The man will be eligible for parole in September next year.
The man will be eligible for parole in September next year.

Former high school teacher jailed for assaulting students

A FORMER high school teacher has been sentenced to jail over the assault of four young teenage students, who were aged between 12 and 13 at the time of the incidents.

Howard Spearing was the head of the HSIE Department at a high school in Coffs Harbour when the four young victims reported the isolated assaults, with claims ranging from being prodded in the stomach to being hit on the buttocks between late 2017 and early 2018.

The Department of Education suspended the 60-year-old teacher and reported the incidents to police in late 2018.

He was arrested in February before later pleading guilty in court to a string of common assault charges.

Appearing before magistrate James Gibson at Coffs Harbour Local Court today, Spearing, dressed in a black suit, looked down and could be seen shaking his head several times during the hearing.

In the closing submission, Spearing’s defence counsel argued the former teacher was an esteemed educator for 30 years, but had developed a drinking problem which spiralled out of control during the six month period when the incidents had taken place.

They said Spearing has since attended drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Sydney.

“He has no record, he is a person of good character, and your honour has significant evidence before you, including his sentencing assessment report, that he is unlikely to reoffend.

“These offences occurred in a period of his life where a number of factors were at work and he is taking real and significant steps to address those factors.”

The defence counsel also argued that the offences lied “lower than mid range” in terms of seriousness, as the girls had not suffered any injury.

Reading the agreed facts out in court, magistrate James Gibson said despite his need for rehabilitation, Spearing had committed a “gross breach of trust”.

Mr Gibson said in regards to the first victim, the first offence occurred when she was in Year 7, aged 12. Spearing, sitting at his desk, reached out and hit her on her hips/buttocks area.

When the same victim was in Year 8, Spearing had approached her and pressed his finger into her belly button area on top of her shirt.

The victim had told police she felt “scared” as a result of his behaviour.

The second victim was aged 13 when Spearing walked up behind her and placed his hand near her hip.

The third victim told police the two offences against her took place in late 2017 and early 2018, where Spearing had touched her in the belly button area on top of her shirt after he became aware of a new piercing she had. The second incident saw Spearing place his hand on her hip.

The fourth victim said in 2017, when she was aged 12, she was wearing short-shorts which had ridden up as she stood up after watching a movie in class. Spearing then slapped her on the buttocks and told her, “pull down your shorts.”

Magistrate Gibson said he did not believe there was any sexual intent behind the offences, but said he believed Spearing had used his position of trust and good character to facilitate the assaults, and continued to commit the assaults without any of the students complaining for some period of time.

“The four girls would have undoubtedly felt some considerable concern as a result of the way they’d been touched by their teacher who was an older male, and who had been teaching for 30 years,” Mr Gibson said.

“Around the time of the offences his drinking had gotten out of control, to the extent where he was drinking seven alcoholic drinks, six days of the week.

“But while rehab is a factor that is important in the sentencing process … there’s a need to protect the community.

“In my view the objective seriousness of the offence, taking into account the age of the victims and the gross breach of trust in a school environment, I have no doubt that no sentence other than imprisonment should be imposed.”

Mr Gibson sentenced Spearing on four counts of common assault to 18 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of nine months.

He will be eligible for parole on September 8, 2020.

From the Grandstand: Rugby league the real winner

premium_icon From the Grandstand: Rugby league the real winner

Col praises the NRL for a top-notch return to the competition last weekend

Pokies back in business amid fears of a second wave

premium_icon Pokies back in business amid fears of a second wave

A members-only approach is aimed at avoiding a second Covid wave.

Government report ‘validates’ need for Coffs koala park

premium_icon Government report ‘validates’ need for Coffs koala park

Report identifies ten key koala areas in the Coffs hinterland.