Stowmarket headteacher ‘unfairly dismissed’, rules tribunal

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A Suffolk headteacher, who was sacked for manhandling a pupil, was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

David Dee won plaudits from governors for his ‘very positive start’ after six months as headteacher of Stowmarket’s Cedar Park Primary School.

But all that changed when a student teacher asked him to deal with a girl suspected of hitting another child.

When she refused to leave the classroom, he lifted the struggling youngster out of her chair and carried her outside.

The incident sparked a police investigation, but magistrates ruled the force Mr Dee used was ‘reasonable’ and cleared him of common assault in September 2014.

Despite his acquittal, a panel of school governors later found him guilty of gross misconduct and he was sacked in June 2015.

Mr Dee ‘expressed regret’ for what happened and accepted he had ‘gone too far’ by telling the pupil that, as head teacher, he was ‘more powerful than the police’.

An Employment Tribunal sitting in Bury St Edmunds on Monday heard how witnesses ‘couldn’t believe what they were seeing’.

One teacher said: “In all my teaching career, I have never seen any teacher physically carry a child in the way Mr Dee did.”

The governors concluded it was ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ and created ‘a significant risk of harm to the child and others’.

The tribunal noted that, on Mr Dee’s own account, the girl was ‘sitting quietly at a desk’ when he encountered her.

But it had ‘concerns’ about whether the internal investigation ‘was entirely impartial’ and ruled his dismissal was ‘procedurally unfair’.

It was not until some time after the incident that Mr Dee ‘was even asked to give his account of what happened’ and he was ‘left guessing for months’ about the nature of the disciplinary charges he faced.

The tribunal said it had ‘the underlying feeling’ that Suffolk County Council had ‘hoped’ he would be convicted by the magistrates, thus justifying his dismissal.

It also ruled that his dismissal was in breach of contract in that it took place before his appeal was decided.

The tribunal’s ruling opens the way for Mr Dee to seek compensation from the county council.