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U3A Writing: Nightmare

John Ricketts tells of finding himself accused of violence against a boy while teaching in Rhodesia.

In 1955 I was teaching in Rhodesia and was living in the school boarding house looking after children who lived there. My first inkling that there might be something wrong was when, while I was supervising the children having their evening meal, there was a banging at the door. Outside were two young men, nineteen or twenty years old who asked me to go outside as they wanted to talk to me. I had never seen them before and had no intention of going out. I told them that I was responsible for the 72 children in the hostel and could not leave them alone. With some difficulty I shut the door on them. They continued to shout outside for some time and then went away.

An hour or so later when the smaller children were getting ready for bed, two policemen turned up and asked me to accompany them to the police station as they had a complaint about a serious assault for which I had been blamed. I told them that I had no idea of what they were talking about and told them that I could not leave the boarding house as I was responsible for the children. Unless they were prepared to arrest me and take over my responsibilities I would not go. They asked when I would be free and I told them the next morning.

At a quarter past six the following morning two other constables appeared to take me to the station. They were very embarrassed as I played cricket with them in the local police team and I was an honorary member of the police club.

At the station was a boy called Jurie Kriek and his parents. He boy was obviously the subject of the assault as he had a black eye and a swollen face marked with cuts and bruises. He was asked how he got his injuries and said that Mr. Ricketts had done it. When asked how he said that I had hit him and banged his head against the wall causing cuts and bruises. Confronted with this, all I could say was that I hadn’t done it. He repeated over and over again that I had hit him. Suddenly a chink of light appeared. When asked where this had happened he said it had happened at the end of school the previous day in the classroom. If it had happened then someone would have seen it. I immediately suggested that we go to the school to ask the other children in the class.

On the previous day during the last period before we finished for the day the children had been doing a test. I had been sitting at my desk in front of the class marking some other test papers. When the bell had gone for the end of school I had told the children that I would collect the papers and that then they could go. After I had collected Jurie Kreik’s papers there would still have been seven or eight children still in the class.

In the classroom for the “trial’’ there were a policeman, a police woman, the headmaster, Jurie Kriek and his father and me. The children were sitting there with serious faces and huge eyes. The headmaster told the children that Jurie had accused me of hurting him and asked if anyone had seen me do it. There was silence. Then he went round the class individually and asking them. They all said no until he got to a boy called Theunis Van Schalkwyk. He said yes he had seen me hit Jurie and bash his head against the wall. The rest of the children said no they had not.

For a while my heart sank. Theunis pointed to the spot where he said I had hit Jurie’s head against the wall. The he broke down and started to cry. The police inspector intervened and asked him “How is it that you saw what happened and no one else did ”

Then the dam broke: “He said he’d bash my head in if I didn’t say it!”

Further questioning revealed the truth, Jurie and Theunis and a couple of other boys, instead of going home had decided to explore a site where a new bridge was being built. While messing about as boys do Jurie had slipped and fallen against one of the concrete posts. Knowing that they were in forbidden territory, when he got home and had been asked about his injuries, he said the first thing that came into his head: “Mr. Ricketts hit me.” The two young men who had come to beat me up had been his older brothers.

If he had said that it has happened anywhere else but in the classroom he would probably have been believed with disastrous consequences to me. Whenever I hear of crimes being committed, because of what happened to me, my sympathies go out to the accused, who, if he is innocent can only say “I didn’t do it.

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