Alleged victim accused of fabricating assault claims against teacher to get better grades

One of the alleged victims of a former teacher accused of sexual activity with a child has denied fabricating her story to make sure she got the grades required for university.

Philip Johnston, 33, of Hunter Terrace, Sunderland, denies four counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust.

The trial began at Durham Crown Court on Monday, when the jury heard a summary of evidence due to be presented by Mr Andrew Dunne, prosecuting, and was shown video footage of a police interview with the first victim.

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On Tuesday, the first alleged victim was cross-examined by Mr Glenn Gatland, defending, before the court heard further witness testimony from the prosecution.

This included videos of police interviews with the second alleged victim and a peer of both of the girls, as well as the Teesside college’s HR manager, executive principle, and a close friend of the first girl to have made claims.

The alleged offences relate to two girls, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who were aged under 18 at the time of the reported incidents several years ago.

Mr Johnston is accused of kissing one of the girls on the mouth and touching her in a sexual manner on the thighs and bottom repeatedly over a period of time, and also denies a charge of touching the second victim, again on the thigh, in a sexual manner.

During cross examination of the first alleged victim, Mr Gatland suggested that Johnston’s purported repeated touching of the girl could have been “an accident.”

The case is being heard at Durham Crown Court
The case is being heard at Durham Crown Court
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

She replied: “It could have been an accident, but I believe due to the consistency of it, it was not an accident.”

Mr Gatland went on to discuss emails between the girl’s university admissions officer, the school, and the girl’s mother.

The emails discussed her mental health, which is reported to have suffered after she made the complaint against Mr Johnston, and suggested she may get “special consideration” for her exam results if she brought in a letter from her GP.

He also revealed that the girl had received the lower end of the grade she needed for her university application in a piece of coursework marked by Mr Johnston the same month the girl made her complaint.

The alleged victim said: “I didn’t know about exam boundaries. I was in a horrible place and my mental health was really bad at that time. I wasn’t worried about my grades.”

She added that she only became aware of the coursework grade “at the end of the school year, after exams.”

Mr Gatland said: “May I suggest that you knew that when you made the complaint, when the work was marked because you were given encouragement to try and do better with academic work to lift marks.”

“I don’t remember that,” the witness replied.

Mr Gatland continued: “I would suggest that’s what this is all about. You were marked as a borderline grade, and you made your complaints and then subsequently there were attempts to take into account your mental health in assessing your exam grades.

“I suggest that is the root of this complaint by you – is that correct?”

“That’s not correct,” she stated.

The court also heard that, following the alleged kiss, the girl left the school and returned home because she was upset by the incident.

Mr Gatland revealed school registration records from that day suggested the victim had not been absent from the lesson after the alleged incident as she claimed. The school’s executive principal admitted that, at the time, there was no way of recording whether or not sixth form pupils had left the premises.

The court also heard evidence from the second alleged victim, who described some of Mr Johnston’s alleged inappropriate actions towards her.

Johnston denies a charge of touching her on the thigh in a sexual manner.

She alleged that Mr Johnston showed favouritism towards her and purchased an “over the top” Secret Santa gift for her. Mr Gatland stated that the gift had actually been within the set price range.

She went on to describe how on one occasion Johnston is alleged to have brushed a stray strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear, as well as similar accusations from the first girl that accuse Johnston of touching her on the thigh with his hands and with a pen.

The defence is expected to begin presenting its evidence tomorrow. The trial continues.

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland