Eyes on Hampton principal as school reopens

More heat for Heather Murray in her support of accused Moravian pastor

Saturday, January 07, 2017

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The spotlight is on principal of the Hampton School for Girls in Malvern, St Elizabeth, tomorrow, at the start of the new school term.


Heather Murray was at the centre of an incident last week when she, along with two other supporters of a church leader accused of rape, turned up at the St Elizabeth Parish Court for the mention of the sex matter involving the clergyman.


Not only did Murray display her support for Rupert Clarke, 64, who is charged with raping a minor aged 15, but she also attempted to block a photographer from snapping images of the accused man.


The behaviour of the school principal was heavily criticised on social media, with some of her critics suggesting that she stepped out of line in leading support to the accused, considering that she is the administrative head of an all-girls school.


"This lady ought to be ashamed of herself," one of her critics said. "Although we must abide by the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty, she must be careful that she is not sending the wrong message, considering the fact that she runs a school which has several 15-year-olds on the register.


Another critic stated: "Nothing is wrong with an individual lending support to a friend who has been charged with an offence, and it would not have been bad if Ms Murray simply went there to observe proceedings from a distance. But the fact that she tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures of the man who has been charged was not the wisest thing to do — worse, coming from a school principal who oversees the welfare of girls."


The subject is certain to be among the issues being discussed by the girls of Hampton as well as members of the teaching staff.


The Hampton School is regarded as one of the foremost institutions of high school learning in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Although the girls are not as sports inclined as others, its academic success is legendary.


Justice of the Peace Murray and wife of the disgraced Moravian minister, Yvonne Clarke, principal of the nearby Bethlehem Moravian College, are close friends, information that the Hampton principal confirmed last week in giving her reason for turning up at the parish court.


Yvonne Clarke is also a member of the board of governors of 159-year-old Hampton School, which has as its Latin motto "Suma virtute et humanitate", meaning "With utmost courage and courtesy" .


Clarke, who was arrested on December 28, was offered bail in the sum of $800,000 with one or two sureties. He took up his bail offer late Friday, the Jamaica Observer understands, and is due back in court on February 13.


St Elizabeth police said that around 9:00 pm a team was patrolling a community on the outskirts of Santa Cruz in the parish when they saw a parked car which made them suspicious.


When they went to investigate, the law enforcers said that they found the Moravian minister, who heads the Nazareth Moravian Church in Manchester, in what they described as a "compromising" position with the underage girl.


They did not say what they called "compromising".


On Friday, popular Councillor of the Trafalgar Division in the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation Kari Douglas called on Murray to resign or face dismissal.


Douglas, daughter of former Cabinet minister Easton Douglas, said that she is bothered by the developments and finds Murray’s ‘explanation’ that she merely attended court in support of her friend, who is the wife of the accused man, as "unsatisfactory".


The land economist and valuation surveyor, who is serving her second term as councillor, also said that she finds it "deeply troubling" that Murray has failed to address several reports which indicate that she attempted to block photographs being taken by the media of the accused child abuser.


"For far too long communities, and especially so people in society who should know better, have sent both overt and tacit signals of support for persons accused of sexually molesting our children. I have seen in my division and across the country cases where little girls who are being abused are fearful of speaking out because the abuser receives support from authority figures. Mrs Murray’s explanation for her attendance at court is unsatisfactory and should be rejected.


"In the context of the sad and prevailing circumstances in many of our communities and with consideration for the sensitive position which she holds, Mrs Murray should resign immediately or be sacked for her grave error of judgement which has rendered her unfit to lead a school, especially so an all-girls institution," Douglas said.


Regarding the accused man, Douglas said that she is mindful that all accused are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and nothing should be done to interference with his right to a fair trial.


If the accused man is convicted, Douglas said, the minister of religion should face the maximum available punishment.


Police also confirmed Friday that the accused pastor is also being investigated for other sex-related acts that he may have been involved in.

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