James Parker fallout: I'm scapegoat, says sacked head

By Kathryn Powley

Sacked principal vows to keep fighting to get his job back

Stephen Hovell
Stephen Hovell

Stephen Hovell, the principal of the school where confessed paedophile James Parker preyed on children has been sacked.

Stephen Hovell claims he has been made a scapegoat for Parker sexually abusing pupils at the primary school in the Far North. He plans to fight for his job.

Parker - Pamapuria's former deputy principal - is in prison after pleading guilty in August to 49 child-sex offences, but is yet to plead on 23 other charges, including four of sexually violating male pupils.

Hovell has been on leave since August, the board of trustees has resigned and the school is being run by commissioner Larry Forbes.

Hovell was summarily dismissed on Thursday but parents did not know until they were contacted by the Herald on Sunday.

Forbes confirmed: "Mr Hovell will not be returning to duties as principal of Pamapuria School. As soon as possible we'll be advertising for a new principal."

He wouldn't give reasons, but said it had been a lengthy process and he had faith in it.

A report commissioned by the school late last year said Hovell hadn't done enough after parents, other teachers and police raised concerns about Parker.

"James Parker was able to rely on the strong personal relationship he had established with the principal and his own powerful position as deputy principal, staff trustee and kapa haka leader to resist control or limits to his activities," barrister Robin Arthur wrote to Forbes.

But the report, a review of the employment and offences of Parker, also detailed how several government agencies had been alerted and nothing had been done.

Hovell's lawyer, Bryce Quarrie, said the principal was "shocked" by his sacking.

"He believes the decision to dismiss is unjustified and he's in the process of taking the appropriate steps to challenge the decision. He'll be applying to the Employment Relations Authority for an order to be reinstated to his role as principal."

Quarrie said Hovell felt he was a scapegoat.

"The evil person, the culpable person in all of this, is and always has been James Parker.

"The commissioner came into Pamapuria like the sheriff riding into Dodge City to clean it up. It seems that something had to be seen to be done."

Community reaction to the dismissal has been mixed. A mother of two boys targeted by Parker said she didn't hold Hovell responsible.

"There's nothing wrong with Mr Hovell. He didn't do that to the children. He is still a good person."

But another mother - whose children no longer attended Pamapuria and who were not among Parker's victims - was pleased Hovell had gone.

"I think it's a very good thing. I think Hovell should be accountable for what happened." Parker had invited her son to a sleepover but they had gone away that weekend.

She'd seen Hovell in Kaitaia but was too angry to talk to him.

Pamapuria parent Stephen Allen is a former board of trustees chairman who works for Te Runanga o Te Rarawa and has been helping co-ordinate services at the school since Parker's arrest. He said the dismissal was a chance to move on.

"I don't want to express an opinion on Mr Hovell's culpability. But the simple truth is Mr Hovell is a good person. I guess the difference is the rest of us weren't (Parker's) manager."

Pamapuria's roll has dropped to 135, down from 155 at the corresponding time last year.

- Herald on Sunday

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