By Chris Yandell
Southern Daily Echo – 29 October 2009
One of Hampshire’s top politicians has condemned the decision to prosecute a highly respected head teacher who was accused of assaulting a pupil. New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis said Eve Ritchie-Fallon, who was cleared of the charge, should never have been put through such a traumatic ordeal.
Dr Lewis cited the lack of medical evidence and the ‘unreliable’ nature of two teenage witnesses who testified against her. He also called for Mrs Ritchie- Fallon to be reinstated as head of the Forest Education Centre, a special school for problem pupils.
After taking over in 2001 she transformed the failing unit in Cabot Drive, Dibden Purlieu, into one that was heaped with praise by inspectors. However, she was suspended almost a year ago after she was accused of slapping a 15 year-old boy around the face when he refused to stop smoking on school premises – a charge she denied.
Mrs Ritchie-Fallon, 57, of Long Lane, Pennington, was cleared following a three-day trial at Southampton Magistrates’ Court. Prosecution witnesses included a 15 year-old boy who admitted that he had been smoking cannabis on the morning of the incident and only half of what he told police at the time could now be believed.
But despite being acquitted, the teacher remains suspended from work pending an internal investigation by county education bosses. Dr Lewis said:
"There was no independent testimony against Mrs Ritchie-Fallon, other than that of pupils whose evidence failed to stand up to examination. There were inadequate grounds for a prosecution, given that there appears to have been no medical evidence of any injury to the boy who made the allegation."
Describing the prosecution as 'wholly inappropriate' Dr Lewis added:
"There was no justification for a teacher of good standing being put through an ordeal such as this when there was no evidence of any injury and no reliable witnesses."
New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne said:
"All sorts of malicious allegations are made against teachers. We need a more robust system for filtering out unfounded complaints before teachers are suspended and their careers wrecked."
Hampshire County Council is due to carry out an internal review next month following the case. Dr Lewis said:
"I hope they deal with the matter as quickly as possible so that she can get back to work. This saga has already gone on too long."
The Crown Prosecution Service has stood by its decision to prosecute.