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Police chose not to charge a teacher found with child exploitation material

Jeremy Wilkinson,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 1:24pm
Cassidy's laptop was seized and analysed by a forensic expert. Photo / 123rf
Cassidy's laptop was seized and analysed by a forensic expert. Photo / 123rf

Police chose not to charge a teacher found with child exploitation material

Jeremy Wilkinson,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 1:24pm

Police opted not to charge a teacher whose school-issued laptop was later found with files a forensic expert described as “child exploitation material”.

Ōtorohanga College teacher Sean Cassidy’s laptop was seized and handed to police in 2018 after concerns were raised by the school’s IT technician about what he was looking at on it during school hours.

But police chose not to take the matter any further and it was instead referred to Teaching Council investigators who engaged their own forensic expert.

The forensic expert found 29 child exploitation-related items, 546 messages with sexual content, 27 items of pornographic material and eight of unlawful sexual connection. There were multiple other files with pornographic or semi-pornographic images or references.

Some of the images showed fathers or grandfathers engaged having sexual intercourse or engaging in other sexual activity with their daughters or teenage girls.

Now, following an investigation and a hearing in which Cassidy opted not to turn up to, the Teachers’ Disciplinary Tribunal has cancelled his teaching licence.

“…Of significant concern are the images ostensibly involving fathers or grandfathers engaged in sexual intercourse or other sexual activity with their daughters or teenaged girls,” the tribunal said in a finding released today.

“For anyone, let alone a teacher responsible for teaching and conducting themselves professionally around young women, this is troubling.

“In a similar vein, the screenshots of messages containing extremely disturbing content about sexual activity with young family members casts a concerning light on Mr Cassidy’s role as a professional member of a school community.”

Cassidy was a teacher at Ōtorohanga College. Image / Google
Cassidy was a teacher at Ōtorohanga College. Image / Google

According to the ruling Cassidy was issued a laptop by Ōtorohanga College in 2017.

Just over a year later the school’s IT technician noticed some “unusual” internet activity from someone using Cassidy’s user profile and was concerned enough to authorise two people to monitor his device.

In November 2018 they remotely recorded Cassidy’s screen for about 40 minutes as he logged into an online chatroom under the pseudonym “Adam” and talked to two women who appeared to have been in the Philippines.

“Whyt [sic] am I constantly on heat for you?” one message he wrote reads.

Cassidy refers to doing some work then writes “Hope u chatting with some guys hon” then “Your homework today is to chat to 3 guys” then “And copy paste me conversation”.

The following day Cassidy was sent screenshots of a sexualised conversation and a naked photograph of the man one of the women is chatting with.

The school’s principal then confiscated Cassidy’s laptop, placed him on discretionary leave and handed the laptop over to police.

The Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC) of the Teachers’ Disciplinary Tribunal obtained a voluntary undertaking from Cassidy not to teach in 2018 and commenced an investigation once the police advised they would not pursue criminal charges.

It is not clear from the decision why they chose not to pursue charges.

The CAC then obtained a copy of the files taken from Cassidy’s computer and gave it to a forensic expert who analysed them.

‘A victim of bullying’

Cassidy then told the Sunday Star-Times in 2019 that the investigation amounted to bullying, and harassment and was the culmination of a vendetta by several colleagues against him.

“…There is a culture in the school which is a culture of criticism. I absolutely believe I’m the victim of bullying,” he told the paper in 2019.

“Obviously my reputation has really been damaged beyond repair. It’s shattered.”

By way of explanation in emailed conversations with the tribunal, Cassidy acknowledged talking to many women online in his search for a “life partner.”

“Legal adult websites were used to find a life partner. I have never intentionally engaged in anything illegal. Everything was done in a private respecting [sic] manner,” he said.

He went on to say that he has no “unlawful sexual interest in children” and no personal interest in pornography.

Cassidy claimed that others told him their fantasies as a “private matter” and that: “A number of conversations that were sent to me were bizarre and crazy, but they were not mine. I also did not choose what was sent to me by others. I had no control over what was sent.”

He claimed that he accessed the sites on his personal devices and they were then automatically uploaded to the school’s server in error.

The tribunal dismissed this claim and said it was satisfied the material he’d accessed originated from his school-issued laptop.

“We find that Mr Cassidy was in knowing possession of inappropriate images, and that the content of the conversations captured when he was under surveillance was inappropriate on a school-issued laptop and in school hours,” their finding reads.

“An objective member of the public would not consider engaging in sexualised chat and viewing a nude photograph sent within the context of a sexual conversation, during school hours on a school device, is appropriate behaviour for a teacher.

“The nature of the material accessed via Mr Cassidy’s school user profile makes Mr Cassidy’s claims of passivity and a lack of interest in pornography unbelievable.”

The tribunal opted to cancel the now-retired Cassidy’s teaching licence and ordered he pay $12,000 in legal costs.

Police have been approached for comment.

Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022.

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