Allegations of Sexual Abuse

False Allegations

Michael Neville case

NZ Herald
December 6 2004

Acquitted teacher will face tough fight back

The primary teachers' union says it will lend its full force to helping a teacher cleared of sexual assault to get back into the classroom - but experts warn he could face a long road ahead.

Lynne Bruce, national secretary of the New Zealand Educational Institute, said Mike Neville had to make his own decision on what he did next, but would be offered a range of advice.

"We will support him in whatever he chooses."

Mr Neville was acquitted of four counts of indecently assaulting schoolgirls and told the Weekend Herald how hard the past 18 months had been.

The Levin teacher also said he was determined to return to his job.

Ms Bruce said teachers were particularly wary about behaving appropriately and Mr Neville's case highlighted an occupational hazard.

The NZEI, which represents about 25,000 teachers, supported Mr Neville throughout the case, emotionally and financially.

Ms Bruce said the 48-year-old now had to take some time to think through whether he went back to the school where the allegations began, or somewhere else.

One legal expert said that despite the court result, Mr Neville would still have to clear several awkward hurdles.

Jane Latimer, an employment law specialist from Kensington Swan Solicitors, said the burden of proof was far more stringent in a courtroom than in employment relations.

"It could still be viewed that there was behaviour 'unbecoming', which may be enough for an employer to terminate the contract," said Ms Latimer.

If Mr Neville decides to apply for teaching posts at other schools, the high-profile nature of the case is also likely to act against him.

Boards of trustees should ignore the case, but that would be all but impossible because mud sticks, said Ms Latimer.

"You don't need a criminal conviction for employment to be refused. It is by no means plain sailing for someone in that position."

In his favour, Mr Neville's teacher registration should still be intact.

Joanna Beresford, chairwoman of the Teachers Council, said the organisation would not revoke a registration in the case of an acquittal.

Fewer than 4800 men are registered as state primary and intermediate teachers, compared with more than 21,000 women. But of those numbers, almost 1200 of the men are principals, leaving just 3600 in front of a class.

Chris Haines, president of the School Trustees Association, said boards could be relied on to make fair decisions as employers but agreed that Mr Neville's situation was complex.