Paedophile school visit led to assault charge

COLIN WILLIAMS
Last updated 16:01 17/12/2012

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The alleged assault of a Hutt school principal happened after a parent raised concerns about a convicted paedophile visiting the school.

St Joseph's School principal Peter Ahern was allegedly assaulted in his office by a 39-year-old man, a pupil's uncle, who will face assault charges this week in the Upper Hutt District Court sitting in Lower Hutt.

The incident last Wednesday followed a meeting between Ahern and two relatives of students, who were concerned about a man who visited the school.

The parents had learned the man, in his 60s, was convicted of paedophile offences more than 20 years ago.

Ahern needed stitches for a split head and had bruised ribs after the incident, likened to a 'home invasion" by the school's board of trustees chairman Mark Petersen.

The meeting had been amicable until, at its conclusion, the assault happened, Ahern alleged.

"They were looking for the best interests of their child ... [then] one of the guys lost the plot.''

Ahern confirmed the pair raised the issue of the man being on the school grounds and visiting a classroom.

The man had come to the school at the end of the day when there were a lot of parents about, he said.

''I had no idea that he was on site and I had no idea that he had a conviction,'' Ahern told The Upper Hutt Leader.

''I made it clear to them that this person was not in any way employed by the school.

''He will not be welcome [at the school in the future],'' Ahern said.

The man lives in Upper Hutt and is a long-time member of the St Joseph's Church, adjacent to the Catholic primary school in Pine Ave.

Bill Kirkup, from the church's pastoral committee, confirmed the visit by the man to the school and that he had also been there on an earlier occasion.

"He's a very active parishioner and he went to the school to see a teacher, a director of religious studies."

Kirkup said the man was part of a "parish group presentation" delivering a religious programme to students at the church.

"He was supervised at all times," Kirkup said.

Kirkup said he learnt the man was part of the parish programme for the school after the assault.

"If I had known he was part of the group I wouldn't have let him be part of the presentation [to the students]."

Kirkup spoke to the Upper Hutt Leader after comment was sought from the parish priest Father Ron Bennett, who is also a member of the school board of trustees.

''Father Bennett was unaware at the time that [the man] was in this religious programme,'' Kirkup said.

He said the school not being informed of the man's ''quite historical'' offending, which would be known to older parishioners ''was an oversight''.

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''That's my opinion but it's only an opinion,'' he said.

''There's no protocol [in place] for Father Bennett to inform the school or anyone,'' he said.

The board has ''no process, no protocol''.

''It meant people didn't have to do that and they didn't do that,'' he said.

Informing the board or the school would have had to have been done ''on a personal basis,'' he said.

Peterson said the board was unaware of the man's background ''and had never been told of his history''.

''He has never been in the employ of the school but we [now] understand he has some connection with the parish but as to what his role is, I don't know,'' he said the day after the incident.

''We have made it clear he can not come on to the school grounds.

''We are going to have a full review of this by the board.

''There are going to be some lessons learned. And one [lesson] is there has to be better communication with the parish,'' Petersen said.

A board's ultimate responsibility was to ''make sure our children are in a safe place''.

The alleged assault was ''almost like a home invasion,'' he said, and would have repercussions for the future of the school in how it provided a duty of care for all.

''There was absolutely no justification in the attack,'' Petersen said.

''It's unbelievable.

''Peter has done everything he can. He was unaware of the guy's background and there's this person trying to to make him the fall guy.''

- Upper Hutt Leader

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