Allegations of Abuse in NZ
Paul Conner: Southland teacher found NOT GUILTY of indecency
page last updated Nov 16 2008
November 2008 - Reaction to Verdict
Paul Conner reflected on his experience. He said he had invited the boys to his property to do work in the school holidays for a wage, as he had done with other pupils in the past. They played hide and seek during mid-morning breaks, with the boys claiming Mr Conner touched their private parts and rubbed up against them. He said the games were a stupid mistake: "It was a harmless thing that seemed fun at the time ... but I didn't see anything like this coming." It had highlighted how careful adults needed to be when they were alone around children. "This has absolutely destroyed my life. There isn't a day that I don't get up and try to figure out how it could have arrived at this because it simply didn't happen.
Mr Conner said New River Primary School's hierarchy had given him next-to-no support during the past year, which disappointed him. School principal Elaine McCambridge declined to comment, as did school board spokesman Simon Ayto. He hasn't heard from the principal or board of trustees since his arrest on October 2007 and a teachers' union representative had told him staff had been instructed not to contact him. And they hadn't.
"I never, ever knew why male teachers wanted to leave the profession. I understand why now. I admittedly put myself in this position.
Police case officer Detective Greg Baird said he stood by the "thorough" investigation
The mother of a complainant believes her son and that he told the truth in court. She said she was disappointed with the verdicts, but not angry.
30 October 2008 - Not Guilty
Paul Conner was cleared by the jury which had taken fewer than four hours to make its decision. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on all the charges he faced
Mr Conner breathed a sigh of relief. He was embraced by family members. He later acknowledged it would be extremely difficult to resume his 22-year teaching career. He said it had been a devastating time for him and his family and he was "just relieved"
The mother of one of the boys at the centre of the allegations was upset at the verdicts
29 October 2008 Trial - Closing addresses
Defence lawyer Philip McDonald invited the jury to work out for themselves what allegedly happened during the offending. if Conner had rubbed up against the boys as they had described, his body couldn't have been on the angle they said it was. He invited the jury members to work out the angles for themselves when making their deliberations.
Crown prosecutor Bill Dawkins and Conner's lawyer Philip McDonald both said in their closing addresses yesterday the issue came down to who was telling the truth.
Mr McDonald said there could have been "one thousand reasons" to make up the story, one being that Conner had been a disciplinarian to both when he taught them at New River Primary School.
Mr Dawkins said it was the boys who were telling the truth. One of the boys had a good rapport with Conner by the time he went out to the farm and the other thought Conner was cool, he said. Conner had gained control over the boys by disciplining them for their behaviour in class, which was one reason they had got the "special invite" to his farm,
24-28 October 2008 Trial - defence
Paul Conner told the jury yesterday both boys had behaved badly at times when he taught them at New River Primary School. He disciplined them in various ways. At one time he excluded one of the boys from activities outside class. Under cross-examination, Conner said he had developed a good rapport with that boy by the time the boy worked occasionally on his farm during school holidays.
Conner said he had told the boys they could go to his farm if their behaviour improved. Both boys made significant improvement and, after consultation with their caregivers, one went to his farm five or six times during school holidays and the other went once. He said he did play a hide-and seek type of game with water pistols with the boys in midmorning breaks from work. During the game rope was slipped over the wrists to stop the captured person from producing another gun, he said. He denied anyone was tied up.
Under cross examination, Conner was accused of pretending to be naïve. Conner responded that he was not married and sex was something that was done after marriage.
23 October 2008 Trial - Paul Conner interview with police
Conner admitted playing a hide and seek game and wrestling with one of the boys, but denied that anything sexual happened. He said he had played a hide and seek game with toy guns but it was just a bit of fun. He denied it had any slavery or sexual connotations. When asked if his behaviour could have been misinterpreted in any way, he said he had once wrestled one of the boys but it had not involved anything sexual. "I am very aware of those sorts of things. Always teachers are targets for those sorts of accusations, such as the situation I am in now."
During the past 16 to 18 years he had invited about eight to 10 pupils from his school, including the two boys at the centre of the allegations, to his Bainfield Rd farm to do some work and help with his greyhounds during the school holidays. Sometimes he invited kids with behavioural issues as a way of helping them by giving them some work and paying them for it. "I have always been a person that's tried to help children."
21-22 October 2008 Trial - prosecution
The boy alleging Conner performed four indecent acts on him said yesterday he had also seen Conner rub himself against a girl on his property. The boy said when Conner had offended against him he had talked ''real slavish'', saying things like ''you think you are so awesome, eh? You think you can get away from me''?
Under cross-examination the boy admitted Conner had not played the game with him on the last occasion he had been at his farm, despite earlier saying he had done so. Defence lawyer Mr McDonald earlier suggested to the 11-year-old complainant that he and the second boy had made up the story about Conner, who had taught both of them at New River Primary School. Both boys had behaved badly in his class at times, with Conner disciplining them. The boy said he was telling the truth.
Detective Chris Lucy, of Invercargill, said police who searched a caravan on Conner's property found a cardboard box and plastic bag inside a cupboard with about 10 water pistols and cap guns, a set of handcuffs, sweets and lollies and a rope with knots in it and dog collars attached.
20 October 2008 - Trial begins
Paul Conner denied the charges at the start of his jury trial in the Invercargill District Court. His lawyer, Philip McDonald, said the offending did not happen and the issue was one of credibility.
Crown prosecutor Bill Dawkins said Conner had taught both the boys at New River School and asked them, at different times, to go to his Bainfield Rd farm to help him work his greyhounds. Mr Dawkins said when Conner took the 11-year-old to his farm he introduced him to a game that would ultimately lead to Conner performing indecent acts on him. Conner had water pistols, which he divided between him and the boy. They would move about the far Conner then tied the boy up loosely with a rope and led him to a shed and laid him down on a mat. A lolly was put in the boy's mouth and Conner lay over him, both still clothed, and rubbed up against him and play hide and seek and each time Conner found the boy he would be required to hand over one of the guns in his collection. The boy also complained that on five or six occasions that morning Conner pretended he was frisking him for weapons and touched his private parts and bottom over his clothes
December 2007 - Further Court appearances, Depositions
Documented evidence was handed to Paul Conner at a Depositions hearing on December 18 2007. Conner's lawyer, Phil McDonald, conceded his client had a case to answer, and will stand trial.
A New River School spokesman said that Conner had taken leave from the school
November 2007 - Anger at publicity
A parent of the school was angered at the prominent publicity given to the charges on the front page of the Southland Times. “An inside page would have been more appropriate” “We have gone to some length to protect our kids from this information.” “Remember, Mr Conner is still innocent until he is proved guilty.”
A mother of one of the complainants replied in December, supporting the Southland Times. She says the information “needed to be highlighted in order for the community to be alerted to the types of offenders that are out there”. She says that while Mr Conner is innocent until proven guilty, she also “has to believe her children”
October 2007 - Accusation - Indecent acts on two boys
An Invercargill man was accused of performing indecent acts on two boys. Paul Conner, aged 41, is a primary school teacher at New River School, and is also president of the Southland Greyhound Racing Club.
He faces four charges of performing indecent acts on one boy between 2005 and 2007, and another indecent act on a second boy in early 2007.
Name suppression was lifted on November 20 2007.
The School Principal Elaine McCambridge did not return reporter’s calls. Spokesperson for the board of trustees issued a press release saying the alleged incidents did not occur in the school environment.