Teacher cleared of sex assault charges

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A head science teacher from South Cave launched a blistering attack on the legal process after being wrongly accused of subtly touching girls he taught as he lent over them in chemistry lessons.

Prosecutors claimed Christopher Hird touched three girls, aged 16 and under, for his own sexual gratification despite the fact there were 23 other pupils in each class. One pupil bravely went to the headteacher to stop the case because he thought it was malicious, but he was not listened to.

Mr Hird, of Highfields, South Cave, was repeatedly told the case would be dropped as all three allegations amounted to less than 60 seconds of contact. But instead he was hauled through the courts and suspended from his £38,000-a-year job as head of science at South Holderness Technology College, and forced to wait 15 months to prove his innocence.

After a six-day trial, which cost nearly £100,000, a jury took less than three hours to agree with the 48-year-old’s case that his contact with the girls was accidental and innocent.

After the trial, Mr Hird spoke out on the steps of Hull Crown Court where he was found not guilty of two charges of sexual assault, one charge of sexual activity with a child and one charge of indecent assault.

Mr Hird said: “I have been through 15 months of hell for no good reason. It should never have come to court. I knew I was innocent. My lawyers kept saying it would be dropped but no-one wanted to make that common sense decision.

“My thoughts were only for the children’s welfare. When I moved around the classroom to lean over children it was only in the proper context.

“My motives were pure. You don’t expect a knife in the back from a child but innocent teachers run a daily risk of having their lives destroyed by false claims from children.”

The case was sparked by a girl who told a friend she would “get him done” for touching her hair while using a paper towel to remove ink sprayed on her face by a disruptive pupil in a chemistry lesson.

She did not like the fact he had moved hair out of the way and told her mother. She claimed he had put his hand near her crotch and brushed her thigh.

Mr Hird vigorously denied any touching had taken place. He said the girl had not liked it when he told her to take her coat off in a lesson and she had refused. He said it had been a battle not worth fighting because she was part of a troubling group.

A male classmate of the girl told the jury he saw the girl outside immediately after the incident. He said she was grinning and initially claimed it had been an accident but wanted to “get him done”. When challenged about reporting the touching, he said she told him: “I don’t care. I don’t like him.”

He said he was so concerned he went to the headteacher but could not stop the case progressing. He said Mr Hird had already been suspended but over the coming weeks he found the girl’s account was changing as she told it to other people.

The male pupil said: “She was exaggerating. I heard her tell three or four different accounts to people. I thought there was something odd about it. She did not seem distraught in anyway.”

Mr Hird, a teacher of 24 years, told a jury: “I am an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher who has a child’s best possible interests at heart. I always aimed to get them to fulfil their potential. I did get results.”

The jury heard there were two other complaints from girls of brief touching as he leant across them when called for help. One girl claimed he pulled a paper towel out from under her bottom and touch her buttock. Mr Hird said any contact was accidental and agreed with the defence suggestion in cross-examination that the girls had made it up.

He admitted he could not recall one girl. He told police, because she only came forward after reading a report of his arrest in the local paper, she was probably only after compensation.

On the main complaint in which he was said to have brushed her hair sexually, he said: “She asked me where the ink was. It could easily have gone in her eye. The contact with the paper towel was a few seconds. It was not sexually motivated. I got no pleasure from it. I was far from happy at the time. I wanted her to get back to work.”

He said there could be limited space around tables and it meant leaning over but he denied ever touching anyone. He said it could have happened but it would have been accidental.

Eleven members of staff and nine former pupils provided glowing character references to the jury. Hull University second year science undergraduate Georgia Cliff, 20, said: “He was a brilliant teacher, extremely professional, who showed great care for his students. He was always willing to give up his lunch-times and Saturdays for revision lessons.”

Defence barrister Mark McKone told the jury Mr Hird had worked his way up through the school to his job without a hint of criticism.

He said the jury had to be sure that contact took place, that it was deliberate and that it was sexual. He told the judge the case had inherent weakness and vagueness in places.

He said with one girl’s complaint there was an extreme difference between accounts and in another there was exaggeration.

He said one girl had waited half her own life time before making a complaint and her only alleged contact was from removing a piece of paper she was sat on in a science lesson.

“I ask you to consider whether it took place at all,” said Mr McKone.

After the jury announced unanimous verdicts of not guilty, Judge Mark Bury told Mr Hird: “A number of accusations have been laid against you, they have been rigorously tested in this court and have been found not to be proven. On the evidence I have heard in this court, I agree with this verdict.”

Speaking outside court, Mr Hird said he was waiting to discover whether he will be re-instated in his job and wanted the case out of the way to return in September.