Inquiry into sex abuse teacher begins

By Peter de Graaf of The Northern Advocate -
An inquiry will look at how James Parker was able to abuse his students over such a long time period.  Video screengrab / TVNZ
An inquiry will look at how James Parker was able to abuse his students over such a long time period. Video screengrab / TVNZ

An Education Ministry investigation into sexual abuse by a Far North teacher - and, crucially, how it continued for so long - is due to begin this week.

Former Pamapuria School deputy principal James Parker pleaded guilty in Kaitaia District Court last month to 49 charges of sexual abuse involving about 15 boys. The offences are believed to have occurred during sleepovers at Parker's Awanui home.

Since the case was first publicised it has emerged that concerns about Parker date back 16 years, and that police warned Pamapuria School about the sleepovers in 2009.

Commissioner Larry Forbes was placed in charge of the school within days of Parker's arrest. He told the Advocate an independent investigation, to be carried out by an expert from the Ministry of Education, was due to start his week.

It would establish an overview of events leading to the charges against Parker.

One of the major questions would be how the abuse was able to continue for such a long time.

Care would be taken not to conflict with the police investigation, Mr Forbes said.

Staff and a range of other people with connections to the school were likely to be interviewed, but no children. Other schools were Parker taught - understood to be Oturu and Awanui - and community groups are likely to be included.

The investigation was due to be completed by the end of term, in three weeks' time, and the report two weeks later when the new term started. That could be extended, depending on what emerged from the interviews.

Mr Forbes believed the report's findings would be shared publicly. "What can be shared needs to be shared so there is a sense of learning that comes out of this. That [Parker's offending] was the major crime - it would be another crime not to learn from what went on.''

Support would continue to be available at the school for those who needed it. The revelations had created huge shock and surprise at the time but staff and children were getting on.

"I've been amazed at the resilience of the teachers, in their ability to focus on what's best for the students,'' Mr Forbes said.

Parker is due to be sentenced on November 15.

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