Justice obtained against teacher who used social media to commit child abuse
I have recently been successful in a child abuse case against Wakefield Aspire Education Trust for sexual abuse by a teacher at Horbury High School based in Wakefield.
Background – the abuse
My client (who shall be known as “Stacey” for the purposes of this article) was sexually abused by Mr Michael Pooley who was a teacher at the school. The abuse took place in 2011 when Stacey was 15 years old and Pooley was about 34 years old.
Pooley was Stacey’s physics teacher when she was 13 years old. He was also responsible for an after-school gardening club that my client attended and he frequently helped Stacey with her coursework after school hours. In addition to spending an increasing amount of time with Stacey, Pooley also started conversing with her via Facebook and they frequently messaged until late at night. On a number of occasions, my client’s father had to switch off their home internet as Stacey was spending too much time on the internet. He did not know that Stacey’s high internet usage was in fact due to Pooley’s extensive Facebook conversations with her. Pooley also took Stacey on trips, gave her gifts and sent numerous text messages to Stacey. This extensive attention made Stacey feel as if she was in a loving relationship with Pooley.
One of Stacey’s friends decided to disclose Pooley’s abuse to Stacey’s parents and they consequently informed the police. Pooley pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Stacey and received an 18 month prison sentence, was required to sign up to the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years and barred from working with children indefinitely. My client found the criminal case very difficult due to her mixed feelings about Pooley as on one hand she felt she was in a loving relationship but on the other hand she was coming to terms with the fact that Pooley had groomed and manipulated her so he could sexually assault her.
Our involvement – pursing a compensation claim
I was concerned about pursuing Pooley directly for compensation as there was a real risk he would not have enough money or assets to pay compensation to Stacey. As a result, I decided to pursue Pooley’s employer. It was clear to me that Pooley had used his position as a teacher to obtain access to Stacey before manipulating her and then sexually abusing her. As a result, I felt the school were equally responsible for the abuse as they had failed to supervise Pooley even though he was allowed daily interaction with young children.
The school admitted they were responsible for Pooley’s actions and I therefore provided them with our medical evidence (being reports from a psychiatrist, educational psychologist and neurologist) and our assessment of Stacey’s losses and expenses as a result of the abuse. Stacey had not only suffered substantial psychiatric injuries but the abuse had detrimentally impacted her studies and caused a delay to her career.
The school failed to respond to our documentation and failed to enter into settlement negotiations. I was not deterred by this however and decided to issue court proceedings against them. Stacey wanted to ensure her identity was kept confidential and I therefore applied to the court to anonymise her identity. My application was successful and Stacey was therefore known by three non-descript letters (such as “ABC”) and her address was noted as my Firm’s address for the entirety of her claim.
After a period of negotiations, I was able to settle Stacey’s case with the school. The conclusion of this case was a significant result for Stacey as she felt she had obtained a sense of justice as it signalled the school admitted that she had been harmed as a result of their failures and it has finally enabled Stacey to move on with her life.
Dino Nocivelli is a partner in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Dino free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4887 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you. Find out more about the Abuse Team.