Kaitaia school warned about sex teacher

KELSEY FLETCHER AND SIMON DAY
Last updated 14:09 23/08/2012
Pamapuria School in Kaitaia
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ

TRUST BREACHED: Pamapuria School in Kaitaia, where James Parker worked as deputy principal.

COMMUNITY BETRAYED: James Parker, 37, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a dozen boys while he was deputy principal of Pamapuria School in Kaitaia.
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COMMUNITY BETRAYED: James Parker, 37, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a dozen boys while he was deputy principal of Pamapuria School in Kaitaia.

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LATEST: A crackdown on schools has been ordered in the wake of a Northland school failing to act on police warnings its deputy principal was a sexual predator.

James Parker, deputy principal of Pamapuria School, yesterday admitted sexually preying on pupils.

It was revealed today the school failed to act for three years on a warning by police or tell the Education Review Office about potential problems around Parker.

The police warned Pamapuria School in 2009 about Parker after a complaint from a child via a parent - police could not gather enough evidence to prosecute Parker, but decided to write to the school to alert trustees.

Parker  pleaded guilty in court yesterday to 49 charges of indecent assault, performing an indecent act and of unlawful sexual connection.

His name suppression was lifted when he appeared in Kaitaia District Court.

The attacks, on boys aged under 16, occurred over a period of nearly eight years up until his arrest last month.

Most of Parker's sexual abuse against students occurred after police warned Pamapuria School that he should not have pupils staying at his house overnight, Parker's lawyer Alex Witten-Hannah said.

But Witten-Hannash said the school did "nothing constructive" about the police warning.

ERO chief review officer Graham Stoop said the office would expect a school to bring a matter such as this to its attention, but today said there was no evidence that Pamapuria School's board of trustees did so.

The office spent last night checking its files for evidence of the letter sent to the school and found nothing, Stoop said.

Parker's outing comes the same week a ministerial inquiry into Henry Te Rito Miki was released - Miki was convicted of child abuse, then faked an identity and was employed at six schools. The report by former Ombudsman Mel Smith found that some schools had suspicions about Miki but failed to raise them with the Teacher's Council.

Today Education Minister Hekia Parata said the ministerial inquiry "made it clear that agencies need to work together to share information and individuals within those agencies need to ensure they are doing their jobs".

"We will be working hard to ensure that this happens and will look to tighten up current procedures."

The ministry had already issued further guidance to schools around hiring staff and work was under way to strengthen the governance of schools, which will include supporting Boards and Principals during the process of hiring teachers and support staff, Parata said.

"A review of the Teacher’s Council is also under way which will help us identify what is working and what is not working in relation to the accountabilities associated with teacher registration.

"I am confident that the changes we are making and the extra vigilance each Government agency will be taking across the board will make it difficult for people like this to work in the education sector.

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"In this case the board has stood down and a commissioner has been appointed to run the school. The principal is on leave.

"I have been advised the school is reviewing its processes and practices. A Ministry of Education traumatic team is continuing to work with the school and the commissioner.  My thoughts are with the students, staff and wider school community at this difficult time,” the minister said.

Detective Senior Sergeant Kevin Burke said in 2009 police carried out the best investigation they could. But police were bound by Crown Law Prosecution Guidelines and were unable to take the matter to court.

"The investigation was carried out to its fullest and the correct authorities were informed," Burke said.

The file was never closed and once further evidence came to light, police did prosecute. He said the file still remained open and police said anyone with further complaints could come forward.

"The investigation is ongoing. We'd still want to hear from any person who may be able to assist the investigation - and any potential victims out there, we'd urge them to contact us."

Witten-Hannah said the lack of action from the school in the wake of the police warning in 2009 was "extraordinary."

"It almost beggars belief. I had to see the letter with my own eyes to believe it."

The school's board of trustees has resigned in the wake of Parker's crimes.

Larry Forbes has been appointed as commissioner. He said: "While we can't undo what has been done, it is our responsibility to learn from this terrible situation and do everything we can to prevent such a situation happening again."

After his guilty pleas, Parker was permitted to make a statement, apologising to his victims and to the community.

"My crimes have also had awful and drastic consequences for my school, community, students, staff, parents, board of trustees and my principal - you have all been directly victims of what I have done.

"As a teacher and deputy principal I held a position of great trust; my actions betrayed that trust."

TEACHER WAS TRUSTED AND RESPECTED

Locals confirmed the trust and respect that Parker, known as "Jamie", had held in the town.

They said he was a popular teacher and was the leader of kapa haka group. The community had given him the personalised number plate "no shoes" because of his constant bare feet.

"Jamie was a pillar of the community and he was supposed to be someone people could go to," said community leader Ricky Houghton.

"We've had our little earthquake and the ground has shifted and left a gaping hole."

But Houghton was optimistic for the community's future.

"There is always suspicion and rumour, and now we can get beyond that," he said. "The kids need to know that it is not their fault and that they are not damaged kids."

The betrayal was a shock to the town's relaxed, rural way of life.

Pete Smith has had four children go through Pamapuria school. The accomplished actor said the northern way of life was taken advantage of.

"We are sedated by our rural lifestyles and it's been a real shock. Now we have to be alert to something we never had to worry about," he said.

"Vigilance is the price of freedom. And this is our wake-up call."

And although he said the actions were disgraceful, Smith said he sympathised with Parker and what the convicted teacher called his "terrible disorder".

"I've been in prison and I've seen these predators. I feel sorry for him because it is a sickness."

Forbes is confident about the school's prospects. "I think it is a school with a future."

The school is conducting its own investigation into what happened and although Parker has pleaded guilty to all charges laid against him, the police inquiry is continuing, Detective Senior Sergeant Kevin Burke said yesterday.

Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira expressed sympathy for the victims and the community. "Along with all other whanau in the Far North, my heart goes out to the Pamapuria School community."

- Fairfax Media

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