Allegations Against School Staff - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by John Pinnington

  My name is John Pinnington and I welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to this enquiry. As a falsely accused and subsequently dismissed deputy principal of a specialist college, I hope my personal account will provide the Committee with a better understanding regarding the nature and consequences of false allegations, the need for just solutions, improved guidance and better investigative practice. When looking at whether guidance to the relevant bodies needs to be revised, I ask that the Committee consider my evidence in respect of the following:

    —  The Recording/Reporting of Allegations;

    —  Inter-agency Investigation of Allegations;

    —  Single Agency Investigation of Allegations; and

    —  Police Disclosures of Soft Information on CRB Checks.

  Also, I hope the Committee's criteria will permit consideration of my submission concerning:

    —  Absence of Redress for Accused.

  In 2005 I was the deputy principal of a college for autistic young adults aged 16 to 25. Following my transfer to a new employer, under Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment regulations, I was asked to produce a new Enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate. The "discretionary" section of this new CRB certificate contained details of three serious allegations of abuse. The wording was shocking and led directly to my dismissal from post. My union solicitors would not support me in an action for unfair dismissal. The allegations made against me were:

    1. In 2001 by student X; I was the sixth person he accused of sexual assault.

    2. In 2002 by student Y; the son of close friends of X's parents.

    3. In 2004 by student Z, the brother of student X.

  I have never believed these students were responsible for the allegations made against me.


  1.1  As the parent of a young adult with severe autism I would like to record my general approval and support for the attempts made to ensure the safety of all vulnerable members of society.

1.2  As a man falsely accused of sexual abuse, I would submit that in the rush to protect vulnerable groups from the perceived threat of abuse, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. The lack of an appeal procedure available for those subjected to false allegations must be addressed to rectify this imbalance.

  1.3  Reading press reports and other stories in the media, it appears that a very high number of false allegations are being made against teachers, often involving disputed information on CRBs.

  1.4  The evidence I am submitting is personal to my experiences; however, I believe many of the points will equally apply to other areas of teaching.


  2.1  Teachers working with students with learning difficulties and communication problems are subject to additional issues when faced with a false accusation, as there will invariably be a third party involved in the recording/reporting of any such allegation. In other words, it is a parent, carer or other adult who reports the allegation.

2.2  In my case, no investigation considered the reliability or integrity of these third parties, let alone the reliability of the technique by which the young autistic people were making the allegations.

  2.3  Each of the allegations against me was made using a technique called Facilitated Communication (FC), a controversial method of communication that has been ruled inadmissible as evidence in court. On the website of the National Autistic Society is a discussion of FC and includes the statement: "Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the High Court Family Division, condemned FC as dangerous and declared that it should not be used by British courts to support or reject allegations of abuse." Dame Butler Sloss made this ruling in 2000, before any allegations were made against me.

  2.4  Even if any credence were given in principle to this method, the protocols established by the National FC Steering Group were ignored in each instance. All of the allegations FC'd against me were made with untrained facilitators, and none was validated by an independent body.

  2.5  In Facilitated Communication, a facilitator (parent, carer, or other adult), supports the hand, wrist or elbow of the disabled person, in this case the autistic young person, who then spells out words using a letter board. Practised properly, and in accordance with the strict protocols drawn up by the National FC steering group, it can be a valuable tool in the therapeutic education of a small number of speech-impaired people. Howlin (1997) reviewed 45 controlled trials of FC (involving 350 subjects), finding confirmation of independent communication in only 6% of subjects. In more than 90% of cases the responses were found to have been influenced by the facilitators rather than the clients. Crucially, controlled experiments have shown that when different questions are secretly asked to facilitator and young person, so each does not know the question put to the other, it is the question put to the facilitator that is answered. In other words the facilitator is unconsciously influencing the handicapped person. In cases of abuse allegation, this immediately raises the question of what is in the facilitator's mind.

  2.6  In the case of the second allegation against me, by Y, it was his untrained mother that facilitated. This was shortly after the parents of X had informed her of the first allegation.

  2.7  Despite FC being declared dangerously unreliable, and despite the failures in the techniques used when allegations were made against me, these allegations were subsequently treated as fact by Social Services and all attempts to challenge their validity were ignored

  2.8  Just as X had withdrawn allegations against five other people, so his allegation against me was withdrawn less than a month after being made. I only discovered this six years later. Oxfordshire Social Services (OSS) had kept this information secret. I learnt about it after making a complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding OSS when they failed to respond to my request for information. An internal memo disclosed to me had recommended keeping this withdrawal on a "need to know" basis; however, OSS have stated in written replies, that all parties were informed. My employers, my college and Andrew Newland, an independent investigator, (see below) refute this claim.

  2.9  Following my repeated requests, OSS finally commissioned Andrew Newland to conduct a review of my complaints. One of his findings concluded that the allegations had been made through third parties using a method of communication known to be untrustworthy. OSS did not accept this or any of the report's findings.


  3.1  Following the publication in 2000 by the Department of Health, No Secrets: Guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, my local County Council, Oxfordshire, set up a multi-agency Oxfordshire Adult Protection Committee (OAPC).

3.2  The Committee comprised representatives from: Thames Valley Police; Oxfordshire Primary Care Trusts; Oxfordshire Mental Health Trust; Oxfordshire John Radcliffe Hospitals Trust; Oxfordshire Learning Disability Trust and The National Care Standards Commission.

  3.3  Individual members of this committee passed on damaging material about me to other agencies who then accepted it as true, even though the full committee had not verified the material.

  3.4  Without the scrutiny of an OAPC governing body, the representative police officer was able to bring the third allegation to the attention of the OAPC, then, using his position on that committee, to provide a report to his own chief constable. This essentially circular presentation of the facts and allegations, gave the report a veneer of breadth and integrity that it did not deserve.

  3.5  I have been unable to establish who is responsible for monitoring or investigating any complaints levelled at this committee and John Howell, my MP, is currently trying to obtain this information for me.


  4.1  Oxfordshire Social Services (OSS) at no time conducted an investigation into any of the allegations against me, as in the direct sense I was not their employee. They did however produce a dossier of "evidence" for my employers to consider regarding the first allegation. My employers' conclusions resulted in them returning me to work, having found the allegations "not capable of belief".

4.2  The dossier stated that the decision by the police not to proceed against me "should not be taken as justification for assuming that the alleged behaviour has either not happened or is acceptable". Nowhere in the dossier was there any acknowledgement that I might be innocent, although the OSS officer who compiled the dossier had full knowledge that X had withdrawn his allegation against me.

  4.3  This was the first time OSS had responded pro-actively into allegations by X. Previously they had failed to involve the police or request employers to investigate the five other serious allegations made by X against family members and privately employed carers.

  4.4  Neither I, nor any member of staff, was invited to submit any information or comments to the content of the dossier.

  4.5  I complained to OSS about their handling of the issue, and then, following their own, in-house investigation of themselves, to the Local Government Ombudsman.

  4.6  The Ombudsman would not investigate my complaint, as I was "neither service user or carer".

  4.7  Because OSS procedures have no exit strategy, a point recognised in the Newland review, once they adopt a position in relation to an allegation, they have no means of modifying that position.

  4.8  When an "independent" review is undertaken, the department being investigated has the final say on whether to accept or reject any findings. In my case there were three such independent investigations, two by my employers—the college where I worked and the supporting charity, and the Newland review. All supported me; none was accepted by OSS.

  4.9  The first and second allegations were reported to Thames Valley Police (TVP). I was eliminated from the first investigation, and the second was recorded as "inconclusive evidence".*

  4.10  Following the second investigation I challenged the investigating officer's actions, and this led to the Police Complaints Authority upholding four of my complaints:

    —  Failure in Duty (poor and slow investigation);

    —  Failure in Duty (*Items were not submitted for examination);

    —  Failure in Duty (No investigation of the [X and Y] link); and

    —  Failure in Duty (knowingly using an unacceptable method of communication).

  4.11  I was denied access to all information regarding the third allegation until the police were forced to disclose it to my solicitor prior to the Judicial Review undertaken in 2008.

  4.12  OSS cited this third allegation as grounds for insisting that my employers produce a risk assessment as to my suitability to continue working; they also advised that my employers should ask me to resign my post.

  4.13  In 2003 a document, Allegations of abuse by people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Guidelines for Investigating Police Officers, was produced following consultations between TVP, my employers, the Children in Touch charity, and two eminent child psychologists. This document was the outcome of a meeting that had been convened in response to the mishandled Y investigation in 2002.

  4.14  These guidelines, which included contact details of a countywide "expert panel who can be called upon to advise on allegations made by people with [Autistic Spectrum Disorder]", were accepted and agreed by TVP.

  4.15  When considering the Z allegation, TVP disregarded the county panel. Instead, their representative officer on the OAPC approached a registered Home Office intermediary on behalf of the committee. He later used her personal opinions as part of the report he submitted to the Chief Constable in connection with my CRB application.

  4.16  Part of this report suggested that when taken alone, none of the allegations was credible, but when viewed as a body of evidence they achieved greater credibility. In court, my barrister pointed out that "three times nothing is nothing".

  4.17  Shortly after TVP informed me of a third allegation against me, Abingdon and Witney College, our franchising college, produced an internal memo marking me as a "High Risk" based on "a presumption of guilt" by OSS.


  5.1  The Chief Constable or officer appointed to complete a CRB disclosure bases his decision on information put before him: he does not investigate, he simply assesses. This information does not have to be hard evidence.

5.2  In my case the information presented was mainly in the form of a report produced by the OAPC police representative, who was also the commanding officer of the policeman disciplined following the Y investigation. This report was partial, distorted and subjective, yet was unable to be challenged at the Judicial Review, as this looked at whether the inclusion of the allegations was fair based on the information available to the presiding officer.

  5.3  The inclusion of not only unsubstantiated, but completely false allegations in the discretionary information section of my new CRB led to me being dismissed from post, as my new employers insisted on a "clean" CRB.

  5.4  As a legal precedent has now been set by a Judicial Review that sanctioned the inclusion of this type of information, it is highly unlikely that anyone else will be granted leave to challenge allegations included on a CRB.

  5.5  Lord Justice Richards in his judgement stated "The legislation imposes a relatively low threshold for disclosure in the certificate in order to enable an employer to make a properly informed decision. But it is important that employers understand how low that threshold is and the responsibility that it places in practice upon them. A properly informed decision requires consideration not only of the information disclosed in the certificate but also of any additional information or explanation that the employee may provide". Whilst this ruling clearly states what an employer should do, it also implies their actions will follow these criteria. Current experience shows that most employers presented with hitherto unknown revelations, cover their backs by regarding the disclosed information as information the police believe they needed to know.

  5.6  The continued inclusion of such unsubstantiated information will contribute to a collapse of the support network and place severe limitations within education recruitment. There is already evidence that men are withdrawing from professional or voluntary roles which expose them to the possibility of false allegation. Civil society is threatened when the balance between protection and safety against truth and justice swings too far one way.


  6.1  Once an allegation has been made it can never be expunged, it can only be challenged.

6.2  It would appear that if, as in my case, an individual continues to protest his innocence and does not let the matter drop, he is branded a serial complainant. When my Local Councillor and my former MP Boris Johnson approached OSS on my behalf they were first told of the number of complaints I had made, then subsequently misled regarding their content.

  6.3  Now, any questions I raise with either the TVP or OSS appear tainted by the fact that I have challenged them in the past and have robustly denied their findings. Indeed, it would seem that my persistent fight for justice has compromised my credibility with these organizations.

  6.4  Whilst it might be assumed that victims of false allegations are able to pursue those responsible through the courts for libel, in fact, such action is rarely covered by a trade union's legal brief and this, coupled with the absence of Legal Aid, renders this course of action beyond the means of most teachers.


  7.1  Once a teacher is acknowledged as the subject of an allegation, gossip and rumour can inflame the situation making it more likely that further allegations will follow. This factor needs to be considered by employers before suspending those accused and thereby legitimising a possibly spurious allegation.

7.2  William Blackstone (1723-1780) in his Commentaries famously stated "Better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer". It appears that the current policy relating to those who have been falsely accused reverses this principle. The policy now appears to be that it is better one hundred innocent teachers be dismissed, than one possibly guilty teacher remain employed. This view is acknowledged in the OSS legal team's advice, where they state it would be preferable to be defending a claim for over zealous actions against me, rather than face a public enquiry for failing their clients.

  7.3  This utilitarian policy not only fails those who have been falsely accused, it also fails those who need protection by implying that current procedures are foolproof.

  7.4  It is essential that all allegations be taken seriously. This also means that they must be seen for what they are, a possibility, and that BEFORE deciding on any course of action, ALL available evidence from both sides should be weighed carefully.

  7.5  This is not the case at the moment when dealing with those people with communication difficulties. The current approach in this area puts a disproportionately high value on the fact that an allegation has been made, rather than its content or the manner and context of its making. Thus, "taking an allegation seriously", is tantamount to believing it to be true, rather than testing it.

  7.6  There is a need for an independent body; responsible for investigating false allegations when they arise, as they invariably will, in the current climate. This body must also be able to recommend what action should be taken regarding the accuser/reporter, if they are adjudged to have made false allegations.

  7.7  Much of the interpretation, application and enforcement of child/vulnerable adult protection policy is currently carried out by unelected, and in many cases, unaccountable agencies. The quality of these agencies' findings needs monitoring, as their consequences can be far reaching.

  I would like to express my thanks to Boris Johnson, John Howell MP and Tony Crabbe, my local county councilor; who have supported me in my attempts to achieve justice.

May 2009

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 16 July 2009