"UK watchdog launches inquiry into teacher who admitted molesting boys"


The UK teachers’ watchdog has launched an investigation into alleged misconduct by an American teacher who the Guardian revealed was hired by two British schools despite previously admitting molesting boys.

Stephen Jackson was fired in late September by Tendring Technology College when Essex police alerted senior staff to concerns about him. The 72-year-old was recruited to teach English to 11- to 14-year-old boys despite facing multiple child abuse allegations in the US. He also taught at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy in Bromley from 2009 to 2011.

The investigation by the National College of Teaching and Leadership was launched shortly after Jackson left the country in October. He has previously admitted to police in Santa Cruz, California, that he was attracted to 14- to 16-year-old boys, that he touched a boy’s penis on a camping trip, molested a pupil aged 15 or 16, and slept in the same bed as one of his students. US investigators also received evidence suggesting he may have sexually assaulted his four-year-old adopted son.

Dan Thiel, now 51, who alleges Jackson molested him when he was about 13, told the Guardian: “There were the two of us in a tent and he talked me into getting into my sleeping bag naked. When I woke up in the middle of the night he had his hand on me. He was groping me and feeling me up.”

Jackson, who was also known as Myers, was dismissed after teaching for just 13 days at Tendring college when police raised child protection concerns.

Giles Watling, the school’s local MP, said the case appeared “shocking”, and demanded answers on why he was not identified earlier. “I want to ascertain how the system can be improved to ensure it never happens again,” he said.

Tendring College said it did not tell parents about Jackson because it had no child protection issues with him while he was there, but insisted it had acted swiftly.

“There is annoyance that the system did not pick up on the historical allegations even though all relevant checks were in place,” said Michael Muldoon, principal at the college.

Jackson was recruited by an employment agency, Red, which said it carried out checks with the FBI and Colorado Bureau of Investigations but nothing showed up. Despite police investigations, Jackson has never been charged or convicted. Knights Academy said “all the legally required checks were carried out”.

The case has alarmed child protection experts. Dame Moira Gibb, one of Britain’s leading social workers, said she was disappointed lessons from a previous inquiry into an American paedophile teacher who found work in a UK school did not appear to have been learned.

“Teachers who move around and don’t have complete employment histories should be seen as posing a threat that requires more effort on vetting,” she said. “I am surprised the school didn’t think it needed to tell parents and that it was reasonable for them to assume that nothing reported meant that nothing of concern had happened. Schools have to be open and transparent and demonstrate that they want to create a culture where speaking up is welcomed.”

Gibb led the serious case review into William Vahey’s abuse of 60 boys at Southbank International school in London.

Connie Durant, a former colleague of Jackson’s who runs a support network for his alleged victims, welcomed the investigation.

“This is extremely encouraging, especially since the last time a government agency investigated him was over 15 years ago,” she said. “We’ve had to rely on reporters, as well as our informational website, to keep the spotlight on Jackson. Having a government agency get involved is very good news.”

For more than two decades, Jackson ran the “Traveling School” (a separate entity to the current Traveling School which offers leadership skills to young women), which based its curriculum around six- to eight-week trips, on bikes, in buses and station wagons, camping and staying in lodges around north America and abroad.

Bernie Escalante, the investigations lieutenant at Santa Cruz police department, said there were three investigations into Jackson in the 1990s. The first was into “body awareness” activities with the Traveling School, which were “extremely odd and suspicious” but not illegal.

The school’s ethos was based partly on Erhard Seminars Training, a system of personal development work that some labelled cultish.

The second investigation was into molestations in Colorado and South Africa that were beyond the statute of limitations and out of jurisdiction. During a trip to South Africa, Jackson admitting molesting a boy, aged 15 or 16, who was ill in bed.

The third investigation was into allegations about his four-year-old adopted son. Jackson’s police file from the time also contains remarks made by Jackson’s adopted son after he was removed from his care. Their notes showed the boy had told them Jackson played games with his penis, hurt his “butt” and watched films with him in bed of “boys being silly naked”.

The district attorney did not pursue the case and Myers later emailed a friend claiming “Art Danner, the district attorney, put a stop to it. Art knew me and the school and didn’t want to see the school ruined.” Danner has since died.

Escalante said the boy’s parents decided not to move forward with the investigation, but the child’s adoptive mother claims she did pursue the complaint and that an appointment for the boy to be interviewed by a specialist was scheduled and cancelled several times.

Jackson is believed to have returned to the US.

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