GSD and TG call for independent investigation in teacher case, but Govt says already done
The GSD and Together Gibraltar have called for an independent investigation following a report into a relationship between a teacher and student at Westside School, but in response the Government said this has already been done.
The statements released on Tuesday from both parties and the Government comes some months after a report by Gillian Guzman QC, into the child grooming case at Westside School involving a teacher and a pupil who was a minor at the time.
Following the report both the GSD and TG have called for an independent investigation and improved safeguarding for children in schools.
The GSD said the report and accompanying papers showed some serious failures by the Department of Education and individuals occupying senior posts with safeguarding responsibilities.
“It is apparent from the documents that officials received documented reports and evidence that highlighted safeguarding concerns in respect of the minor several months before they were known to the school’s management and failed to report this,” the GSD said.
Together Gibraltar added the actions taken by Government to identify and punish the safeguarding failures in this case have been insufficient.
“This inaction means that Government has failed to redress the grievances of the devastated parents, and has refused to do everything in its power to ensure episodes of this nature never happen again,” Together Gibraltar said.
“The report documents that the concerns in respect of the grooming were known by senior individuals in the Department of Education eight months before they were relayed to the School administration, thus wasting precious time that could have triggered a more efficient safeguarding response.”
But the Government hit out on both the GSD and TG for jumping on a “populist bandwagon”, without the wellbeing of the individuals involved.
The Government added it was disappointed by the statements, and for the avoidance of doubt, it said, two full, independent investigations have already been held in respect of these events.
“The first was a police investigation which has also already been carried out and the Royal Gibraltar Police has determined, in possession of all the facts, that no prosecutions should ensue,” the Government said.
“Additionally, the second is the Guzman Report, which no one has suggested is anything other than independent and a full analysis of the events in question.”
“An internal review arising from the findings of the Guzman Report is already underway. It will also be independent and will report to the Chief Secretary.”
“Ms Hassan Nahon has, therefore, in her attempt to politicise even this very sensitive issue, once again failed to understand that she is calling for Government to do something that Government has already done.”
In a press statement, the GSD said the report confirms that there was a serious breach of trust of a vulnerable minor by a teacher and the Government has, since the receipt of the report, taken action in respect of that former teacher and prevented her from teaching in schools.
The report noted that the Department of Education had “failed in not clearly and unequivocally communicating the seriousness of the initial report made. The full report and documents were not disclosed to the school or to the Director of Education by those involved...”
The GSD said that meant that crucial time was lost within which prompt safeguarding action could have been taken.
“While the report notes that management in the department of education acted in good faith it is also clear that had information been provided earlier a different approach would likely have been taken to protect a vulnerable person,” the GSD said.
The report, the GSD added, has recommended that protocols and communication processes be revised with a view to their improvement given the failures noted in it.
“Significant lessons need to be learned from this case,” the GSD said.
The party added that people will want reassurance that the Department’s safeguarding policies are fit for purpose and that this could not be allowed to happen again in future, and that eight months on from the Guzman Report the Government also needs to satisfactorily answer how it is dealing with the departmental failures in this case.
The GSD said an internal investigation is not the right way forward, and there needs to be a transparent arms-length process free from any influence.
“As such the Government should commit to an independent investigation into whether there should now be disciplinary proceedings following from this case,” the GSD said.
“The independent investigation should also make recommendations on process and policies above and beyond any internal review that has taken place.”
The GSD called for an independent investigator, which would cater for due process concerns and would also allow the process to be unimpeachable.
“This matter has been ongoing for a long time and the family deserve some closure in this case as well as knowing that the departmental failures have been dealt with and accounted for by an independent review,” the GSD said.
The party added there have been serious departmental failures and these cannot be ignored.
“The Government needs to be much clearer and transparent about ensuring that the decisions on whether there are disciplinary proceedings or not are taken independently and promptly,” the GSD said.
“It also now needs to publish the departmental policies it says have been improved so parents are reassured that there are now robust and improved safeguarding and protection regimes in place.”
Together Gibraltar added that precious time was wasted that could have triggered a more efficient safeguarding response, and while the teacher in question will be prevented from exercising her profession in the future, the negligence within the Department has been allowed to fly under the radar.
“TG believes there needs to be an external and therefore truly independent investigation (as opposed to the internal investigation proposed by Government) into the actions of all those involved, and that the findings of this investigation should inform the development of better communications and safeguarding policies, as well as disciplinary action against those found responsible,’ TG said.
“TG believes that these failures are yet another manifestation of the strategic politicisation of the civil service that is being undertaken by the GSLP, which in instances like these deprives the community of accountability and generally impoverishes the quality of our public services.”
“Unless a truly independent investigation takes place, the findings of which are acted upon thoroughly and transparently, the Department will simply not be in a credible position to reassure Gibraltarian parents about the safety of their children in the future.”
In response to the statements, the Government said the GSD position is to call for the same investigation to be conducted at ‘arms-length’, demonstrating, whether intentionally or recklessly, a clear distrust of the Civil Service, the Royal Gibraltar Police, Ms Guzman QC and of the Chief Secretary to be independent to conduct internal procedures, as they each have been, and will continue to be, throughout.
“This is also a deeply concerning challenge by the GSD to the integrity and independence of the Civil Service and its mechanisms, the Royal Gibraltar Police and a highly respected, independent member of the Bar,” the Government said.
“Most worryingly, both the GSD and Ms Hassan Nahon, in their transparently coordinated press statements, completely neglect to consider the wishes or wellbeing of the individual involved, who is now an adult by the continued exposure of this matter to unhelpful and unnecessary public controversy.”
“Indeed, neither the GSD nor Ms Hassan Nahon have sought the views of the Government or the Department of Education before issuing their statements, showing a callous disregard for the facts as they seek to make a public controversy on which they can hang their political campaigning.”
“This is not a matter for political parties to score points on, but a sensitive case involving real people who do not deserve to be pawns in all to familiar party political spats designed to grab headlines but ignore the right way to handle a case such as this.”