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General Teaching Council for Scotland hearing: Teacher accused of groping and kissing pupil at Thurso nightclub 'couldn't remember alleged incident'

By Ali Morrison

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By Darren McConachie, Deadline News

Ashley McConnell is alleged to have kissed and groped a pupil in a Thurso nightclub.
Ashley McConnell is alleged to have kissed and groped a pupil in a Thurso nightclub.

A Thurso teacher accused of groping and kissing a pupil at a nightclub told bosses she couldn't remember the alleged incident, a hearing was told.

Pupils were said to have reported Ashley McConnell to teachers at Thurso High School in Caithness after being left feeling "indignant" by her alleged behaviour.

The physics teacher, also known as Ashley Swanson, is alleged to have danced in a sexualised manner with a sixth-year pupil at Skinandi's nightclub in March 2018.

She has also been accused of kissing the 17-year-old, touching his bottom and groin and holding hands with him during the night in question.

Miss McConnell faces being struck off the teaching register by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) following an investigation over her alleged behaviour.

McConnell, who was 30 at the time and married, admits holding hands with the teen but denies kissing him.

Earlier this month her friend and former colleague Emilie Charton, who was with her on the night, said McConnell was drunk and acting flirtatious at the nightclub.

On Monday, the GTCS heard evidence from Thurso High School headteacher Kathryn MacKay, who investigated the claims.

Anonymising the identity of the pupils involved, she said: “Pupils B, C, D and E came to my office with a guidance teacher and told me that they had been at a nightclub and Miss McConnell had kissed Pupil A.

"There also appeared to have been an argument between Ashley and one of the girls.

“The guidance teacher took them down to my office, they were just sat there and told me. They did say that they had saw Pupil A kiss the teacher.

"I was shown video footage on Tuesday, March 27 – I could see Pupil B dancing and Pupil A and Ashley McConnell were standing talking, that’s all they were doing.

“From what they said, I didn’t think that Miss McConnell should have been behaving that way. I don’t think she should have been at the nightclub amongst her pupils.

“That [the kiss] shouldn’t happen, we are teachers, we shouldn’t be having any type of relationship like that at all."

She added: "Ashley came to me and said she couldn't remember the incident. I was advised to immediately suspend her, which I did. She began to cry."

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A former male pupil who was privately tutored at McConnell's home for a year and was also there on the night gave evidence in McConnell's defence.

He said: "It would negatively impact the community and the school [if she was struck off], she is a great teacher and it would be detrimental to the pupils.

"I would describe her as a good teacher, she was a bit more down to earth than some of the older teachers. I think she was well liked by pupils and staff."

The pupil claimed that although he had been in Skinandi's nightclub on the night in question, he did not remember seeing Miss McConnell act inappropriately.

He said: "It was subjective to say they were drunk. I’m not an expert, but in my personal opinion I would not say she was excessively drunk.

“I did not see those events on that night. I did not see that event occur."

Dr Fiona Grant, a former head teacher from the school, revealed to the GTCS panel earlier this month how she launched an investigation into the allegations.

Miss McConnell was suspended after concerned pupils approached school bosses with a video of the alleged incident.

Describing a still image taken from the video, Dr Grant said that “Miss McConnell's hand is flat towards pupil A’s groin.”

Students who were at the nightclub said the teacher was dancing in a "sexualised" and "dirty" manner.

The pupil that Miss McConnell has been accused of acting inappropriately with told school bosses he kissed the mum-of-two "three or four times".

Miss McConnell has also been accused of telling two pupils at the club to "f*** off" before gesturing two fingers at them.

She then also allegedly said she would "fight the b****" in reference to one of the female pupils.

The hearing continues.

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