Allegations of Sexual Abuse
A packed public gallery erupted in cheers, tears and high fives as former teacher Michael Warren Neville walked from the Palmerston North District Court a free man yesterday.
It took the jury of 10 women and two men 12 hours to decide he was not guilty on indecent assault charges.
Mr Neville, 48, who at one time held a senior position at the Kapiti-area school where the offences were alleged to have occurred, faced four counts of indecent assaults on girls under 12. The charges covered a period from January 1999 to August 2003.
The name of the school remains suppressed.
Mr Neville appeared in the dock for the readings of the verdict looking tired. Collective sighs of relief ran through the court as the verdicts were delivered and Mr Neville wept.
His brother Tony Neville said afterward that justice had prevailed.
"When the first (not guilty verdict) came in, I thought there's no way way the others could have come out as a guilty verdict."
The trauma of an eight-day trial and 18 months of stress in the lead-up to it had not diminished his love of teaching, Michael Neville said.
"I still love the profession, even where I work."
He had no comment to make about his accusers, but said he dreamed of returning to teaching.
A large contingent of friends and family posed on the steps of the district court like a wedding party for the acquitted as Mr Neville and his wife ran a media gauntlet.
Outside court, Mr Neville thanked well-wishers for the cards and letters of support he said had flooded in since his arrest.
"There's just so many wonderful people. The cards and letters I have received from people, they have been really staunch for me."
Mr Neville's counsel, Bruce Squire QC and Sandra Moran, both of Wellington, were given a standing ovation as they left the court and another round of applause as they drove off from the court. Uniformed police officers had been present in court for the verdicts.
As he discharged the jurors, Judge Les Atkins thanked them for the effort they put into the case. The more jury trials he saw, the more he became convinced of the benefit of the system, Judge Atkins said.
* Mr Neville has not decided if he will take action against police, but he told National Radio this morning that he would not be conducting a witch hunt.
He said he felt as if he were treated as guilty from the start, but it was "probably more the procedures and processes rather than the officers themselves" at fault.
"The Police Complaints Authority would be our first port of call if we decide to go that way," Mr Neville said.
He will be meeting with the school soon to discuss his future, but his dream is to return to the same school and continue teaching.
"I'm still positive about teaching and I'm a relatively young teacher."
Picture: Faith Sides
Michael Neville and his wife, Adele, and other family members outside court.