Eccentric teacher subject of 'witch hunt'

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012

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Police and Child, Youth and Family have spent months investigating an eccentric Greymouth science teacher, including raiding his classroom and interviewing his students, after claims he was "corrupting" children with inappropriate stories and had touched a female student.

The principal of John Paul II High says the investigation into teacher Andrew McCarthy was unprofessional, the complaint against him was vindictive and CYF went against its own protocols in what amounted to a "witch-hunt".

Principal Kieran Stone says McCarthy is a good teacher and he has no concerns about him continuing to teach at the integrated Catholic school of 190 pupils.

CYF wrote to the school last week to say it had completed its investigation.

"We are satisfied there are no concerns that we need to follow up after completion of our child-focused interviews," wrote Moya Beach-Harrison, area manager.

Police say they are yet to conclude their investigation and refused to comment.

Stone said the inquiry had gone on over three terms, putting enormous stress on students and staff.

"At one stage I put the message across [to CYF], you need to either put up or shut up," Stone said.

McCarthy, 66, was head of science at the school but now works part-time. In 1995, his daughter, Catherine, died when a viewing platform collapsed at Cave Creek.

"I have had a daughter die while under a government department's care, and now I have had another government department trying to ruin my reputation," he told the Sunday Star-Times.

The complaint about him came from a parent of a student who was embroiled in a custody dispute involving a relative of McCarthy's and CYF. McCarthy has been helping the relative.

CYF alerted police, who carried out an investigation into McCarthy's teaching methods.

McCarthy said he had been "telling stories" to make science fun for students for more than 20 years.

"I just say ‘Mr Magnesium's got two electrons to give away, and there's Miss Chlorine wanting to receive an electron'."

Former Greymouth police detective Sergeant Jackie Adams said although one of McCarthy's stories was inappropriate for children, "it wasn't something I believed required a police investigation".

But he said McCarthy did not do himself any favours, at one point threatening to hack into the CYF computer system.

"He's an eccentric fellow."

After the first police investigation was closed, the same source told CYF that McCarthy had inappropriately touched a teenage female student.

McCarthy said he touched the girl's glands under her neck in March 2010 because he suspected tonsillitis. Another teacher who was present, Rudi Rupp, told police nothing untoward happened.

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"The girl came in to say she was feeling ill, he touched her throat . . . just to feel whether the glands were swollen," Rupp told the Star-Times."It's absolutely unfeasible that Andrew would do anything inappropriate, it's completely at odds with his personality."

Stone said CYF was describing the incident as a "serious sexual assault".

"I said to them this lady [the complainant] is being vindictive, she wasn't up front and truthful with me."

Stone said he had to follow "due process" and implement a safety plan around McCarthy. He made police get a search warrant before he would allow them to enter McCarthy's classroom and take his personnel file and other material.

Stone said he had no problem ensuring students were safe, but he felt CYF was out to get McCarthy.

"A CYF person said to me, ‘Where there's smoke there's fire' and I didn't appreciate that. As far as I'm concerned you're innocent until proven guilty. It felt like a witch-hunt."

Stone said there were protocols for investigating teachers agreed between the Ministry of Education, the PPTA and CYF.

"They weren't always adhering to that. They just seemed hell-bent on investigating Andrew. It seemed they were out to discredit him."

He was concerned for McCarthy's health. He suffers transient ischemic attacks, known as mini-strokes.

"My question would be if he'd died, would somebody have taken responsibility? Because it could easily have happened."

Stone said McCarthy had a "theatrical" style and sometimes overstepped the line. "He's just got to be careful what he says."

McCarthy has been charged with assaulting two police officers, after allegedly rushing at them with a wheelbarrow when they came to his house to question him. The officers had earlier called an ambulance as McCarthy was having one of his attacks. He says he cannot remember what happened and has pleaded not guilty.

Kelly Anderson, CYF southern regional director, said the department could not talk about McCarthy because police were still investigating.

"We can say that we don't have current safety concerns for any young people at the school."

She said when the department was notified of alleged abuse or inappropriate behaviour by a teacher, it worked with police to investigate.

"This process can be difficult for all involved, but we need to take every step to understand what did or didn't happen and to ensure children are safe."

- Sunday Star Times

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