Kindergarten teacher in the clear over bag photograph, police source says
Source close to investigation says picture at centre of row between kindergarten and former employee shows a child having fun, not a crime
A teacher accused by his former school of putting a bag over a child's head did nothing wrong and will face no criminal charges, a police source said.
The source said an investigation had found that the boy had simply been playing with the bag and was not being punished by Brian Smith, his teacher at the Zenith Kindergarten in Yuen Long.
"The boy was just kidding. The photo was taken during a 'fun class' and the bag only covered the back of his head - not his face," said the police source, who is close to the investigation. "There was no criminal element involved."
The photograph hit the headlines last week when Zenith published a statement in several Chinese-language newspapers accusing Smith of putting the bag over the boy's head, taking photographs and sending the picture anonymously to staff.
Smith denies the claim and says he is talking to his lawyer about suing the school for libel.
"In the [newspapers], Zenith claimed the boy suffered psychological abuse because of this incident. It's not true. It's just a total lie," Smith said.
In a note sent to parents and obtained by the South China Morning Post, Zenith also claimed a teacher had sought an "unacceptably large amount of money" to stay quiet about the case. However, the police source said the school had not mentioned any blackmail attempt when it reported the incident.
The school did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week.
Smith, a 41-year-old Briton who first came to Hong Kong in 1994, was fired by Zenith in July and is set to claim unfair dismissal at a labour tribunal later this month.
He said the sacking was for "applying to take a long holiday" and refusing to work on Saturdays after agreeing with the school that he would not have to do so.
The school said he was dismissed for not taking part in extracurricular activities.
According to Smith, after clocking out on his final day before a holiday, the school told him not to come back and that his holiday would be used as his notice period.
Several of Smith's former colleagues have voiced their support for him over the accusations.
"Brian is a top-class gentleman - prim, proper and polite. I never once heard him raise his voice or lose control," said one teacher, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the case.
"Zenith's defamatory and accusatory practices are nothing new and for them to smear and mudsling the good name of a great and competent teacher such as Brian shows that they will do anything and not hesitate to tarnish anyone's reputation in order to keep their own cover-up," said Janik Litalien, who worked at the school with Smith last year.
Zenith Kindergartens said last week that it was planning to install CCTV cameras in classrooms at all of its schools to prevent a repeat of the case.