Police glitch let Wellington sex offender escape detection at primary school

All children at the school were "potential victims" of Ceballes, the former Families Commissioner said.

All children at the school were "potential victims" of Ceballes, the former Families Commissioner said.

A police error allowed a sex offender to work at a Wellington school undetected for months after he was convicted.

Vicente Ceballes, 48, was only sacked from his non-teaching role on Friday, when he was jailed - and the school first learned of his offending.

Ceballes was found guilty earlier this year of an indecent act committed against an 11-year-old in 2014.

Wellington Acting District Commander Paul Basham​ said police intended to inform the school earlier, but school holidays were on at the time.

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"Unfortunately, this notification was not rescheduled by police," Basham said.

"Police have contacted the school principal and the Ministry of Education to explain the situation and have accepted responsibility that we did not notify the school."

Basham said police had procedures in place for disclosing information to schools about staff under investigation but had to work within the Privacy Act.

The Board of Trustees chairman of the school, which had name suppression, learned of the police error on Monday night.

"I guess it's good to hear they have a process but I think...it's a process that needs to improve," he said.

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It wasn't immediately clear when police intended to inform the school.

"I would have expected the school to be told when the charges were laid. We have to ensure the safety of our children."

Ceballes was not the first school worker to avoid detection despite sexually offending against children, and some child protection advocates said the law had too many gaps.

Robert Selwyn Burrett, a caretaker, bus driver, part-time teacher and serial rapist, pleaded guilty in Christchurch last month to sexual abuse against girls aged five to 12.

Under the Education Act, court registrars must tell the Education Council when a teacher is convicted of an offence punishable by three months' jail or more.

But the law has no such provision for non-teaching staff.


Green MP and education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty​ said the Ceballes case exposed a "blunder" that suggested the system was not robust enough.

"It does seem to me like a pretty weak excuse."

Delahunty said she'd consider raising broader issues about when and how offenders should be reported to schools at an upcoming select committee hearing considering reviews of the Education Act.

"It's a very emotive issue. What's needed is a very practical solution."

Ken Clearwater, Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse national director,  said schools should be told as soon as any teachers, staff or volunteers were charged with sexual offences.

Ceballes was thought to have no prior convictions, making pre-employment criminal checks on him useless. But Clearwater said alerting schools when serious charges were laid would reduce risks to children.

Former Families Commissioner Christine Rankin said privacy rights and the presumption of innocence should not override the protection of children.

She also said schools should know when any employee faced charges, instead of waiting for a conviction.

The Ministry of Education's Katrina Casey said the ministry aimed to keep school boards informed whenever allegations about staff became known.

"We rely on that information being passed to us by the police or the school," she added.

Casey said the ministry raised the Ceballes issue with other agencies to ensure systems for reporting information about offenders were strengthened.

She said Boards of Trustees were responsible for vetting all staff, including non-teaching staff.

 - Stuff

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