July 20, 2024

I opened my door to a man brandishing a shotgun.

As a co-op milkman I lived on my round so was this a man with an issue with his milk delivery? I was too frightened to ask. The gunman stared at me and some sort of change of mind came across his face and he lowered the shotgun. He was visiting me to discuss my having sexual relations with his wife but he was beginning to think this was a case of mistaken identity.

We were creative with names on the milk: there was Dave the Hat , Dave the Bread and Spanish Dave for example. One always wore a hat, one used to deliver bread and Spanish Dave always wore his anorak even on holiday in Spain. I was Big Den and there was a guy called Dan, who was also big, had a beard and was having relations with one of his customers.

Soon afterwards Dan was in trouble for fiddling the books and, as his shop steward, I made no fuss at all when he was sacked.

In my first year of teaching Councillor Massey was set to have me, “taken home in a box” when his son came home with a “nearly torn jacket.” I had pulled Greg off a girl he was assaulting and my union rep kept me in work.

One week into my time at Chauncy, a policeman met me outside my house at 6.30 a.m. A girl was receiving dodgy phone calls and the guy sounded like me. My headteacher stood up for me at the Child Protection meeting with the professionals who sent the policeman after me. I had evidence of being in Letchworth, when a call had been made from Windsor; of teaching a class when another call had been made and I had a receipt from a shop in Ware when a call was made from Essex. So I was let off and the girl’s uncle was warned not to make calls to his niece. No-one apologised.

My headteacher, Gill Field, saved me from suspension but if you’re suspended in teaching, especially as a new boy, that’s your reputation, job, career and possibly home gone.

The next time the police called, I’d been accused of assauling a boy and threatening some latecomers that , “I will rip up this 20 foot Christmas tree and beat you with it…” I did make the statement about the tree as I was being funny. CCTV proved me innocent of assault and the sad father with the angry wife searched for something else to which they could divert their failure.

The child protection professionals had sent policemen to talk to me and then, as I’d sent them away, they sent Roy Hardcastle a great HR man, who I respected, to see me. Proven innocent, I never received that apology either. By now, having worked here for a decade, and with a chair of governors who knew me well, I was almost fireproof ; no-one would falsely suspend me. But what if I’d been a new young teacher?

When a concern is raised about a matter that may be a child protection issue we contact the local authority Child Protection people, specifically the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer). They hold their meetings and decide how best to protect children.

This is Bobby Smith’s story. That’s not his real name, for reasons that will be or become obvious. I have seen the paperwork and can vouch for its 100% accuracy. All the other people are flattered with their real positions.

I will tell it briefly in direct quotation:

“There’s a man in Brighton that the CP people want to talk to. Oh says the Lead CP person, I have done a full media search and can see that he has moved to..” (Shall we say Ware)” Mr Policeman, off you go to see Bobby Smith in Ware. The PC is a bit busy and wont be up for a couple of weeks so he tells the CP people in Hertfordshire that Bobby’s a bad un. The CP people, who have known their Bobby for 20 years tell the HR people, who have also known their Bobby for 20 years, to contact the Chair of Governors so that Bobby can be suspended from his school.”It is almost incidental that this act itself has been illegal for two years.

“So HR ring the COG, who has known Bobby for 20 years and do tell him to send Bobby home for a couple of weeks. Chair of Governors asks, “Have you checked whether Bobby ever worked in Brighton ?(No was the answer) Have you checked his pension record? (No) Have you done any sort of media search? (No) Because I have and it can’t be our Bobby. However I spent five minutes on Google and found the Brighton Bobby, his current job, his address and his photograph.” “Oh well says Hertforshire HR , “Just make sure your Bobby isn’t around children for a few weeks.” –This after the Hertfordshire Bobby Smith has been absolutely proven to be not the Brighton Bobby Smith. He was still to be punished.

Just because they can.

Hertfordshire and Brighton ignored the law: Suspension should only take place where children at the school are at risk of harm.

Just because they can.

So Hertfordshire Bobby asks Brighton CP to explain themselves. “I did a full media search and found one Bobby Smith in the entire world and anyway it was the policeman’s fault.”

The Brighton dodgy man comes up second in a google search, right behind Hertfordshire Bobby. CP bosses made Bobby’s case a Level 3 Complaint.

And then forgot about it.

Bobby asked the policeman to explain and he apologised, blaming the CP woman. The Brighton Chief Constable didn’t even reply but made it a Customer Service issue.

And then forgot about it.

Hertfordshire Assistant Director of Services said, “We have nothing to apologise for. It is not protocol to check the veracity of information; we act upon it.” The senior HR man intervened and promised that they would ensure that procedures would be put in place by December to stop this sort of thing happening.

And then forgot about it.

“ As through this world I’ve wandered

I’ve seen lots of funny men

Some will rob you with a six-gun

And some with a fountain pen.”

Bobby’s story: teachers suspended and their careers ended, their reputations destroyed and their lives damaged.

Guess how much the CP people, the police, the HR and directors of services care?

There must be some simple mechanism whereby a council receiving a referral from another part of the country can carry out a simple test to see if they are condemning the wrong man. Hertfordshire HR and CP have undertaken to show us this new procedure by Christmas. It is Christmas and they haven’t .

I think they forgot about it.

I’d suggest the following have a look at what they could do to improve matters for people who work with children for it is not just the children who are vulnerable:

Chris Williams (Herts HR), DC Thomas (Brighton Police) Sharon Martin (Safeguarding Brighton Children’s Services) Darrel Clewes (LADO Brighton) Frazer Smith (LADO Herts) David Windridge (Herts Head of HR) Giles York (Chief Constable Brighton) and “We have nothing to apologise for,” Simon Newland (Herts CC).

Dennis O’Sullivan

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