My friend Johan’s story is on stuff today – well a small part of his story.
There are a few bits I’d like to comment on…
A former Barnardos counsellor is trying to sue police and Child, Youth and Family for defamation after they contacted his employer about unproven allegations that he touched some girls he was counselling.
Johan Aarts, 46, of Rotorua, says his career was destroyed when Barnardos was told of the allegations in 2006.
He has been fighting to clear his name ever since.
But Aarts suffered a setback in his attempt to sue the Crown departments last week, when a High Court judge in Rotorua granted a temporary stay of proceedings, mainly on the grounds that the case was still before the Employment Court.
Aarts has gone public with his story because he wants to send a warning to other men in counselling and teaching positions that police or CYF will contact employers even when investigations have found no evidence of inappropriate behaviour.
In 2006, two sisters, aged 12 and 13, alleged that Aarts had touched their legs, put his hand in one’s lap, cuddled them and put his head against theirs during domestic violence counselling sessions two years earlier.
It’s not clear if the children actually made these allegations – in fact the evidence that’s been released so far indicates that the Police and CYF made up these allegations after Barnardos decided to keep Johan on as an employee. One CYF document states “the children did not disclose any inappropriate behaviour”.
Aarts denied this, saying the only touching was the occasional pat of encouragement on the shoulder. CYF called police, who conducted an investigation.
In June 2006, Detective Matt McLeod wrote to Barnardos to say that, while there were “no disclosures from the girls in respect to criminal offences”, the girls had felt uncomfortable and scared.
He said police considered Aarts’ actions to be “very inappropriate” and he had warned Aarts that he needed to be careful about placing himself in situations where such allegations could be made.
Documents obtained under the Official Information Act by Aarts and his supporters show that CYF staff originally referred to Aarts as “the perpetrator” and the incidents as “substantiated sexual abuse”, until police advised that the alleged incidents did not amount to such. One internal document said: “It may be that he has not committed any crimes yet, but his behaviour has all the hallmarks of grooming and without a conviction and without advising any professional body, he could easily get a job elsewhere as a counsellor”.
CYF wrote to Barnardos, which it funds, reminding it of its responsibilities to protect children and asking what action it planned to take.
CYF said in the letter: “You will be aware that the police do not consider that Mr Aarts’ behaviour constitutes a criminal act, however this does not reduce the level of concern that CYF has.”
A Barnardos regional manager wrote back to say that Aarts had had regular supervision, no concerns had been raised about him previously and “like the police report, we were unable to prove any inappropriate behaviour took place. Johan continues to deny he has done, or would ever do, anything wrong”.
However, Barnardos no longer had confidence in “Johan’s professional boundaries” and his continued employment “could put children at risk”. Aarts was then sacked.
It was only after CYF
threatened Barnardos’ funding reminded Barnardos of their responsibilities that Barnardos lost confidence in Johan.
Aarts took a case for unjustified dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority last year, but it was ruled that it was lodged too late. He appealed to the Employment Court, which will rule in March.
It took a long time to figure out what happened and there’s still more to figure out. State employees have been obstructive the whole way.
Obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… sorry you are out of time.
His defamation action also comes out of time, and he has asked the High Court for leave for it to be heard.
Crown lawyer Antoinette Russell said in submissions that if leave was granted, a qualified privilege defence would be run, which afforded protection to a person acting in good faith and without improper motive making a defamatory statement.
“There is a clear public interest in New Zealand police freely and frankly communicating with the employer of a counsellor who was alleged to have acted inappropriately towards children . . . and in CYF ensuring the bodies it funds . . . are meeting service standards.”
The Crown lawyer is arguing that what the Police say to your employer about you is “privileged” i.e. it should be kept secret from you. What the Crown Lawyer is arguing would deny people the opportunity to defend any accusations that the Police (or any state employee) made to an employer. Disgusting.
Aarts has been fighting for the release of the videotaped interviews with the children, because he believes they will show that the police did not provide an accurate account of what was said. Police have refused to release the tapes on privacy grounds.
The privacy grounds is BS. At one point Police National Head Quarters ruled that Johan could view the interviews then the Police District Commander prevented the viewing from happening. Now everybody is trying to prevent the viewing.
“Why is it that the police can contact my employer, make damaging statements about me, causing me to get sacked, but they don’t have to provide any evidence?”