St Albans school teacher who had ‘inappropriate’ relationship with pupil has claim for wrongful dismissal denied
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A secondary school teacher whose relationship with a pupil was described as ‘inappropriate’ has had his claim for wrongful dismissal denied.
Stephen Jones, who taught at St Columba’s College in St Albans since 2003, brought a claim against the school after he was immediately dismissed without paid notice in May last year.
Dr Jones claimed that there was a breach of contract because of the school’s failure to provide paid notice.
But his claim was dismissed at Watford Tribunal recently on the grounds the school acted accordingly and Dr Jones’s actions were ‘well-intentioned but seriously at fault’.
The tribunal heard that Dr Jones befriended the family of a student, referred to as Pupil A, after he was his confirmation sponsor in 2012, and the ‘friendship deepened from early 2014 onwards’ when A was 15.
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Employment Judge R Lewis was keen to point out that the relationship was never sexual and wrote in the judgement: “There was no suggestion or evidence of sexual impropriety or sexual misconduct.”
The tribunal heard that Dr Jones socialised with Pupil A’s family, visited them at their home on many occasions, and travelled with them to Canada, Ireland and Italy.
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During the summer of 2014 Dr Jones remained in Canada with Pupil A for five days after his parents returned home and they flew back together.
Dr Jones regularly, with ‘general’ parental permission, gave lifts in his car to A.
He also arranged for A to have extra tuition at his home, accompanied by A’s mother, and in autumn 2014, he organised and paid for A to meet a counsellor at his home and at school. On at least one occasion he accompanied A to the cinema alone.
There was reference to an incident when pupil A left his home and Dr Jones went to find him and paid for food and his journey home.
Dr Jones saw red marks on the pupil’s neck, which he was later told by A were caused by his mother, but failed to report this to the school out of concern that social services would be alerted.
Dr Jones described the incident: “In January  I found A wandering alone...in the rain following an argument in the home, and following which his father threw him out of the house.
“A had red marks on his neck. He told me his mother had tried to strangle him, His mother herself admitted this to me, saying it was out of frustration, On that occasion I gave A some money to get food and to get a bus home.”
In April 2015 the counsellor employed by Dr Jones advised him that A should be referred to child protection services, but the recommendation was not put in writing until May 20.
The tribunal heard that Dr Jones was initially reluctant and spoke to a senior colleague, Mr David Shannon-Little, who advised that Dr Jones write to A’s mother.
Judge Lewis said it was a significant piece of evidence, and suggested that the information given to Mr Shannon-Little must have been ‘incomplete if it led him to think that the problem could be addressed by writing a letter’.
In May, A’s parents met with teachers at the school involved with ‘tutorial responsibilities’ and ‘action points’ were outlined. It was then that A’s mother told one of the teachers that Dr Jones had become a ‘third parent’ and did not want him involved any more, but no action was taken.
In his evidence Dr Jones said that he then told A’s mother that he might involve social services or the police.
On May 16 A’s mother visited Dr Jones’ home and used ‘language which was threatening and offensive’ and Dr Jones and a former colleague visited Mr Shannon-Little to make him aware.
Dr Jones, at Mr Shannon-Little’s request, voluntarily wrote a document which he submitted to the school on May 18. On the same day A’s parents phoned headteacher David Buxton and arranged a meeting that day.
The parents told him that Dr Jones had an ‘unnatural and unhealthy’ influence upon A.
A multidisciplinary took place on May 21 and Dr Jones was suspended by letter the following day.
Judge Lewis wrote: “An immediate difficulty is that before 18 May, 2015, the claimant’s [Jones] interaction with the family is entirely undocumented.”
The report added: “I find that in general terms the claimant told colleagues that he was concerned or worried about A, I find that he did not impart to any colleague the full extent of his interactions with A and his family, or what he had learned about A’s home life, or describe to any colleague the most serious events which he considered he had seen, or those which he interpreted as potentially the most harmful to A.”
When questioned in his meeting about why he had not reported the January 2015 incident, Dr Jones stated: “Didn’t think it was in the best interests of the child or parents who are very volatile. Making progress in their relationship with A. Involving child protection services is extreme, disruptive and wouldn’t serve his best interests at that time.”
Judge Lewis decided that Dr Jones’ claims against the school failed and were dismissed.
Writing about parts of the document which referred to Dr Jones’s relations with A, the judge said: “In particular, they demonstrate that the claimant has over a period of time consistently failed to adhere to both letter and spirit of his terms and conditions of employment. The claim fails.”
A spokeswoman for St Columba’s College said: “The member of staff was dismissed because they failed to follow the school’s child protection and safeguarding policies and practices. It must be made clear that these infringements imply no sexual impropriety but were considered to be unprofessional and inappropriate conduct.
“The college is mindful of its responsibility to safeguard the needs of all children and takes this responsibility extremely seriously. The college has acted promptly to address this matter and in full consultation with the Hertfordshire LADO. In its last inspection (December 2014) the school had no regulatory failings.”