Former Stourbridge teacher 'dependent on cocaine' told child he was her 'future husband', panel hears

A former Stourbridge teacher who was "increasingly dependent on cocaine" and told a vulnerable child he was her "future husband" has been banned from teaching for life.

Austin Murphy sent inappropriate messages to a child and was accused of stroking the child's leg
Austin Murphy sent inappropriate messages to a child and was accused of stroking the child's leg

Austin Murphy, 46, admitted at a disciplinary panel that he sent inappropriate messages to a child, referred to as Child A, and sent her an occasion card where he referred to himself as her future husband and her as the future mother of his children.

The hearing was held in private but the findings have since been published into the public domain in a report by the Teaching Regulation Agency.

The matter had previously been referred to police but the case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

The panel heard that one of the messages he sent to Child A, who was vulnerable and known to self-harm, was "I got you the pen knife to cut yourself", referring to a Christmas present he had bought for her in 2016.

It said Murphy claimed he was being "sarcastic" with his comment about the present and the panel considered that this was two years prior to him becoming aware of Child A's self-harm.

It was also alleged that Mr Murphy stroked Child A’s leg in a way which made her feel uncomfortable. Mr Murphy disputed stroking her leg, saying the child was “mimicking attention-seeking behaviour”, but admitted to sending inappropriate messages and card.

However, he denied that the messages and card amounted to unacceptable professional conduct that might bring the profession into disrepute.

The inappropriate messages were uncovered in April 2019 whilst Child A was away on a school trip, and a person referred to as Witness D found a number of occasion cards addressed to Child A from Mr Murphy.

On Child A’s return from the school trip, Witness D questioned Child A about the cards who subsequently showed her a message exchange between Child A and Mr Murphy.

Witness D described her reaction to the messages as making her feel “sick to her stomach, appalled and horrified” and that these Facebook messages were making Child A feel "extremely anxious and upset". Consequently, Witness D contacted Child A’s school, to report her concerns.

The school made a referral to children’s social care the same day. A 'position of trust' meeting was held on June 12, 2019, and a second meeting was held on September 25, 2019.

On November 17, 2019, Child A was interviewed by the police but, as there was no evidence, the matter was closed.

Although the panel considered that the content of the greetings card was inappropriate, it did not find that Mr Murphy was intending to reference himself as Child A’s future husband and the mother of his children.

The panel were satisfied that this was a poor judgment of humour reflective of his overly “matey” relationship with Child A at the time. Therefore, they found the allegation that he had sent an inappropriate card referring to himself as her future husband not proven.

The hearing was told Mr Murphy accepted that he was becoming increasing dependent on cocaine and was living a chaotic lifestyle. This gave the panel cause to doubt his recollection of his behaviour while under the influence of cocaine, the report states.

They found the allegation that he had sent her inappropriate messages proven, and in light of Murphy's dependency on cocaine at the time, "found it more likely than not that Mr Murphy had stroked Child A’s leg in a way which made her feel uncomfortable".

The panel found that "Mr Murphy had engaged in inappropriate behaviour towards Child A which had, and continued to have, a harmful impact on Child A’s wellbeing".

The panel was also "satisfied that the conduct of Mr Murphy amounted to misconduct of a serious nature which fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession."

Murphy was working at a school in Stourbridge, via a teaching recruitment agency, at the time the allegations were raised, which are said to have happened between 2017 and 2019.

He had registered with the Stourbridge-based recruitment agency in May 2017, and began his first period of employment in September 2017.

The 46-year-old is now prohibited from teaching indefinitely and cannot teach in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. He is not entitled to apply for restoration of his eligibility to teach.

Murphy eventually accepted that his behaviour had had a negative impact on Child A.

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