A BITTER dispute over the sacking of a North-East teacher deepened last night when details of an investigation into his conduct were leaked to The Northern Echo.
The dismissal of Mark Walker, from Sunnydale Community College in Shildon, County Durham, has attracted national interest because of his claims that his membership of the British National Party has made him the target of a witch-hunt.
He was officially sacked, following a 20-month disciplinary inquiry, on the grounds of his sickness record.
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But an official report leaked to The Northern Echo reveals that the inquiry uncovered a large number of emails indicating a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old former pupil.
Last night, Mr Walker denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the allegations being made against him were politically motivated.
Mr Walker, a technology teacher, was suspended in March last year, and the school’s board of governors this week upheld a decision to terminate his contract on the grounds of ill health.
Supporters of Mr Walker claimed the suspension centred on allegations that he had viewed right-wing websites during lesson time.
However, the report, produced by children’s welfare charity the NSPCC, says: “Mr Walker was suspended… following allegations that he and a colleague had accessed adult pornography during the school day, using school equipment.”
The report, carried out for the Durham Children and Young People Services, makes it clear that no illegal content was found on Mr Walker’s school laptop or desktop computers.
But it adds: “A substantial amount of emails indicating a sexual relationship between himself and a 17-year-old former Sunnydale student have been recovered from Mr Walker’s school laptop and the school server.”
There was no evidence of inappropriate email communications between Mr Walker and any current student.
The report adds: “The NSPCC has, in the course of its inquiries, also had access to information held by the school and the local authority in relation to matters of Mr Walker’s professional conduct which have been previously addressed by the school.”
It concludes: “The NSPCC believes that there is sufficient evidence from the emails and from previous matters concerning his professional conduct to conclude that Mr Walker’s behaviour has resulted in his conduct being less than one would expect of a teacher placed in a position of trust.”
The ex-RAF technician, who had worked at the school since September 1999, dismissed the allegations as vindictive and politically motivated.
He said: “My former bosses have made a continually shifting set of allegations against me.
“Each time an allegation has been answered, more have been advanced. At base their motives are political.
“I have never been found guilty of any charge. I was dismissed on the grounds of ill health.
“On legal advice I am unable to comment on specific allegations made anonymously to the press, except to say I look forward to arguing my case before an impartial tribunal.”
Patrick Harrington, general secretary of the Solidarity union, which represents Mr Walker, said: “Our union has reviewed various allegations made against Mark. We concluded they were unfounded, untrue and unsubstantiated and advanced out of political spite.”
Durham County Council declined to comment.
Headteacher Sue Byrne said: “In recognition of Mr Walker’s rights of employment, all matters are confidential.”
Lesley Wilson, chairman of the school governors, said: “I can confirm that he was dismissed on the grounds of ill health. The disciplinary remained unresolved at that time.”
Mr Harrington said Mr Walker intends to take the case to an employment tribunal.
He said: “He was sacked purely on the grounds of ill health, but the anxiety, stress and depression he has suffered has been caused by this botched disciplinary procedure.”