Why was abusive teacher allowed to keep his job?

Talmud Torah Chinuch N’Orim school in Salford. (google street view)
Talmud Torah Chinuch N’Orim school in Salford. (google street view)

There is a body known as the  Teacher Regulation Agency (TRA), which most of us are unlikely to have come across in the general course of events.

I had the misfortune, however, of ploughing through 24 pages of the agency’s most recent panel hearing – and it makes shocking reading, not just because of its content, but of what it does not say.

The TRA panel was called to consider the case of a man called Yankel Shepherd, 57, who has now been banned “indefinitely” from teaching, in a case that went all the way up to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi.

Shepherd – who declined to attend the five-day virtual hearing – was accused of serious sexual misbehaviour towards two of his former students in strictly-Orthodox schools in London and Manchester. Two witnesses, known as Child A and Pupil X, gave chilling details of Shepherd’s behaviour to the TRA panel. I freely admit that I thought I had made a mistake when reading the TRA report – because the actions reported by Child A took place as far back as the 1980s. 

Child A is now an adult but indeed, Shepherd’s behaviour towards him – consisting of very specific sexual abuse – did take place more than 40 years ago. The actions occurred in a Jewish community centre and a synagogue; but Shepherd was able to get a job in Talmud Torah Chinuch N’Orim school, Salford, in 2009.

Child A made his allegations in November 2009 and Shepherd was duly arrested. But when Child A decided not to proceed with evidence against Shepherd, the police investigation was dropped. The panel report says that “Child A’s … numerous attempts to pursue this matter with the religious authorities had been frustrated”. Colour me astonished.

Now here is the truly shocking thing: not only, after this damning claim and arrest, was Shepherd able to obtain employment at two other schools –Talmud Torah Yetev Lev in London, and Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch in Salford – but he was given favourable references in order to do so. Despite the panel’s belief that Shepherd’s “actions were deliberate, calculated and sexually motivated”, the headteacher of Talmud Torah Yetev Lev gave him a sparkling reference, saying that he had “‘excelled’ in … planning and preparing lessons and courses for pupils; delivering lessons … assessing the development, progress and attainment… and reporting on progress and attainment of pupils”.

Serious questions need to be asked of the criminal justice system as to why the allegations against Shepherd were not pursued. 

And, reading between the lines, it is clear that his behaviour was known to the strictly-Orthodox communities to which he belonged, not least because the parents of Pupil X, who had special needs, told Shepherd to stop – but he resumed contact three weeks later. Child A, as we have seen, complained that he had been “frustrated” after numerous attempts to raise the issue with religious authorities.

It’s not the first time that such behaviour has been ignored or quashed by strictly-Orthodox communities. The recent case of Chaim Walder, the Charedi children’s author who turned out to be a serial sexual predator, proves that.

We now have Migdal Emunah, an organisation formed specifically to monitor sexual abuse in the Jewish community. It can help victims and advise schools and communal bodies, and provide an informed link to potential prosecuting authorities. 

On the eve of UK Sexual Abuse Awareness Week, we don’t need more distressing cases of vulnerable people such as Child A or Pupil X.

About the Author
Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist.