The Richmond community is in shock after a longstanding teacher at the local primary school admitted this week he had abused two 13-year-old pupils two decades ago.
The Department of Education confirmed on Thursday that Robin Radley, 52, had been suspended after pleading guilty in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court on Wednesday to the two charges of indecent assault.
In his plea he explained that he had been “very mixed up” at the time and unable to live openly as a gay person. He said he was ashamed of his behaviour and never did it again.
Parents of pupils he taught - and still teaches - reacted with disbelief after finding out about the abuse. One mom said she would allow her child to continue to be taught by Radley, despite his admission.
Past pupils have also praised Radley.
Radley’s plea came after the two now-adult victims, one of whom lives in Durban and the other in Cape Town, coincidentally and separately laid charges against Radley earlier this year.
Neither knew the other had gone to the police.
Radley is to face a disciplinary tribunal.
Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said Radley had been suspended immediately after his crimes became known.
“Before he can be dismissed there has to be a tribunal to give him an opportunity to plead his case… It is the principle of fair justice.”
However, Mahlambi said: “We cannot keep such educators in our schools.”
Radley received a wholly suspended sentence of four years’ imprisonment.
His plea, read by prosecutor Johan Senekal, said: “Being inexperienced as a teacher, the accused failed to keep a proper distance between himself and some of the boys at the school.”
The teenagers were allowed to visit Radley at the hostel where he was living, and he admitted that on separate occasions he had “chatted” with them before moving to his room where he sexually molested them.
“The accused was later ashamed of what he had done and after the incidents said he’d learnt to keep his distance from the pupils and has refrained from acting in such a manner since’,” Senekal read.
A parent who has two children at the school, said: “He is one hell of a teacher. He brought my child through one of the darkest times. We all do stupid things when we are young. It was 21 years ago, and it takes courage to stand up and say ‘I did it’.
“He is the most wonderful teacher. But then again someone said to me, ‘If it was your child (that he had indecently assaulted) you would be out to kill’. So I’m very torn.”
The parent said that Radley taught his pupils to stand up for themselves.
Asked if she would be okay with her younger child being in Radley’s class, she said “Yes”.
On the school’s Facebook page Radley is often talked about fondly, with many past pupils asking for his contact details. Many expressed surprise that he was still teaching at the school after so many years.
One former pupil who was at the school at the time of the sexual assaults said he had no idea that the abuse was going on.
He said Radley was a good teacher and he had not experienced any problems with him.
Another former pupil said Radley was a “very, very good teacher”. He taught Standard 4 (now Grade 6) and was the music teacher. He was also the boarding master, she said.
She said people who knew him were probably “shattered” by the news.
In media reports on Thursday, one of Radley’s victims said his abuse had led him to committing a similar sexual offence later in his life, for which he had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, suspended on condition that he underwent counselling. He also suffered from alcoholism.
The man, who is now engaged and has a baby daughter on the way, said his therapist had encouraged him to lay the charge in an attempt to gain closure.
The other victim, according to the report, said he experienced social and relationship difficulties as a result of the abuse and also had counselling.
He is also now engaged.
Both men expressed concern that Radley was still teaching.