The teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl was not fired from the school where he worked over his contact with the girl, an inquest into her self-inflicted death has heard.
Instead, Sam Back was given a final warning even though Gisborne Intermediate had been told by police he was exchanging inappropriate text messages with former student Reiha McLelland.
Reiha took her life just days after Back was disciplined by the school and months after the pair had been banned from seeing each while police investigated the extent of the relationship.
Mental health experts have testified at the inquest into her death in Gisborne that the teen loved Back and was distraught their relationship had come to an end.
She had spent nights at his home without her parents' knowledge and the pair exchanged about 4000 texts in three months.
The final day of the inquest into the teen's death focused on the role police and the school played as it became clear Back's relationship with Reiha went well beyond what would be expected from a teacher.
Former principal Donald Niven said the school was not aware of the extent of the communication between Back and Reiha.
However, he said the school had the benefit of two email briefings from police, including one which included examples of the text messages which had been exchanged.
The school had relied on advice from the NZ School Trustees Association which had initially advised "the matter appears currently at a low level". The association also told the school Reiha was a former student and the police focus appeared to restricted to Back's contact with Reiha and no other students.
Despite this, Niven said the STA suggestion to the school was that Back was "grooming" Reiha.
Back remained teaching at the school through the course of the police investigation - from April through to June. During that time, Niven said he took care to monitor Back in the playground and drop into his classroom unannounced.
Once police notified the school no charges were being laid, the school disciplinary process began.
Niven said he did not take part in the disciplinary hearing, which was led by board of trustees chairman Theo Ackroyd, who was also the police officer in charge of Gisborne's child protection unit which had investigated Back.
"Mr Back's behaviour was completely out of line with what was acceptable. My view was that I would not have been surprised if the board had dismissed him."
The court was told Detective Sergeant Theo Ackroyd was on the disciplinary committee which opted not to fire him.
Ackroyd faced repeated questioning over whether he had successfully distanced himself from the investigation, despite telling the court he had declared a conflict of interest.
He said he had declared a conflict of interest to the investigating officer, and also to his superior who was based in Hawke's Bay.
Yet evidence produced in court showed Ackroyd was named as "supervisor" in the investigation plan, had signed off permission to get a production order accessing Back's phone and was named in documentation at the close of the investigation.
In that final documentation, the investigating officer said Ackroyd was briefed as supervisor and "agreed there is not enough evidence to charge Sam Back".
The supervising officer in Hawke's Bay had reviewed the investigation file, emailing the investigating officer and Ackroyd with instructions, saying police legal services should be consulted and, if appropriate, letters summarising the inquiry should go to the school, Board of Trustees and the Teachers' Council (now Education Council).
Ackroyd responded to the email saying the board was aware and a report to the council would be made.
Counsel assisting the coroner asked Ackroyd if a "reasonable interpretation" of the police file was acting as supervisor.
Ackroyd said: "I think that's a logical connection to make but I didn't influence the investigation."
The quality of the police investigation also came under question, with evidence given that the 75-minute interview with Back by police was not recorded on video.
There was also no search warrant sought for his computer, with the investigating officer saying cause to seek one disappeared when the text messages showed an inappropriate but not sexual relationship.
In the wake of the school's "final warning" to Back, Reiha's parents made a formal complaint triggering mandatory notification to the Education Council.
This led to Back and his partner Angie Mepham being sanctioned by the New Zealand Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal. Back was struck off while Mepham, who had also had inappropriate contact with Reiha, was allowed to keep teaching.
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