Jan 2006

Outrage over sex offender teacher prompts review

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is to review its policy after it emerged that Education Secretary Ruth Kelly cleared a man on the sex offenders’ register to work in schools.

A DfES spokesman said: “We are already reforming and tightening the system by developing a new vetting and barring scheme with the Home Office and police.

“If further action is needed to improve the system, we will not hesitate in taking it.”

The teacher at the centre of the row was today named as Paul Reeve.

Mr Reeve, who is believed to be in his early 30s, was given a job at the Hewett School in Norwich despite being on the sex offenders’ register.

Mr Reeve was arrested in 2003 by Norfolk Police as part of Operation Ore, the largest inquiry into child pornography undertaken in the UK. He received a police caution for accessing banned images of children on the internet.

Police alert

Mr Reeve was only stopped from working as a PE teacher when police, who had warned he was a risk, alerted the head.

Ms Kelly considered evidence that he had accessed paedophile websites inconclusive and so did not place him on “List 99” of those barred from working in schools.

Today it emerged that Mr Reeve had worked at the school for around eight days before the matter came to light.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “He had worked at the school for about eight days – it was not much more than a week.

“He was suspended first when the police raised concerns and he then subsequently resigned.”

The spokesman said it is possible that Mr Reeve will take the school and the council to an employment tribunal.

“He has employed lawyers, but whether that is just because of what is happening to him I don’t know,” said the spokesman.

“He certainly has legal advice because we are checking our statements with his legal representatives, so it is possible he is considering going to an employment tribunal.”

Ms Kelly is understood to believe that her decision to clear Mr Reeve to work in schools was correct but has ordered a policy review amid concern from child protection experts.

‘Serious lapse of judgment’

Shadow education secretary David Willetts called her decision “extraordinary”.

“It is a serious lapse of judgment and raises wider questions about the role of the Secretary of State in individual cases like this,” Mr Willetts said.

“The Government also needs urgently to look at how someone can be on the sex offenders’ register and yet not be on its own List 99, barring people from working with children.

“This needs to be tackled to restore people’s confidence in the integrity of teaching appointments.”

The 2002 case of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley, highlighted concerns about those working with children.

Huntley had slipped through police checks which were supposed to stop those who might pose a danger to youngsters.

The case prompted the Bichard Inquiry, which called for more stringent vetting of those working with children.

Concern from school

In this instance, Mr Reeve was placed on the sex offenders’ register without being convicted.

Ms Kelly still decided not to blacklist him last May and he was given a job at the Hewett School last month.

The DfES wrote to Norfolk County Council saying that Ms Kelly had “considered all aspects of the case, including sex offender registration, and decided that the risks of the teacher being allowed to continue teaching were acceptable”.

Simon Morgan, spokesman for the Norfolk force, said: “Swift action was taken as soon as this matter came to our attention.”

Natalie Cronin, of the NSPCC, said the children’s charity had been “concerned for some time” that the decision to blacklist someone rests with the Education Secretary and not experts.

The school’s head, Tom Samain, and governors’ chairman, Marion Wright, voiced concern in a joint statement.

“The person concerned is no longer employed, and there will be a full examination of the process in this case,” they said.

“This is the first time we have had such a case and received such a notification from the DfES. We are concerned at the policy contradictions it throws up, and have raised our concerns with the DfES.”