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MP's Call For CCTV in UK Classrooms

London Observer | July 11 2004

MPs are urging that CCTV cameras be introduced into classrooms as a way of helping teachers accused of abuse prove their innocence.

The call from the all-party group for abuse investigations comes at a time when the number of allegations has soared while the number of convictions has plummeted.

'Teachers are exceptionally vulnerable and have no form of defence against false and malicious allegations,' said Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby, who chairs the group.

'There is absolute understanding over how important CCTV is in providing documentary evidence of events outside the classroom, so why shouldn't that tool be applied inside the classroom as well?'

Almost 2,000 members of the National Association for Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers have been investigated by police in the past decade.

Last year 187 were accused, compared with just 44 in 1991. In the same period, the number of convictions fell from 11 per cent to 2 per cent, with two-thirds of cases dropped after a school inquiry.

Chris Keates, the union's acting general secretary, said: 'Many teachers facing malicious allegations cannot sustain family relationships, have nervous breakdowns and cannot return to the classroom when their ordeal is over.'

The National Union of Teachers reported 209 members seeking help after being accused in 2003, with another 136 doing so this year already.

'Almost 60 per cent of these accusations were found to be invalid,' said a spokeswoman. 'But the idea of putting cameras in the classroom is uncomfortable. Some might feel concern that it would be misused for management, rather than protection purposes. Who would have access to the film? There are a lot of questions that need to be asked in a school before teachers would agree to it.'

In 1999, Robert O'Brien - then headmaster at St Mary's Hall, Lancashire, one of Britain's leading Roman Catholic public schools - was accused of leading a regime of child abuse at the college allegedly dating back to 1972.

After being sentenced to three years' imprisonment, he spent six weeks in prison before the Court of Appeal cleared him. 'I was accused by two former students about something that had supposedly happened 30 years before and for which there was no evidence apart from their word against mine,' he said.

'It was horrific and even though I was totally exonerated by the court, my life has been ruined because few people really believe that children will pluck accusations of abuse out of thin air.'

O'Brien is now chairman of Fact, the Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers group.

The call for cameras in the classroom was welcomed by Mark Newby, director of the historical abuse appeals panel, which helps to draw up imprisoned teachers' applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

'False and malicious allegations by students are made for two reasons: a student can see it as a way of getting back at a teacher they dislike, or they could be motivated by a desire to profit from compensation,' he said.