world : Sex abuse head teacher 'could have been stopped'

Monday 1 July 2024 10:30 PM

Nafeza 2 world - Neil Foden: Sex abuse head teacher 'could have been stopped' - BBC News

In the coming weeks, as news broke of charges against Foden relating to Child A, further victims came forward, describing a similar pattern of grooming to win their trust.

This would be followed by holding their hands, hugging and touching them.

With one girl, he pinched her inner thigh and stroked her back under her clothing.

He would discuss sexual activities and the loss of their virginity.

Then in October 2023, another victim came forward, known as Child E.

"Child E [was] again, vulnerable, but for different reasons," said Det Con Jones.

"How can I explain? She's quite a strong character. Again, she was pivotal to this case because the offences that she disclosed went back to 2019.

"So we were looking at a different time period."

Image source, BBC/HELEN TIPPER
Image caption,

Neil Foden sat in the dock during the trial, taking notes and occasionally shaking his head

Foden began grooming and sexually abusing Child E in 2019.

He had sex with the victim and sometimes restrained her with a belt or lace handcuffs, before sexually abusing her.

Foden would refer to this girl as his "sex toy".

The victim also joined Foden when he travelled away to events, sometimes staying in hotels with him.

All Foden's victims were described as vulnerable in one way or another – targeted by him for this reason.

Det Con Jones said: "He was considered to be a powerful and influential person in the community that he served.

"I think it's clear that he took advantage of that position in abusing these children."

Concerns raised

It emerged during Foden's trial that several people had expressed concern about his closeness with Child E in 2019, although their concerns had been for Foden's own reputation.

These were raised with the head of education for Gwynedd at the time, Garem Jackson.

He told the court he had passed the concerns to a safeguarding officer but was told, as no specific allegations had been made, no formal investigation would take place.

Instead, he was instructed to speak to Foden on the phone, reminding him to "keep an appropriate distance" with young people.

He said Foden told him the concerns were "over-dramatic" and assured him there was nothing going on.

He told the court he had "no written record" of any of the exchanges, apart from the original email he received.

At Foden's trial, the judge criticised the council's failure to investigate, calling it "very concerning".

Foden was later asked to be strategic head of another school, Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Penygroes, near Caernarfon – a post he held for around a year from June 2021 until August 2022.

One parent, who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of his daughter, said he had not known about the 2019 concerns and approached Neil Foden for help after that date.

He believes that if the council had investigated, Foden's offending could have been stopped.

"That could have stopped it," he said.

"That's the key factor. Nothing changed in his behaviour."

The man's daughter ended up having one-to-one sessions with Neil Foden over a number of months.

The girl was not one of Foden's victims, but her dad now feels the head teacher might have been planning to groom her.

He has shown the BBC screenshots of text messages between him and Foden, in which Foden repeatedly tells him not to speak to his daughter about the sessions.

Image showing a text message from Neil Foden to a parent
Image caption,

Neil Foden sent text messages to a pupil's dad

The girl's family are now haunted by the fear of what could have happened.

"It's a lot easier for me to think, 'it would never have happened'," said the dad.

"The reality is that the chances are if he'd had any inclination, it would have.

"I've spent far too much time thinking about it, in fear of how far it would have gone had Child A not come forward."

An independent Child Practice Review will now be held to establish what lessons could be learnt.

In a statement, Gwynedd council said it was "appalled" by Foden's crimes and paid tribute to the courage and resilience of his victims.

The chair and vice-chair of the current board of governors stood down in the wake of the trial. In a letter announcing their resignation they said the trial verdict was a "significant milestone" for them.

After the sentencing, Beca Brown, the council's cabinet member for education, said it was "clear" the victims had been "let down" and she would welcome a public inquiry if one was held.

She added: "Whatever the outcome of the review that is under way, at the centre of all this are young girls who have suffered a horrific experience - and what happened to them should never happen again.

"I am eager to collaborate with the review and would welcome any early recommendations or ideas of lessons to be learned going forward from here.

"I welcome the appointment of the independent chair and investigators, who are very experienced in this area, and I want the remit of the review to be broad and thorough with evidence provided by all as needed."

Garem Jackson said in a statement that safeguarding was a "key priority" for him as head of education, a role he left for personal reasons shortly after Foden's arrest.

He said he would co-operate fully with the independent review, adding: "In rare circumstances where concerns were raised directly with me, I reported them to the appropriate officer whose advice I would follow, as I did in this case.

"My thoughts are with Foden’s victims and all those who have been affected by his actions.”

If you've been affected by issues raised in this story, there is information and support available on BBC Action Line.

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