Unfounded allegation almost destroys a teacher's career

Mary* is a retired teacher. She spoke to us about her harrowing experience of coping with an unfounded historical allegation that was made against her by a former student.

I met this student as soon as I started teaching. She was year 10 and a very talented writer, so I encouraged her. She started telling me how unhappy she was and it emerged that she self-harmed. I had never even heard of it. I had travelled the world and I had never come across the idea. I was never aware that people even did it. I was absolutely horrified.

I tried to support her and help her deal with things and in those days there wasn’t the sort of pastoral support that that there is now. I found that I generally worried about her a lot. Her parents then read something she had written at home and came to see me. They told me I was too involved with their daughter and warned me not to get involved with her any more. I was shocked but did what they had asked.

She then got terribly angry and screamed abuse at me. I just didn’t respond and eventually thought she would get over it. Then she was put in my A level class. Her parents said they didn’t want her in my class and so I arranged for her to be moved. Over the next two years I saw her occasionally around school before she left. After that I bumped into her once in our local town and she told me she was living with someone.

Then 18 years later I get a knock on the door at 7am. I was sitting up in bed preparing for an inspection at school. A policeman and woman said it’s about this girl and I responded that I hadn’t seen her for 18 years! They said she has gone to live in Australia and is accusing you of indecent assault. I was told (by the police) that my head had been told I was not to go to school. I was absolutely horrified, as you can imagine. I rang the Head who said yes, she had known about it for some time. The former student had written to her and she had no option but to go to the Governors and the police.

I was off school for the rest of the term- six weeks and living in hell as you can imagine. I got so distressed, I can’t tell you. I was actually suicidal at one point. I thought I can’t bear this suspense. I can’t bear to live another day. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I dropped about a stone and a half and it was just a nightmare. On that same morning I was taken to the police station and put in a cell. They took everything away from me - my phone, my keys, my money.

I sat in a cell for two hours and then they told me I could go and how I could contact a solicitor. I rang the NUT but my membership had lapsed and they couldn’t help. I felt completely isolated. I was too scared to go out of the house. I could see the headlines.

My family was so supportive. I contacted a former pupil whom I had also supported through difficulties to tell her what had happened. She said the police had already been to see her. I couldn’t believe it. She vouched for me and said how kind I was, how I always went the extra mile and said how much I had supported her and put myself out for her.

I went on holiday to Cornwall but had to come home, I couldn’t bear it. Then one morning I was interviewed by a solicitor and then a formal interview at the police station. I then had to wait for the CPS decision. That was the worst time, just waiting. There was nothing I could do. Finally I had a call to say they’re not proceeding. End of. Just like that. I don’t ever think about it to be honest as it was so horrific.

I went back to school and nothing was said about it again. Few colleagues knew. My head and head of department were very supportive. And the deputy head said don’t worry, we’re right behind you’. But if I had been charged there would have been nothing they could do. I would have gone on trial unable to work. I wouldn’t have been paid. It was a whole nightmare unfolding.

It didn’t change my behaviour with students afterwards. Thank heavens. If kids open up to you in a way that they don’t to anyone else then you have a very particular responsibility. I was able to put it to one side and enjoy life again.

Thank god now that things are so different. There’s so much training and support when children are in trouble. But, at the same time we are so vulnerable. It’s like the Crucible - you have to prove you’re innocent and prove that something isn’t true.”

*Not her real name.

Read our guide to coping with allegations. If you need to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this blog please speak to one of our specially trained counsellors available 24/7 on our free, confidential helpline 08000 562 561.