Call tipped off school to sex offender

JOHN HARTEVELT, ANDREA VANCE AND TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 29/02/2012

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A convicted sex offender working in a school, who has sparked a ministerial inquiry, was sprung by a member of the public who allegedly spotted him driving a van-load of schoolchildren.

Education Minister Hekia Parata launched yesterday an inquiry into the case, which saw a man who was convicted in 2004 of sex offending against children allegedly trick his way in to working as a teacher at up to eight schools.

The man was freed on parole on an extended supervision order that normally requires an offender to be subject to parole-type conditions for up to 10 years after release.

But Ms Parata said the man had allegedly used "multiple identities" to secure jobs as a teacher in at least two schools since his release from prison.

It is understood he worked for more than two years at one primary school, with children as young as 5, and for three weeks at one secondary school – both in Auckland.

A school was holding meetings last night to deal with the issue.

Ms Parata said "person A" was before the courts in Auckland on charges relating to a breach of the conditions of his release, following a conviction for a sexual offence against a minor in 2004.

It is understood he has been charged with breaching two extended supervision orders, one of which bars him from being in the vicinity of children under 16 years old.

A source told The Dominion Post that the man was found out when a member of the public, who knew of his record, saw him driving children in a school van.

She immediately rang the principal and, because she understood he was using a false name, she provided a photograph to the school that was said to confirm his identity.

It is understood the man had been appointed to head a school's Maori department, and taught mostly children aged in their early teens.

The teacher appeared to be "very competent and very committed to what he was doing", according to a source.

A parent at the primary school said the school community was reacting "as you would expect when a traumatic incident like this happens".

"It's upsetting for everybody. The message we want to give is that as soon as we can say things we'll be more than happy to talk."

Suppression orders prevent the schools from being named, but parents at two schools have been told of the man's arrest last Tuesday.

The current court orders also prevent parents at a further six schools where the man may have worked from being told of his background.

Ms Parata admitted the case had exposed "weaknesses in the system".

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

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"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."

A statement sent to parents at one of the schools was yesterday leaked to Maori Television.

The statement confirmed the alleged offender was in custody and had worked at the school over a two to three-year period.

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

Ms Parata said the man was expected in court in mid-March.

However, the man's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, said he had written to lawyers acting for the Corrections Department expressing concern at statements made by the Government in relation to his client.

"[The details] may prejudice a fair trial and require further non-publication orders in order to protect that position," Mr Mansfield said.

"I may have to seek now continued suppression on the basis that if his name is now published it is going to be linked to all these comments and therefore if there was to be a trial the jury may be prejudiced against this man."

- Fairfax Media

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