13 Jul 2015

Former teacher denies touching was sexual

6:19 pm on 13 July 2015

A former teacher says he hugged girls, had them on his lap and touched some of them on their thighs but none of it was sexual.

120514. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Coat of arms. Court

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The man, aged in his 50s and with name suppression, has denied 16 charges of doing an indecent act and is giving evidence in his own defence at the Auckland District Court.

The teacher told the jurors that when for sad children, a hug was better than any amount of words he could say.

He said hugging was a tool to calm children and stop them from fighting.

But he also said he now realises how stupid he had been.

He confirmed that as he held the children on his lap he would sometimes steady them with a hand on their thigh.

The teacher said he may have accidentally touched a girl near her private parts while she was on his lap but it would have been an accident.

The court heard that one of the nine girls who spoke of his inappropriate touching was a girl who delivered him notes from another teacher.

He told the court he believed the girl was scared of him and he took her on to his lap to reassure her.

He said he wanted to make her feel good but realises that it had the opposite effect and he regretted what he did.

The teacher said he failed the girls miserably and when he heard the allegations, he felt miserable.

He went on to say, no matter what happens at his trial, he will never forgive himself.

He said he was sorry that he had made the girls feel unsafe, but again, he said there was nothing sexual in what he did.

Under cross-examination the teacher denied he liked to touch young girls.

He confirmed he did not ask the parents or the girls to hug them or have them on his lap.

He also said some of the girls had issues but he denied taking advantage of them.

The teacher was also questioned about a specific incident which happened when a mother came into his classroom unannounced after school.

She gave evidence about seeing the teacher with a crying girl on his lap while he rubbed her thigh.

The mother said she saw the girl crying while sitting on the teacher's lap after school.

She said she saw the teacher's hand stroking the girl's thigh and at one point his hand went under her skirt.

The mother said the teacher appeared shocked and stunned to see her before telling her it was not a good time and to come back tomorrow.

She said she felt bothered by the situation but did not know who to talk to.

But the teacher said the girl came into his class hobbling and crying and the indicated she had pain in her leg.

He said he had to look after the girl and his only other choice was to chuck the girl out of his class and that would've been an indictment.

Earlier today, a retired school principal said the teacher was spoken to about what she called his professional distance.

The principal said she confronted the teacher about a concern raised about his professional distance.

She said the bell rang and the teacher appeared relieved and told her he had to get back to his class.

But the principal said the teacher also received glowing reports about his teaching and another, senior teacher described his classroom as a warm, caring, and safe learning environment.

A school aide who worked with the accused teacher said she never saw anything inappropriate in the classroom.

She told the court that she never saw girls sitting on the teacher's knee - and while he would hug the girls, he also hugged the boys.

The woman also said she was out of the class sometimes for days at a time because her job was to look after a boy with behaviour issues, who sometimes had to be removed from the classroom.

The trial, which started last week, is set down for three weeks.