Allegations of Sexual Abuse
Two of the four girls said to have been indecently assaulted by Kapiti teacher Michael Warren Neville could not be relied upon to tell the truth, their former deputy principal told Palmerston North District Court yesterday.
The defence witness, who can not be identified because the name of the school has been suppressed, described the accused as an exceptional teacher with a rare ability to relate to children.
"He has professional traits that not all teachers have and he definitely has the X factor when it comes to teaching children," the witness said.
Neville, 48, has pleaded not guilty to four charges of indecent assault on girls under 12 years old. The offences are alleged to have happened between January 1999 and August 2003 while the girls were pupils of his.
The deputy principal said the school had suffered a great shock when its principal died suddenly and for a time staff were encouraged to comfort the children.
"There was a lot of grief in the school and while we had help from Victim Support the students didn't identify with strangers from outside. They wanted people they knew, particularly their teachers."
When court resumed yesterday, Neville denied touching pupils indecently in the ways specified in the charges.
He said he ran all his classes on an open door policy, with parents able to come and go, or even sit with their children for a while.
"I encourage parents to be part of their child's learning," he said.
The spelling checks referred to by one of the complainants happened not twice a week as had been suggested, but only on Fridays.
Children were given between five and 10 new words to learn on Mondays and their progress was checked at the end of the week.
"They'd be at my desk for three or four minutes," he said. "If they hadn't got it in that time, I'd put the book aside – I had 24 children to do."
He said the children would usually stand to his right. He would hold their book in his right hand so that they could not see the words and mark off each word with his left hand.
If a child did particularly well he might say "well done", put the book down and pat them on the back at hip pocket level as they moved away.
"Sometimes I'd put an arm around their shoulder and give them a squeeze."
Ben Vanderkolk and Katrina Barber are appearing for the Crown and Bruce Squire and Sandra Moran for the defence.