SCOTLAND’S deaf school are “surprised” and “disappointed” after hearing that a former principal, accused of failing to act on a sex attack warning, has been allowed to remain on the teaching register.
Janice MacNeill, the former Principal of Donaldson’s School, in Linlithgow, West Lothian, was accused of not following up allegations that a member of staff had molested a colleague’s child.
The support worker in question, William Docherty, was later found guilty of indecently assaulting a 16-year-old boy at the child’s birthday party.
The former principal appeared in front of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) regarding the claims that a colleague had tipped her off about the incident – but then she did nothing about it.
However, the GTCS allowed Ms MacNeill to remain on the register after the allegations against her were “not proven.”
The disciplinary panel decided that a key witness against Ms MacNeill was “not wholly credible and reliable” and was “often evasive”.
Ms MacNeill on the other hand was judged a credible and reliable witness who answered questions directly and fully.
Despite that, the Chief Executive Officer of the Donaldson Trust, which runs the school, has slammed the GTCS for their decision.
William Docherty was found guilty of indecently assaulting a colleague’s son at her birthday party.
It happened after mother of the boy had a 50th birthday party and invited friends back to her house.
Docherty had asked the boy to go outside and wait with him for his taxi.
He then asked the boy to accompany him to his hotel and then groped him.
The teacher was found guilty at Falkirk Sheriff Court in 2014 and was placed on the sex offenders’ register.
Head teacher Ms MacNeill was allegedly informed of the incident and told staff that it was “being dealt with.”
However, the GTCS put down the allegations to “hearsay” and the panel gave a “not proven” verdict.
Now, Laura Battles, CEO of The Donaldson Trust, slammed the GTCS decision.
She said: “The Board of Trustees and I are extremely surprised at, and disappointed with, the outcome of the investigation.
“Since taking over the leadership of Donaldson’s Trust in 2014 I have made safeguarding the young people in our care our number one priority.
She added: “Our significantly strengthened approach has been supported by Education Scotland and commended by the Scottish Government.
“The wellbeing of young people will continue to be at the heart of everything we do as we move forward confident of the positive position The Donaldson Trust now holds.”
Ms MacNeill was accused between October 2009 and August 2013 of failing to: “follow child protection guidelines after being informed by colleagues of an allegation of sexual misconduct committed by [Docherty] against the son of staff member B”.
She was also accused of advising “colleagues that action was being taken…when in fact you knew this was not correct and no action had been taken”.
Ms MacNeill was further accused of failing to follow child protection guidelines in relation to a Facebook post by Docherty, and an incident on a school trip run by Docherty during which pupils “engaged in a game of kissing and spin the bottle”.
However, the GTCS noted the evidence provided at the hearing was “hearsay”, and Ms MacNeill maintained throughout the process that she was never informed of the sex attack allegedly committed by William Docherty.
Ms MacNeill was dismissed by the school in 2014 and is now retired.
The GTCS panel said: “All of the evidence presented by the GTCS concerning conversations between the Head Teacher and the teacher was hearsay.
“The Panel was nevertheless surprised that the Head Teacher had not been called to give evidence or asked to provide a statement. She was clearly a potentially very important witness.
“The fact that she had not been called or provided a statement affected the weight that the Panel could attach to what evidence there was of the discussions that she had with the teacher.”
During the hearing the evidence given by two staff members at the school alleged Ms MacNeill was informed of the incident at the time.
The anonymous witness reported the attack to the Head Teacher at the school. She told the hearing: “She told me she would report it to the senior management team.
“I was then told that there was nothing they could do because of my son’s age and it happened outside the school.
“Janice never talked to me about it.”
The witness also claimed Ms MacNeill told another senior member of staff: “She’ll forget about it’.
A second witness told the hearing: “I handed her the correct paperwork. Ms MacNeill said ‘Yes, we know all about this’.
“I went to see Ms MacNeill and she said ‘it’s being dealt with’. She was frosty with me. My suspicion was she didn’t want me involved.
“‘It’s being dealt with’ was a reasonably standard reply with Ms MacNeill if your enquiry was not welcome.”
In their written findings, the GTCS panel cast serious doubt on the evidence of a key witness.
They said: “Staff member C was often evasive when answering questions, particularly when challenged about the evidence that he had given. On more than one occasion a question had to be repeated and staff member C had to be reminded to focus on the question that was being asked.
“It was clear from his evidence and the way he presented that staff member C had a longstanding dislike for the teacher, which the panel considered was due, in part, to the changes that the teacher had implemented at the school and the fact that, following the restructuring of the school, staff member C had been made redundant.
“The teacher’s evidence that staff member C was resistant to change and resentful of her was also supported by the witnesses called by the teacher, who described staff member C as one of the more “reactionary forces” working at the school.
The GTCS today (fri) declined to comment.