A note from the past


Janice sat on her own, perched on a seat in the corner of a poky office, fat, dusty folders on all sides of her workspace like a poorly constructed barricade. The office was slightly too warm, which wasn’t helping her concentration very much as she waded through page after page of work history; the story of Mr David Swale, Lecturer of Engineering at Teacham College. There were nine files. Nine. Unfortunately they were loose-leaf and had not been put together carefully by a dilligent chronographer over the last 15 years.

Janice’s gaze wandered from the transparent, pink-but-yellowing-round-the-edges foolscap sheet of typewritten paper, changing her focus into the middle-distance through the closed window. The heat and moisture inside was making condensation around the edges of the single-pane glass, and in many ways the window in front of her and the paper in her hand did the same thing; they were transparent, but opaque at the same time. She thought for a few minutes about what she knew about Mr Swale. She had met him last week, and heard him give his account of events as he saw them. He was a tall, stocky man in his 50’s with slightly greying hair that was cut very short. He told us of his life in the army as a young, man, of the places he couldn’t tell us he’d been to. Of the transition from Army to civilian life. The Post Traumatic Stress he wouldn’t give details of, the happy times as a teacher, putting all that skill of his back into today’s children – tomorrow’s future. He was plausible, he was nice. He looked her in the eye as he spoke. He was entirely believable. He was quite, quite mad.

Janice went back to her file, and placed the current page near the back of the sheaf of papers on the desk. She picked up the next page and started to read it, but it wasn’t going in. She was thinking about Mr Swale’s colleagues, who had also been interviewed last week. Tim had talked about his own interractions with Dave. The tales of working for the AA or the RAC, or some similar breakdown recovery organisation. The common ground they appeared to share in their backgrounds was uncanny. Clive had told us how Dave had laughed when he found out he’d been in the REME too, and then had become distant and stopped telling his old stories of driving tanks in Northern Ireland. And finally, Al, who had also been ex-military and had smelled a rat the moment he overheard Dave talking to some students about “the old days”. One by one, they’d all come together and started to piece together the information they had of Mr Swale. And nothing had stacked up. Mr Swale – and by the end of it Janice was wondering if even that was his real name – was not the man he seemed to be.

The files were a collection of investigations, complaints and health problems. Pages of memos, letters, notes and records of all the things that Mr Swale had been involved in whilst he worked for EngineTech, a private company that had become part of the College way back in the 90’s, and then his recent 15 year history with Teacham. How had he survived so long without anyone realising there was a problem? Evidently there were problems, or there would never have been so much paper associated with one man over a fairly medium-term career. As Janice read through the pages, she could see how each thing in isolation made few ripples. The odd period of illness, the odd lost temper. A few case of poor judgement and a few more cases where managers and colleagues hadn’t played their part sensibly either. Years and years of wasted time and effort, until now. Finally, someone was putting all the details together in one place, laboriously, painstakingly.

Janice filed the latest memo in the sheaf of papers on the desk, and sighed. She summoned up energy reserves and reached across for the next piece of paper from the file. It was a sheet of good quality headed paper from the College, signed by the Chief Executive at the time, Donald Dibbs. Janice absorbed the content of the two paragraphs, and then went back to the beginning and read them for a second time, just to be sure.

Whilst I have some reservations, particularly in respect of recent information that has come to my attention, I hereby sign off your probation period and accept you as a substantive member of teaching staff.” 

Well. Thought Janice. There we are. If the managers back then had had the courage to tackle the issues in the beginning, we’d have saved countless people being upset and harmed by this man’s lies and anti-social behaviours, NINE files worth of paperwork and countless hundreds of hours of manpower dealing with the fallout from this one man. One man, who took up the time and attention of countless others, and switched the focus from those good, kind people with promising careers, to damage limitation. What an absolute tragedy.

And, not for the first or the last time in her career, there was nothing Janice could do to fix it. All that could be done was to make sure that Mr Swale could exit the organisation as quickly and unceremoniously as possible, and his colleagues had time to heal and move on. No-one would “win” this one. No-one ever “won” in these games. All that could be hoped for was a better outcome than doing nothing.






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