Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Violent, alcoholic husband spurred teacher's fraud, court hears

The teacher's offending was referred to the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal. Photo / iStock
The teacher's offending was referred to the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal. Photo / iStock

A Canterbury teacher says her violent and alcoholic husband contributed to her ultimately stealing more than $30,000 through benefit fraud.

The woman, who was granted final suppression, told the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal that she worked out of town but no matter how much money she sent back to her family, he would say there was no money left and that it was her fault.

The woman's offending was referred to the Tribunal after she was convicted of four charges of using a document with intent to obtain a pecuniary advantage and one of obtaining by deception between January 2011 and September 2013.

The teacher was overpaid the unemployment benefit, disability allowance, accommodation supplement and food grants totalling $36,953.47.

She was sentenced to 300 hours' community work and nine months' supervision when she appeared in the Christchurch District Court in February last year.

The woman, who was an adult student, gave evidence at her Tribunal hearing that she admitted the theft but says her husband's drinking and money problems led to the offending.

"I wanted to come off the benefit, but he told me if I did that the children would have nothing. As a mother this was horrifying. I wasn't making much and what I did make would go out of the account feeding [husband's] now heavy drinking. I was constantly told that everything was my fault, him having no work, no friends, he blamed me for even the failure of his business. I was so brainwashed all I cared about were my children."

The woman said she hoped the Tribunal accepted that she had been living "under extreme stress and emotional and physical abuse when I lost my way".

"As a mother my only goal was to feed and clothe my children."

Rebecca Scott, on behalf of the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, submitted that the offending was deliberate, occurred over a number of years and involved the teacher fraudulently signing four documents declaring that she had no income while she was in paid employment.

The Tribunal accepted the offending was sustained and the "most serious kind".

"It is entirely inconsistent with the responsibilities of a teacher."

However, it also accepted the teacher's evidence was "harrowing".

"The picture which emerges is of a wife and mother doing everything within her power to provide for her family being seriously let down by her husband in a range of ways."

She accepted that the woman didn't want the circumstances that formed the background to her offending made public and agreed to suppress her name.

As well as being censured, conditions were also imposed on the teacher requiring her to notify any employer or prospective employer of this offending for three years and to seek counselling before returning to work, and to arrange mentoring for 18 months upon taking a teaching job.

- NZ Herald

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