Head of Wah Yan College 'too busy' to defame teacher

Headmaster says his job left no window for personal disputes, and puts defamation suit brought by teacher down to his bad English

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 4:53am

The headmaster of an elite school has claimed his job did not leave him enough free time to defame subordinates, while denying allegations made by a teacher.

George Tam Siu-ping, principal of Wah Yan College on Hong Kong Island, told the District Court the defamation suit was the result of a misunderstanding.

But retired teacher Shiu Hon-po claimed Tam deliberately defamed him, after a complaint was filed by a parent.

"I have been a school principal for many years. There are many teachers who held different opinions [to mine], I wouldn't have time to pick on him [Shiu]," Tam said.

"I'm a school principal. I wouldn't invent a story and defame him just because he holds a different view," Tam added.

Shiu is suing Tam for affirming a groundless complaint made about him, after the accusations were reported to the Education Bureau.

On Thursday, Tam explained that it was his "bad English" that had caused Shiu to believe that he defamed him.

The court heard that in a school meeting, Tam confirmed to staff the accusation made against Shiu was "valid".

Tam explained that he had meant to say "real".

The court heard that Tam had failed the English Language paper in the certificate level public examination in 1970.

He passed the subject the following year and then went on to study at Northcote College of Education before he attained a master's degree from the University of Hong Kong in 1996.

Tam had been a teacher of mathematics at Wah Yan College. He was expected to retire in the middle of this year, after serving as headmaster for about 17 years.

The court also heard that Tam suffered from apnoea - or breathing difficulties - and serious short sightedness, conditions which made it difficult for him to host school meetings and handle complaints.

The trial divided staff of the English elite secondary school founded in 1919, with different employees testifying for Tam and Shiu.

Shiu's lawyer submitted two letters, one written by a former vice-principal, another by an old student, attesting to Shiu's diligence. Shiu's lawyer said some teachers suggested that Tam had claimed they were the subjects of parent complaints, but fell short of providing them with any details.

Tam insisted that he did not make up the complaints.

When asked why he did not ask officers from the Education Department to testify for him in court, Tam said he did not know what procedures he would have to go through.

He added: "I thought it was a trivial matter that could be resolved easily."

District Court judge Wong Hing-chun echoed this sentiment, saying the dispute could have been settled outside court, without attracting the media's attention.

The case was adjourned to April 3.