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Released On 18th Dec 2022

Former teacher Matthew Smith awaits sentence for sexual offences

On 9th November 2022 former teacher Matthew Smith aged 34, pleaded guilty to 6 charges, including the sexual exploitation of a child between 8 and 10 years old. The child was forced to be involved in pornography.  Smith also admitted 3 counts of making indecent images and films of children. 22 of these images included category A which is used to describe the most serious type of abuse. Smith was charged with causing or inciting the sexual abuse of a child under 13 and distributing indecent images of children. Smith will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court.

One of the reasons this case has hit the headlines is because the prep school where Smith worked had previously been attended by Prince George and Princess Charlotte.  Smith was the deputy head of pastoral at Thomas's Battersea Prep School, although the offences did not take place when Smith was working at Thomas's and the offences do not relate to any current or former pupils at the school.  Smith joined the school in September having previously worked at a school in Kathmandu, Nepal for the previous 5 years.  As soon as the charges came to light, Smith was dismissed. 

In any case involving childhood sexual abuse, the question of mandatory reporting should always been considered and whether there were any warning signs which may have prevented the abuse. Specialist child abuse solicitor, Samantha Robson, has been a supporter of mandatory reporting for the past decade, particularly after her involvement with notorious paedophiles such as Nigel Leat and Dr Myles Bradbury. In the Leat case, inappropriate behaviour by this teacher was overlooked; and in the Bradbury case, lax safeguarding systems meant he was able to carry on abusing children for many years before being detected.  Bradbury often examined and abused children behind a curtain and whilst a parent was usually present in the same room, there was rarely a nurse or chaperone overseeing him during his examinations.

Whilst the IICSA enquiry has explored the introduction of mandatory reporting in this jurisdiction, it is a hugely contentious issue.  Many experts say that there is already an infrastructure in place for agencies such as schools to handle abuse and neglect, but child sex abuse is more complex. To explain, mandatory reporting criminalises an individual's failure to report their concerns about another individual to the police.  It therefore imposes a compulsory duty to notify the authorities if they suspect childhood sexual abuse has taken place. This can lead to numerous problems.  Sometimes mistakes are made and reporting is unfounded. Those wrongly accused may struggle to clear their name.

Mandatory reporting has been in force in a number of other countries including Australia and USA.  Evidence gathered from Australia where mandatory reporting was introduced in 2009, has provided useful guidance as to its success.  Professor Matthews who advised the IICSA enquiry, comments that the results of studies conducted in Australia demonstrates enhanced reporting outcomes for children which led to children at risk of harm being identified. However, there are downsides. In the UK, there would need to be huge investment in our infrastructure as mandatory reporting would have financial implications on an already overburdened system. This may result in a shift of resources to investigate concerns that may not be substantiated.

Mandatory reporting is therefore a controversial issue. There is already statutory guidance in place, `Working together to Safeguard children', which does not impose a legislative requirement to report abuse, but it does create an expectation that those working with children will raise concerns and comply the guidance unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Over the past twenty plus years, Samantha Robson has represented countless school children who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher or staff member at school.  These claims can be challenging, particularly as a young person may take years to come to terms with their experiences. She comments, `It is not possible to rush these cases, some young people need a huge amount of support and counselling.  It can take years for them to recover and often they may never fully overcome their experiences. Sexual abuse often leaves them feeling humiliated and affects their confidence and self-esteem. They may fail to meet their educational milestones and become disillusioned with education. Their career choices may be affected.  Children who suffer abuse at an institution which was supposed to support and nurture them can be very resentful and are understandably angry about their experiences’. One client recently told Sam that his abuse totally soured his enjoyment of school life, school was never the same again for him.

Matthew Smith can expect a custodial sentence for his crimes, although he will gain credit for his early guilty plea. 

If you or a family member has been affected by current or historic sexual abuse at school, please contact Sam on 01392 345331 for a free, confidential and no obligation discussion about your potential claim. Or email us on enquiries@robsonshaw.uk