Teacher to sue Ulster Unionist councillor
Dearbhail McDonald A TEACHER falsely accused of indecently assaulting a pupil has started libel proceedings against a senior Ulster Unionist party councillor. David Bell, a teacher at Laurelhill Community College, Lisburn, issued legal papers last week to William Gardiner Watson, former UUP deputy mayor of Lisburn, demanding a public apology for allegedly defamatory remarks made during a BBC interview. Bell, who has also complained about statements allegedly made to parents at a school annual meeting last November, is seeking damages and an apology. It is believed to be the first libel and slander action backed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Britain’s largest teaching union, in support of a teacher who was falsely accused of abuse by a pupil. Three years ago a 12-year-old girl accused Bell of putting his fingers between her breasts and walking them up to her face before slapping her on the chin. Two friends backed up her story, the police were called and Bell was suspended on full pay. It took two years for the case to reach court and the teacher was widely suspected of being a paedophile. Before the case one of the witnesses withdrew her statement and said she had made it up to support her friend. Sexual assault charges were dropped and Bell was given an absolute discharge last April after pleading guilty to common assault. Despite the collapse of the sexual assault case, Bell was not reinstated until September after NASUWT, which has 10,000 members in the north, threatened strike action.