Allegations of Sexual Abuse
Kapiti teacher Michael Neville says his acquittal on indecent assault charges is a great victory for male teachers everywhere.
"This is a real breakthrough," he said yesterday, his face streaked with tears. "Male teachers of young children can take new heart from knowing that there is still sense and justice in this world."
Asked if he would change his teaching style after the experience of the trial, he said he would. "I would like to say that I won't change, because I am me, but I will be changing."
When the first of the four "not guilty" verdicts was announced in Palmerston North District Court yesterday, there were gasps and sobs from the packed public gallery, where four uniformed police watched over "Mike's Army", the band of supporters who attended throughout the trial.
The sobbing became louder as each successive verdict came in and, when the doors of the courtroom opened to let people out, a stumbling woman cried: "Thank God there is justice after all."
In sharp contrast, the mother of one of the complainants got up from her seat in the gallery and asked: "How could they do that?"
Mr Neville, 48, who had spent most of the trial staring straight ahead, hands folded in his lap, sighed and slumped forward. He had faced four charges of indecent assault on girls under the age of 12. The offences were alleged to have been committed between January 1999 and August 2003.
"I still love the teaching profession. I love it with a passion. I will be returning to teaching, but am going to take the rest of this term off and plan for next year," he said.
All the stress and tension had peaked the night before the verdicts, leaving him drained. He was so exhausted he had his best night's sleep for weeks.
Asked if he felt
animosity toward the complainants, he said: "Don't ask me that. I can't
answer it now. I'm just overwhelmed by the cards, letters and gifts I have
been receiving. There was even a telephone call from a former student now in
A short distance away, a woman was sobbing the news of the "not guilty" verdict into two cellphones. A middle-aged man stood apart, body shaking with emotion. "I haven't cried like this since I was a kid," he said.
The mother of the first complainant was "shattered". It had been a very difficult 18 months, and she and her family could not believe the outcome. "It shows that children are never believed. We're absolutely devastated."
Some Neville supporters were angry with the way the case was handled by police and within the community.
"This should never have come to trial," Mr Neville's father, Arthur, said. "It could all have been dealt with at school trust board level. It was all so unnecessary."
Mr Neville's brother Tony called for answers, saying police took a "Starsky and Hutch" approach and treated his brother as a paedophile from the start.
"It really was appalling," he said. "It was more of a witch-hunt than an investigation."
Peter Govers of Horowhenua CIB said last night that the investigation was
carried out in a professional and thorough manner by child abuse officers.