Student wrongly accused of child abuse gets damages but no apology

October 24, 2003

A student has won a battle to clear her name after being subjected to a child-abuse investigation prompted by her former social work professor.

Earlier this month, a Newfoundland court awarded Wanda Young C$839,400 (£380,000) in damages after finding that her teacher and head of school breached their duty of care, leaving her labelled a child molester.

But Ms Young, whose nightmare began at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, is still waiting for an apology.

The saga began when the student wrote a paper on juvenile child abusers for her course. An appendix to the essay related a first-person account of a woman who admits to molesting children under her charge after having been a victim herself.

The passage alarmed Mr Young's professor, Leslie Bella, who found no footnote to identify its source. She raised her concerns with her department and was advised to arrange a meeting with Ms Young and the chair of admissions to see if her suspicions had any foundation.

Instead, Professor Bella sent the student a letter that implied the paper was plagiarised but did not inquire about the source of the appendix.

There are contradictory stories about whether or not a meeting then took place. But Professor Bella was left unaware that the passage she suspected as a cry for help from Ms Young was actually from a book, duly noted in the paper's bibliography.

Two years later, Ms Young received a call from the child protection office.

She was told she was suspected of abusing her boyfriend's two daughters, then aged four and nine years.

The investigator then read her a passage from the appendix. "That sounds a lot like a paper I wrote at Memorial two years ago," she told him.

The next day, she produced the book the passsage was lifted from. "His jaw dropped," she recounts, and he apologised.

Ms Young tried to elicit that same regret from her former professor. Five meetings later, with representatives from the university present, no apology was forthcoming. Memorial has now decided to appeal against the court's award of damages.

Ms Young is not impressed. "To still not admit that they did anything wrong - that blows my mind," she said.

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