The most common allegation faced by NEU members is assault – often when a pupil alleges they have been struck by a teacher or a member of support staff. Sometimes the allegations are of sexual assault. Any such allegation may lead not only to a criminal case but also internal disciplinary proceedings.
If you are contacted by the police and told you are required for questioning, the first step is to contact the NEU.
If the allegation arises out of your employment (i.e., a pupil alleges that you hit them) then the NEU can provide criminal legal advice and support to members.
If the allegation is related to something outside of your employment (i.e. an allegation of driving your own vehicle without due care and attention), the NEU will not provide legal support in respect of any criminal case but you will be entitled to support should the allegation lead to threatened disciplinary action by your employer.
Some allegations arise from many years ago. You must have been a member of NEU (or one of the legacy unions) when the incident is alleged to have taken place in order to gain NEU guidance.
The police interview is the first step in any investigation. Even if you believe that you are innocent, the NEU recommends having a solicitor present when the interview takes place. If a police interview is to be arranged, then your regional/Wales office will arrange for a local criminal solicitor to attend with you.
Only rarely will the police interview you at a time that is not pre-arranged. It may happen if you are arrested and then taken immediately to the police station. If that situation arises you should request the presence of the duty solicitor. All police stations have a local criminal solicitor who is “on call”. The duty solicitor can provide advice and assistance; their services are free.
Very few people are arrested before any interview is taken place. Any interview should however take place under caution (this is not the same as accepting a caution which is explained later).
It is very distressing and disorientating to be informed that you are to be interviewed by the police and accused of a criminal offence. You must remember that anything you say to senior management and/or the police may be used in evidence in both a criminal and an internal investigation.
If your Head calls you to his or her office and advises you that you have been accused of assaulting a pupil and that the police wish to interview you, it is advisable that at that stage you say very little. Certainly, you should not provide any statement about the allegation to your employer until you have spoken to your appointed criminal adviser. This is to avoid incriminating yourself in any subsequent trial, should the matter go any further.
If you have already provided a statement to senior management and/or signed the notes of an interview conducted with senior management, it is important that a copy is obtained for the criminal adviser as the police are likely to have been given a copy. (This may occur if you have reported an incident to your employer, but the matter is later reported to the police by the pupil’s parents.)
The police may suggest that you “accept a caution”. This can appear an attractive option after an interview as it would avoid any further stress and avoid an appearance at a Magistrates or Crown Court. But by accepting a caution, the individual is admitting guilt. This is likely to have wide-ranging consequences. It may be enough to lead an employer to dismiss the individual for gross misconduct. It could also lead to a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service and/or the Teaching Regulation Agency. A caution will also appear on an enhanced DBS certificate.
With effect from October 2012, teachers are granted anonymity if accused of committing criminal offences against children. In such circumstances, no matter relating to the person is to be included in any publication if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify the person as a teacher.
The protection comes to an end if the teacher is charged. Note that the protection only applies to teachers, not support staff (although the NEU is campaigning for support staff to have the same protection).