Allegations of Sexual Abuse
A teacher acquitted yesterday on sex charges levelled against him by former pupils says he wants to return to the school, almost 1-1/2 years after the case began.
Michael Neville, 48, had faced four counts of indecent assaults on girls under 12 that dated from early 1999.
On Thursday he walked free from the Palmerston North District Court after a jury returned not guilty verdicts on all charges, 12 hours after it was sent out to deliberate.
Neville said he was "absolutely, unbelievably relieved" at the verdict.
"A huge relief after 17 months of hell. It's all over," he said from his house in Levin last night. where about 40 friends, family and colleagues gathered to celebrate.
The ordeal had placed him under huge stress, but had not put him off teaching.
"My plan is to go back teaching, most definitely. And hopefully I'll be back at the school I was teaching at.
"It's where I started my teaching back in 1995 and it's just a place I love."
Neville said he had yet to talk to the Education Ministry or his union, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), but would probably take the remaining 2<> weeks of this term off.
At one time he held a senior position at the Kapiti-area school, which cannot be named, where the girls -- all under 12 at the time -- claimed the assaults happened between January 1999 and August 2003.
He declined to comment on his accusers .
NZEI national secretary Lynne Bruce said the union welcomed the verdict.
It would review the case and consider its implications for union members.
"It highlights an occupational hazard, faced in particular by male teachers."
People who worked in front-line professions with children or adults were particularly vulnerable to such accusations, she said.
Bruce declined to comment on whether the case had put off men becoming primary school teachers.
Neville agreed the case had shown male primary school teachers could be vulnerable.
"It shouldn't, but it certainly has. But when all's said and done it won't put me off teaching junior schools."
The verdict was greeted with tears and cheers in a courtroom packed with Neville's supporters.
A number of them, and Neville, cried as the not-guilty verdicts were read out.
The only surprise about the verdicts was that they had taken so long to arrive, a member of the school's board of trustees said.
"We all knew he was innocent and that was that," she said.
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, he said.
Outside court, Neville thanked wellwishers for 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.
CAPTION: Not guilty: accused teacher Michael Neville, centre, celebrates his acquittal yesterday with family and friends. Photo: Dominion Post