Worthing school seeks to reassure parents after former employee sentenced for downloading images of children

Chesswood Junior School's head teacher has issued a statement to parents after Peter Chapman's sentencing
Chesswood Junior School's head teacher has issued a statement to parents after Peter Chapman's sentencing

The head of a Worthing primary school has moved to reassure ‘sickened’ parents after a former employee was sentenced for downloading ‘deeply disturbing’ images of children.

On Tuesday, Peter Chapman, 57, of Portland Road, Worthing, was given a 16-month suspended jail sentence.

He appeared at Lewes Crown Court today for sentencing

He appeared at Lewes Crown Court today for sentencing

He had claimed he accidentally saw an indecent image on social media website Tumblr, but admitted he then went on to search for thousands more.

Police said that at the time of his offending he was working as a cleaner and lunchtime assistant at Chesswood Junior School in Worthing, but added none of the images found in his possession were of local children and confirmed there were no safeguarding issues in relation to local children.

However, parents reacted angrily to the news on the Herald’s Facebook page, asking why the school had not told them about Chapman, who had pleaded guilty to four charges in July.

Commenting on the original story, Leanne Poole said she was ‘sickened’ that the school had not told parents.

Derek Cook said: “Once he was charged the school didn’t say he’d been suspended or anything.

“Without a doubt [the school] hid it away from us parents. Now its come out.”

However Georgina Brown-Felpts said: “Legally all pre-employment checks would have been carried out and been clear, as he had committed no offences at the time he was recruited, so the school hasn’t failed to do so.

“Don’t be so quick to slam the school, as they will only be following the legal procedures advised.

“Despite that this isn’t the way that I personally would have liked to find out.”

In response to the angry parents, school head teacher Andrew Jolley issued a statement.

He said: “During August 2017, I was made aware of the allegations against Mr Chapman.

“Mr Chapman did not reenter Chesswood Junior School premises after that time and he was suspended from duty.

“Mr Chapman resigned with immediate effect on the 12th September. The outcomes were then shared with the government’s Disclosure and Barring service to ensure any future employer would be alerted to the allegations.

“A key priority of the liaison and my school investigation was to assess the risk to any child at Chesswood Junior School, past and present.

“At no time did any direct safeguarding risk appear to any child at or previously at Chesswood Junior School, a point made specifically by Sussex Police following the court proceeding.”

As reported by the Herald in the initial story, Sussex Police confirmed that all the images were taken from the internet and none were of local children.

Police said there are no safeguarding issues in relation to local children.

Mr Jolley added: “Had there been any suggestion of any risk to any child, parents can be reassured that I would have taken the swiftest most robust action possible, placing the needs of children first.

“As there wasn’t any suggestion of risk, any unnecessary communication at that time may have compromised a police investigation and undermined the resulting conviction.

“The creation and distribution of indecent images is an abhorrent act, the thoughts of our school community are with the children subjected to and live with the consequences of such degrading, unforgivable actions for the rest of their lives.

“I understand parents’ justified concerns regarding this individual’s actions in his private life but be assured that the school took the correct and appropriate action as quickly as possible to safeguard children at Chesswood Junior School, which is and will always be the school’s and my number one priority.

“Parents who still have concerns, regarding Mr Chapman or my actions, should not hesitate to contact me directly at head@chesswood.w-sussex.sch.uk.”

West Sussex County Council has been approached for comment.