A teacher has been awarded almost £45,000 after he was sacked over sex assault claims that pupils later said had been made up “for fun”.
Jonathan Hawker, who taught maths and computing at an all-girls grammar school, was sacked after pupils said he had assaulted them by touching their thighs and massaging their shoulders.
Following the allegations, he was suspended from Devonport High School for Girls in Plymouth despite some older pupils later claiming the girls had told them they fabricated everything “because it was fun”.
Mr Hawker was arrested and dismissed for “gross misconduct”, an employment tribunal heard. His appeal against his sacking was then rejected, despite the police dropping the charges.
However, he has been awarded £44,868 – his annual salary – after the tribunal ruled the school had carried out a “wholly inadequate” investigation and failed to provide a safe working environment for staff, in particular for men.
The tribunal, held remotely at Bristol, heard that in June 2021, a student wrote a statement to her tutor that another girl – identified only as Student H – had said Mr Hawker had touched her leg.
Ruth Morgan, the head of safeguarding, discovered during discussions with other pupils a “similar incident” described by students, as well as false rumours Mr Hawker had previously been suspended for “touching a year 9 student” and had an affair with a sixth former.
The hearing was told that Beverly Bell, the school’s acting head, instructed Mrs Morgan to take statements from the girls.
One girl, Student D, reported that Mr Hawker had made her feel “very uncomfortable”, by “massaging my shoulders and stroking my arms”.
She said she had seen Mr Hawker stroking other girls’ thighs and that other girls, Student G and Student F, had said that happened to them. The teacher was also accused of winking at girls, the panel was told.
Mr Hawker was suspended pending an investigation in June that year.
A month later two girls from the year above said they had heard the group of accusers claim they tried to get Mr Hawker fired, the hearing was told.
First knowledge of the allegations
This was reported to the head, but the school “appeared to reject” the older students’ account, the tribunal heard.
Mr Hawker was arrested in September 2021 after two of the original group agreed the school could involve the police. It was his first knowledge of the allegations. An internal investigation was launched at the school in November.
Mr Hawker was dismissed for gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing in February 2022. A month later police dropped the charges against him.
Martha Street, an employment judge, upheld his claim of unfair dismissal and criticised the school’s investigation into the girls’ allegations.
“A fair investigation would at the least have included a transcript of the interviews with them,” she said.
“I make no finding on whether Mr Hawker committed the misconduct alleged.
“What I can say is that if he is innocent, and a playground plot can end a career and destroy a reputation, the school is not providing a safe working environment for its staff, in particular for its male staff.”
The judge said the disciplinary panel and subsequent appeal panel was presented with “wholly inadequate” findings.
“In a career-ending case, the investigation has to be as full as possible. This fell well short of that. The school accepted the evidence of the younger pupils without challenge or exploration and discounted, ignored or avoided finding contrary evidence.”