Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Lancashire Evening Post

Chorley teacher fights to clear name

11:03 Wednesday 22 July 2009

A Chorley teacher who was accused of slapping a five-year-old pupil has become the first teacher in the country to take a lie detector test to try and clear her name.

Jane Watts, 52, said her 30-year teaching career was left in tatters when a youngster accused her of hitting her on the hand during a lesson at Duke Street Primary School in 2007.

Although a police investigation found she had no case to answer, she was sacked for gross misconduct.

Now, the former teacher, who has spent more than £25,000 trying to clear her name, is calling for more protection for teachers.

She said: “This cannot be allowed to happen to anyone ever again. My life has been a living hell for two years because of this and it is still going on. Just talking about it sends me cold.”

“Teachers in this position are totally isolated. We have no-one and nowhere to go and that has to change.”

“This ordeal has robbed me of two years of my life and my career.”

The mother-of-one, who lives in Astley Village, was immediately suspended when the pupil made the accusation in September 2007.

She was arrested and had to attend Leyland Police Station where she was photographed, fingerprinted and had to give DNA samples.

She said: “It was not just humiliating, it was terrifying. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Despite Mrs Watts being cleared by the police, Duke Street Primary School launched its own investigation and upheld the complaint. She was sacked in March 2008.

In a bid to clear her name, she hired renowned polygraph examiner Don Cargill – known for appearances on the Trisha Goddard show – to perform a lie detector test.

The test came back clear, but the school said it was unreliable. At an appeal hearing in July 2008, the teacher was reinstated with her punishment reduced – although the school still maintained she hit the child.

Mrs Watts maintains she is innocent.

Due to the stress of the ordeal, she has not been able to return to the school. She applied for early retirement but it was refused and she was sacked for non-attendance in 2009.

Looking back over the past two years, she said: “I don’t know how I’ve survived. Without the support of my family I would have lost it. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed and it took months for me to go into town.”

The ordeal has also taken a massive financial toll on the family.

Mrs Watts added: “At one point I almost lost my house. I spent all my life savings just to stay afloat and almost had to sell my house.”

She now writes an online blog with help and advice for other teachers who feel they have nowhere to turn.

She has also used her experiences to write a book and has campaigned for changes in the law and policies relating to allegations against teachers.

Earlier this month, the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee in Parliament looked at Mrs Watts’ case, and others, and said new guidelines should be published to help headteachers deal with false allegations against their staff.

Mrs Watts said: “It finally seems like people are talking about the issue. I will not rest until I get changes made.

“It’s not about my sob story. It is about making sure nobody else has to go through what me and my family have been through.

“I’m determined to make sure the right changes are made. It’s what has kept me going.”

Andrew Kidd, Duke Street Primary headteacher, said: “There was a disciplinary hearing in March 2008 at which a member of staff was dismissed for assaulting a child, which was witnessed by another member of staff.”

“A subsequent appeal hearing decided that while the original finding of misconduct was correct, the decision to dismiss should be reduced to final written warning and at that point the member of staff was invited to return to work in July 2008.”

“However, the staff member did not return to work and was dismissed by the governors in May 2009 on grounds of non-attendance.”