Teachers found guilty of misconduct over relationship with 13-year-old girl lose name suppression

Samuel Back was deregistered and censured for an inappropriate relationship with the 13-year-old student.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Samuel Back was deregistered and censured for an inappropriate relationship with the 13-year-old student.

The teachers accused of forming an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl who later died can now be named.

Samuel Nicholas Back, 42, and his partner Angela Maree Mepham, 33, were found guilty of serious misconduct after a meeting of the Education Council's Disciplinary Tribunal.

At the Tribunal hearing in late February, the teachers faced misconduct charges after the girl stayed at their house several times.

Back, 42, during a break in last month's Education Council hearing in Wellington.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Back, 42, during a break in last month's Education Council hearing in Wellington.

The pair were given interim name suppression, which lapsed on Friday.

READ MORE:
Teacher admits inappropriate behaviour with pupil, apologises to family
Teacher accused of inappropriate relationship with 13-year-old who later died

Back previously taught at Gisborne Intermediate School.

He emigrated from Hamilton, Canada in 2004, later living in Christchurch before moving to Gisborne.

He told the Tribunal the girl kept threatening to run away if he told anyone she'd turned up at his house.

The Tribunal heard of "prolific" texting and emailing between the troubled girl and Back from October 2013 to April 2014.

As emails continued through the summer holidays, Back said he found it difficult to "extricate" himself.

Ad Feedback

"I was too close to the situation to make more appropriate professional decisions," he told the Tribunal.

"I began to speak to her like I would my little sister. This was inappropriate but I did it because I cared."

He offered an apology to the girl's family.

The Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC), which investigates teachers before dismissing accusations or referring them to the Tribunal, charged Back with forming an inappropriate relationship with the girl.

Back was accused of sending messages of "an increasingly intimate and intense nature", including saying he missed and loved the girl.

The CAC said Back let the relationship get so intense and inappropriate, the girl's emotional wellbeing was affected and the medical profession's ability to treat her was impeded.

The Tribunal heard the girl and Back used pet names in some messages, she referring to him as "Mr Swiggy", and Back calling her a French term meaning "my girl".

Back repeatedly used the term "effusive" to describe his behaviour, suggesting that what might seem odd to strangers did not to those who knew him.

There was no suggestion during the hearing of sexual misconduct.

Back was once seen holding the girl's hand when she was in hospital, but he said police cleared him of any wrongdoing.

EXTRAORDINARY HEARING

Tribunal chair Kenneth Johnston said the hearing was extraordinary for three reasons.

The charging of two teachers, the non-sexual nature of the inappropriate relationship, and the tragic end to the girl's life made the case atypical.

"Mr Back has breached one of the most elementary obligations owed by teachers to students to do everything within their power to ensure their safety," Johnston said in an oral decision.

"Secondly, in our view the only realistic outcome, and it seems Mr Back agrees with this, in his case, is that we will censure him and deregister him for his serious misconduct."

The Tribunal censured Wainui Beach School teacher Mepham for serious misconduct, but took mitigating factors into account.

It found Back exercised substantial influence over her, and Mepham faced serious health problems at the time.

Mepham denied failing to report concerns about the girl self-harming.

"SHE HAD A STRONG SENSE OF JUSTICE"

Wainui Beach School board of trustees chair Ailsa Cuthbert said Mepham was a "warm and engaging person."

She said the board grilled Mepham about her relationship with the girl and believed Mepham had been truthful.

"We believe the whole process has been a wake-up call for [her]."

Education Council lawyer Dale La Hood said Back knew he'd be in trouble if authorities learned of the relationship. And Mepham, he said, was Back's "enabler".

The girl's mother testified, describing her daughter as extroverted with a "goofy" sense of humour.

"She was well adjusted with great leadership skills and was sensitive to others. She had a strong sense of justice," the girl's mother added.

A psychiatrist said the girl was intelligent and articulate.

The Coroner is investigating the girl's death.

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback