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03/05/2015: Reverend West faces lifetime teaching ban

revwest3The Reverend West (pictured) has had a number of charges against him found proven by a Professional Conduct Panel (“the panel”) of the National College for Teaching and Leadership after a hearing which ended this Friday. Two charges against him were found not proven.

Reverend West was alleged to have made critical comments about Islam during his teaching which showed "intolerance for the faith and beliefs of others" and "lack of respect for the faith and beliefs of others". An earlier charge based on his membership of the British National Party was withdrawn after the Panel ruled that "an affiliation to any legal political party was not in itself a matter that could be regarded as unacceptable professional conduct and/or conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute." References to alleged 'racism' were also dropped.

The charges were:

1. On 8 November 2013 he made inappropriate comments to students whilst teaching a history lesson in that:
a. He stated that he was "allergic to Mohammedans", or words to that effect,
b. When asked by a student whether there was there anything wrong with being a Muslim he stated "yes because we are fighting them", or words to that effect.
2. On 14 November 2013 he made inappropriate comments to students whilst teaching a history lesson in that he stated:
a. "I assume you are all Christians", or words to that effect,
b. "Any Non-Christian God is demonic", or words to that effect,
c. "Muslims worship the devil", or words to that effect,
d. "Well there is one god and if not worshipping him, then you are worshipping the devil", or words to that effect;
3. During one of those two lessons he asked students to state their religion to the class and responded:
a. Positively, if a student stated that they were Christian,
b. Negatively, otherwise;
4. His comments as set out at paragraph 2 above caused two students to leave the lesson early;
5. He knew or ought to have known that his comments and behaviour as described in paragraph 1 to 3 above was capable of causing offence to students;
6. His conduct as described at paragraph 1 to 3 above demonstrates:
a. Intolerance for the faith and belief of others;
b. Lack of respect for the faith and belief of others

The panel found allegations 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d, 3b, 5, 6a and 6b proved. The panel did not find allegations 3a and 4 proved.

The panel found that the conduct of Reverend West fell short of the standards expected of the profession and was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute.

The case concerned teaching by Reverend West at Walton Girls High School and Sixth Form in Harlaxton Road Grantham on the topic of the Crusades on 8 and 14 November, 2013. Thirteen witnesses gave evidence in the case which lasted five days.

Reverend West now faces the possibility of a lifetime ban without the possiblility of review. In argument our general secretary, Patrick Harrington, who represented Reverend West made it clear that his view was that any ban without review would breach the European Convention on Human Rights incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. The National College accepted that it was bound by the Act. Pat Harrington argued that any restrictions placed on Reverend Wests rights under Article 9 (relating to Faith) and 10 (relating to freedom of expression) of the Convention had to be "necessary" and therefore proportionate. Pat Harrington gave them a copy of Handyside v. UK 1976 and drew their attention to the passage in Section 49:

"every 'formality', 'condition', 'restriction' or 'penalty' imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued".

He went on to question whether even the two year minimum period set before a review could take place would allow proportionality to be excercised in this and other cases.

Mr Harrington made it clear that he was in no way questioning the right of a Professional body to set standards and uphold public confidence. Mr Harrington simply argued that in doing so they needed to ensure that any interference with a Convention right should be carefully designed to meet those objectives and not be arbitrary or unfair. He reminded the panel that a review of a ban could decide either way and so it was "shocking" that this should be denied to teachers found guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Mr Harrington presented character testimonials and many arguments in mitigation on behalf of Reverend West. He noted that the panel accepted that some professional insight had been exercised by Reverend West. He pointed out personal problems that the Reverend faced at the time of the alleged comments. Mr Harrington also stressed that evidence indicated that there were no Muslims in the class, the comments were not directed at any specific individual or group present and that it had not been argued that Reverend West had set out to cause offence. Reverend West was a man of strong Faith and Mr Harrington urged that the panel consider the wider public interest which would not be served by reccommending a review period that seemed draconian or unfair or worse still no possibility of review. Mr Harrington urged the panel not to convey the impression that a Christian was being treated unfairly or discriminated against in comparison to those of other Faiths. This he said would encourage disharmony rather than harmony.

The panel thanked the parties for the way in which proceedings had been conducted in a case involving controversial issues.

The Solidarity Union would also like to thank those with strong political and religious opinions, from all sides, for allowing this case to be heard in a peaceful and calm atmosphere. It is our hope that good can come of this process as all those of goodwill reflect long and hard on the responsibilities they have to each other. We would also like to thank our Muslim members and supporters in particular for understanding the civil liberties grounds for us representing a long-standing member in this matter and giving their support and encouragement.

The decision regarding a teaching ban will probably be announced toward the end of next week.

Notes:

A Professional Conduct Panel (“the Panel”) of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (“the National College”) convened on 27 April to 1 May 2015 at 53-55 Butts Road, Earlsdon Park, Coventry CV1 3BH to consider the case of the Reverend Robert West.
The panel members were Mr Michael Lewis (teacher panellist – in the Chair), Ms Jean Carter (lay panellist) and Dr Melvyn Kershaw (teacher panellist).
The legal adviser to the Panel was Mr Stephen Murfitt of Blake Morgan Solicitors.
The presenting officer for the National College was Mr Andrew Colman of Counsel.
Reverend Robert West was present, and was represented by Mr Patrick Harrington of the Solidarity Trade Union.
The hearing took place in public and was recorded.