Sex offender worked in eight schools

Last updated 18:13 28/02/2012
Hekia Parata
ROSS GIBLIN/Dominion Post

Hekia Parata: "Parents should be able to send their children to school confident that an individual of this type is not part of that school environment."

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Parents at a school where children were taught by a convicted sex offender have been told to report any concerns to police, it has been reported.

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In a statement broadcast on Maori Television tonight, parents at one of two schools involved were informed of the case.

"We are writing to let you know that a former teacher known to us as [blanked] was last week arrested for breaching conditions of an extended supervision order relating to offences in 2003, which were committed under an alias,'' the statement said.

"We became aware of the situation last Wednesday February 22 and have been working with the ministry of education, the police and the New Zealand School Trustees Association since then.''

The statement confirmed the offender was in custody and due to appear in court in mid-March.

The teacher had worked at the school between October 2009 and December 2011, according to the statement.

"We are deeply concerned about the chain of events that led to [blanked's] employment at this school. ... If your child or children have told you of any concerns that they have about [blanked] please talk to us or contact the police directly."

Up to eight schools and potentially hundreds of children have been exposed to the convicted sex offender who used multiple identities to work as a teacher for eight years.

Manukau police said they had arrested and charged a 41-year-old man with fraud offences.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said Person A was arrested last Tuesday and was expected before the court again in about two weeks time.

Parents at two of the affected schools had been informed yesterday afternoon by a letter from the chair of the board and the principal at the two schools.

The court had allowed those schools to tell parents and the Government needed further permission to do similarly at the six other schools potentially affected.

The Government would not contravene the court by naming any of the schools involved, she said.

"Person A" was before the courts in Auckland on charges relating to a breach of the conditions of their release, following a conviction for a sexual offence against a minor in 2004.

It was believed Person A had worked in eight schools since 2000, assuming a number of different identities.

"We know that this person was convicted of and has served time for an offence," Parata said.

"This case is somewhat exceptional in that it appears that multiple identities have been used. … They were under an extended supervision order that relates to that offence and it is alleged that conditions that relate to that have been breached.

"Clearly, there are weaknesses in the system and that is why I have taken this very serious step of establishing a ministerial inquiry and asking someone of the seniority of [former Ombudsman] Mel Smith to begin and begin immediately."

A ministerial inquiry in to the case was announced by Parata today.

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Prime Minister John Key said it was known that the offender was "a fairly devious person".

"But we just don't know exactly why the system has failed to pick them up and it's just absolutely critical we restore that confidence," Key said.

The Government saw the case as a "potentially very serious issue" that may involve a number of agencies.

"We want to make sure we understand fully what's gone on here, whether there is potentially a systemic problem in the system or whether it's a one off situation that it would have been very, very difficult to pick up," Key said.

"The concerning matter is that this person has been in and out of the system for quite some time. It's also concerning that there are a number of Government agencies that have interacted with this person and potentially not picked up that there has been a problem. We need to restore confidence with parents that the system works properly ... We frankly rip the system apart and work out what went wrong and why."

Parata said she understood that the offender had been working irregularly in the education sector since 2000.

"The school became aware that this person had multiple identities and when reporting that to the authorities the authorities then identified the individual and identified that there had been an alleged breach of their conditions.

"This, on the face of it, seems to have a number of exceptional dimensions to it," Parata said.

The ministerial inquiry would start immediately and was due to report by the end of April.

Chief executive of the Teachers Council Peter Lind had been called in to discuss the case with Parata this morning.

"Parents should be able to send their children to school confident that an individual of this type is not part of that school environment," Parata said.

"It is clear that there have been weaknesses in the system at different points and it is those issues that this inquiry will delve in to."

Lind said this was the worst case in the council's history.

Although he was restricted in what he could say because of the court case, the issue involved stolen identities and false documentation, he said.

"Certainly we believe we are only talking about the one individual. Of course it's a concern that its had an impact on schools," Lind said.

Anyone seeking registration as a teacher must provide the Teachers Council with the original or an authenticated copy of their qualifications and agree to police check. If the check came back clean the application was processed.
Any convictions would need to be investigated.

Lind said there had not been a similar case in the council's history.

"I can safely say that it is a real exception and we would hope that we will not be repeating this in the future."

The council had robust systems in place and hoped the ministerial inquiry would help it to continue to improve those, he said.

The investigation follows admission by the Ministry of Education last week that it failed to do background checks on seconded student achievement function practitioners. That led to the employment of former Northland principal Deborah Mutu who has now been deregistered as a teacher after trying to cover up inappropriate behaviour by her husband.

Smith said he would be away for three weeks during the period of the inquiry so had been offered support by Parata.

"My experience tells me that when you conduct something like this, something inevitably occurs that the terms of reference hadn't foreseen," Smith said.

Smith last year conducted a ministerial inquiry into horrific abuse of a nine-year-old Auckland girl.

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