Allegations of Sexual Abuse

False Allegations

Michael Neville case

Manawatu Standard
November 26 2004

Teacher enters the witness box
by David Eames

A 48-year-old schoolteacher with a penchant for drawing smiley faces and hosting "mat time" for pre-schoolers took the witness box yesterday afternoon to deny allegations he indecently assaulted four of his pupils.

Michael Warren Neville, of Levin, faces four charges of indecent assault on girls under 12 between 1999 and 2003. He is defending the charges.

After much of the day was lost in legal argument, Warren began giving evidence to a Palmerston North District Court jury about 4pm. The name of the school at which he taught is suppressed.

The father of three adult children, who is a former motorcycle mechanic, told the court he was "absolutely overwhelmed" when the charges were laid against him. "I just couldn't believe that this sort of thing could happen to me."

He also spoke of how he came to the teaching profession after he was seen to have a way with the children at a Feilding kindergarten. He has also spent time teaching mechanics to Feilding High School students.

He had been employed to paint the kindergarten at one stage in the early 1990s after the economic downturn had resulted in redundancy for him.

While painting the building, he had drawn smiley faces on the windows for the children inside. The teacher had told him that this was distracting the children. The conversation ended with his being offered the opportunity to care for the kids during a session called "mat time". His outstanding success led to the suggestion he become a teacher, the court heard.

He subsequently went to teacher's college, then took up a post at the school where the offending is alleged to have taken place in 1995.

Neville had initially been suspended when the allegations first appeared, but he won reinstatement after the teachers' union - the NZEI - disputed the matter.

Earlier, in defence openings, Neville's lawyer Bruce Squire QC urged the jury to listen to Neville's evidence and that of other defence witnesses, and to remember that the burden of proving the charges lies always with the Crown.

Neville, Mr Squire said, was an enthusiastic teacher and the charges against him were "bordering on the ruinous".

Neville was to continue giving evidence today.

A total of 16 defence witness are to be called, meaning the trial will go into next week.

It is expected the trial, presided over by Judge Les Atkins, will finish about Tuesday.