A Derry secondary school was entitled to dismiss a teacher after pupils watched explicit videos of him engaging in sexual activity, an industrial tribunal has found.
Vedar Crawford was Head of the Department for Art & Design at St Joseph’s Boys’ School in Creggan at the time of the incident, which occurred on February 2, 2010.
On that day, 15 pupils at the school had viewed a pornographic film involving Mr. Crawford which was found on a school laptop computer.
The one hour long video, which was said to be explicit in nature, showed consensual sexual activity between Mr. Crawford and his adult partner.
Details of the case emerged following an industrial tribunal in Belfast. Mr. Crawford had taken the case on the grounds that he had been unfairly dismissed from his job.
The tribunal heard that, on February 2, 2010, the school principal Damien Harkin was informed at the end of the school day that a group of pupils had viewed a pornographic film involving Mr. Crawford found on one of the school’s laptops.
However, the laptop in question had already been taken home by a pupil who had been assigned it for coursework that evening.
One of the school’s vice principals later retrieved the laptop from the pupil’s home and, after viewing the footage with one his colleagues, Mr. Harkin contacted the then Chairman of the Board of Governors, Patrick Durkan, informed him of what had happened and advised him that he felt it would be appropriate to put Mr. Crawford on a precautionary suspension.
Mr. Harkin then contacted Mr. Crawford and told him that a sexually explicit video had been found on one of the school’s computers, that the art teacher featured in the video and that pupils had watched the video.
Mr. Crawford, the tribunal heard, accepted immediately that it was a video of him and his partner and that he had put the video on the laptop.
Mr. Crawford’s evidence to the tribunal and throughout the disciplinary process was that he told Mr Harkin during his telephone conversation that he had deleted the video.
Mr Harkin’s evidence, however, was slightly different in that he maintained that the claimant had said that he ‘thought’ he had deleted it.
On February 3, Mr. Harkin was told by a number of pupils that the video had been in the waste bin of the laptop from where it had been easily retrieved.
Mr. Crawford was invited to an investigatory meeting scheduled for February 10, 2010, but immediately submitted a sick line for 16 weeks.
On February 24, Mr. Harkin was informed of the existence of a second video - approximately five minutes in length - which was explicit in nature and again showed Mr. Crawford engaging in consensual sexual activity but on this occasion with a different adult female.
It had been discovered by a pupil after coursework had been downloaded onto a separate hard drive from the original laptop. This second footage had been viewed by seven pupils.
On October 18, 2010, a disciplinary panel concluded that Mr. Crawford’s actions constituted gross misconduct and that he should be summarily dismissed with immediate effect.
Mr. Crawford took his case to an industrial tribunal which sat in Belfast between May 28-30 last. He argued that summary dismissal was inappropriate in the circumstances.
The tribunal unanimously upheld the decision to dismiss Mr. Crawford on the grounds that his conduct could be regarded as gross misconduct.
The tribunal added: “A school employing senior teachers in a faith-based environment is entitled to expect that, at the very least, those teachers should not place sexually explicit videos on a school laptop when they know that laptop will then be made available to pupils.”