mean exactly that.
What you certainly can’t have is any Tom, Dick or Harry with a personal grudge being able to make a wild accusation which will haunt the person accused for the rest of their lives. There has to be a well-defined, proper, well-thought out and uniform procedure for such matters.
And then, of course, there are the old sayings ‘better safe than sorry’ and ‘no smoke without fire’.
The whole thing is made more complex by the fact that, in the case of Mr Pinnington, he was never actually charged and never appeared in court. Yet he has lost his job and, probably, his future livelihood.
The judge in the case was not only accused of a sexually related offence (or two) but was charged and appeared in court, albeit being acquitted on both counts, and yet still sits on the bench.
Is that fair?…