Teaching assistant cleared of assault on pupil
A SCHOOL assistant has won a two-year battle to clear his name after being wrongly accused of assaulting a pupil.
Darren Smith was accused of squeezing the back of an 11-year-old boy's neck and pushing him against a wall.
Bristol magistrates found him guilty in February, despite him insisting he merely placed his palm on the top of the lad's back as he tried to calm him down.
Mr Smith, 40, of Hermitage Road, Staple Hill, appealed the conviction and it was quashed at the city's Crown Court by Judge Geoffrey Mercer QC and two magistrates.
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But he has been unable to work for two years and is now without a job after his fixed-term contract ran out while he was suspended.
Mr Smith told The Post: "It's been a very testing time and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this. Receiving the verdict was satisfying, but I didn't feel arrogant or boastful about the situation. I was just happy to have my name cleared.
"The most gratifying thing was that some students from the school and their parents came to support me and were sat in the public gallery when the new verdict was read out.
"The boy was not harmed in any way and I was not aggressive towards him. I want to stress that I do not hold this child at fault. My message to him and his family is that I have no animosity towards them. I think it would be unfair to make a judgment on the school. What I would say is that if I didn't have the support structure I had, and the people willing to assist me, I would have been alone up against a multitude of people bent on giving me a criminal record."
The Post cannot name the boy, nor the Bristol school in question, for legal reasons.
Mr Smith had worked for two-and-a-half years as a mentor and gym supervisor. He taught meditation classes and advised pupils on anatomy and physical fitness.
The allegation arose on November 8, 2010. Mr Smith said he saw the Year 7 pupil walking along a corridor at about 2pm when he should have been in class and he assumed he was "absconding".
When the boy walked out of the school building and into the playground, Mr Smith followed him and talked to him, putting the palm of his hand on the top of his back.
Mr Smith said he asked him how he was feeling, the boy said he "hated" school, as they walked back towards the school premises.
However, after that meeting the boy said he has been left with pain in his neck and had been physically marked.
Mr Smith was suspended that day and when his contract was up for renewal in December 2010 he was told his services were no longer required. For almost two years, he has been unable to get a job in the field he loves.
At the magistrates' court trial, several teachers testified against him and the magistrates judged that he had used "unlawful force" and imposed a one-year-conditional discharge. But at the appeal, as the now 13-year-old boy and the teachers gave evidence again, holes and inconsistencies appeared in the prosecution case and the conviction was quashed.
Mr Smith wanted to thank his solicitor Mike Wynter, who he described as a "Moses" figure, and his barrister Tara Wolfe, whom he said presented a "tenacious, titanium" defence in court.
Mr Smith added: "I had an unblemished record for all my time at the school, but that didn't count for anything. I was never given the benefit of the doubt.
"It's been very, very difficult. It was basically a career-ending situation and that wasn't taken into consideration by those who initiated the proceedings against me. How could I apply for any work with this hanging over my head?"
The school's principal said: "The school acted in line with child protection procedures in the interests of the child."