Friday, 13 May 2005

Minister denies bullying students

Associate Education Minister, David Benson-Pope, has denied suggestions he bullied and assaulted students at Dunedin's Bayfield High School, when he worked there in the 1980's.

ACT Leader, Rodney Hide, made a series of allegations under parliamentary privilege yesterday, along with National's Judith Collins. It follows Benson-Pope's unveiling of an anti-bullying campaign this week.

In Parliament, National MP Judith Collins asked "Did he ever tie boys' hands together and jam a tennis ball into their mouths as punishment for talking when he was a teacher?"

Mr Hide then asked "Did he ever smack a pupil with the back of his hand sufficiently hard enough to make his nose bleed at a school camp in the Catlins and is this the reason along with throwing tennis balls at pupils in the classroom that he has the reputation of being a terrible bully and in fact the students to this day still suffer from his treatment?".

Benson-Pope denied the suggestions in Parliament, saying "I have not been guilty of, or involved in, any inappropriate behaviour in my 24 years as a secondary school teacher".

Rodney Hide today withdrew those allegations after Benson-Pope's reply, but said he'd spoken again to the students who made the initial claims, and they were sticking by their story. Hide called on the students to come forward publicly if they stood by their claims. He said "... the rules of Parliament mean that I have to accept the minister's word, but boy, if he's wrong he's a goner."

Meanwhile, National Radio's Linda Clark has interviewed a former Bayfield pupil today, who claimed Benson-Pope had "a very nasty and bullying personality and he knew which people he could pick on and he made a damn good job of it….. He chose the people who wouldn’t fight back… He caned me which he enjoyed doing and he laughed while he did it… enough to draw blood…. He shouldn’t be a minister full stop".

I found it interesting that Benson-Pope's Labour colleage, Jill Pettis, seemed to know about the allegations, with her comment "You sat on that for months"?

One to watch...

* NZ Herald: Associate Education Minister denies beating pupils

* NZ Herald: Hide withdraws assault claims against Benson-Pope

* Linda Clark's Nine to Noon I/V

* Link to audio of the interview between Linda Clark and a former pupil

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