Hung jury in trial of teacher accused of abusing seven boys

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 May 2019, 4:07PM
Benjamin Swann was on trial in the High Court for some two weeks. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)
Benjamin Swann was on trial in the High Court for some two weeks. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)

Hung jury in trial of teacher accused of abusing seven boys

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 May 2019, 4:07PM

After three days of deliberations a jury has been unable to reach verdicts in the trial of an Auckland school teacher accused of committing an indecent act on seven boys.

Benjamin Swann was on trial in the High Court at Auckland for the past two weeks, accused of 11 charges of doing an indecent act.

He had been facing 10 charges for almost all of the trial but an additional indecent act charge was added on Monday morning.

Standing silently in the dock, with a metallic silver fern pinned to the left lapel of his blazer, Swann listened as the jury told him they had reached an impasse on all of the allegations he has vehemently denied.

The jury had deliberated for some three days.

Justice Ailsa Duffy had earlier given the jurors the option of finding a majority verdict, allowing only 11 of the 12 to reach the same verdict.

The jury, however, sent notes to the judge which read "no progress" and "split decision".

Yestrday, Justice Duffy also gave the jury a Papadopoulos direction.

A Papadopoulos direction encourages jurors to persevere with their deliberations and to demonstrate a willingness, having listened carefully to the views of other jurors, to change their view.

Justice Duffy discharged the jury just before 4pm today as they again said they could not reach verdicts.

Swann, meanwhile, was remanded on bail and will appear in court again next month as the Crown decides whether to seek a retrial.

Also going by the name Benjy, he was last a teacher at Ōtāhuhu College and has taught at other Auckland schools during a career spanning more than 30 years.

Police began an investigation into the 55-year-old after one of the boys and their mother complained. It led to six more boys coming forward and accusing Swann of indecently touching them, the court heard.

Throughout many of the boys' allegations there were common themes, Crown prosecutor David Stevens earlier said in the trial.

Swann had told some of the boys to remove their clothes before he performed an indecent act on them behind locked doors, the court heard.

"This was not the result of collusion between the boys," Stevens said.

"The allegations are similar because the defendant did similar things to each of the seven boys – the touching happened."

Further details about Swann's alleged offending, however, are suppressed to protect the identities of the complainants.

Benjamin Swann was accused of sexually abusing young boys while he was an Auckland school teacher. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Benjamin Swann was accused of sexually abusing young boys while he was an Auckland school teacher. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)

Swann, however, has always said the allegations were fabrications.

"No, absolutely not," Swann said in his own defence, when asked by his lawyer Sam Wimsett if he had touched the boys' genitals.

After learning of the initial allegation, Swann also sent a message to a colleague about his dismay at the claims, the court heard.

"I am still in absolute complete shock," the message read. "I am still trying to get my head around the accusation."

Swann also claimed he was being sabotaged by one of the complainants, who he alleges was stalking him.

Wimsett said of the allegations: "It all sounds very bad, and if it were all true it would be bad."

Wimsett said the boys' stories, however, were mixed with half-truths.

"They are a combination of truth and half-truth and then outright falsehoods. The falsehood is the suggestion that there was anything sexual, that there was any nudity."

"What else can a man, a teacher, in his position do?" Wimsett said of his client's denial.

Swann's had enjoyed name suppression earlier in the case, but it was lifted after the Herald, Radio NZ and Stuff journalists opposed continued suppression last May.

Ōtāhuhu College also made an application for name suppression and a take-down order for Swann's social media posts referring to the school.

Justice Patricia Courtney dismissed all of the applications but also suppressed her reasons for doing so.

Swann has voluntarily agreed to stop teaching, according to the Teaching Council's register, but further details about his career remain suppressed.

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