Sydney teacher cleared of sex charges

Former teacher Simon William Phillips has been cleared of sexual assault charges.
Former teacher Simon William Phillips has been cleared of sexual assault charges.

A former Sydney teacher says he has no plans to return to the classroom after being cleared of sexually assaulting students.

Simon William Phillips, 52, wept as he was found innocent on Monday of 12 counts of aggravated indecent assault he was alleged to have committed against three girls aged between 11 and 12 in 2017.

Burwood Local Court was told the allegations included the father of two putting his arms around students' shoulders and brushing up against their breasts, smacking or slapping them on the bottom and in one instance, pressing his erection against the back of one young girl.

Magistrate Daniel Reiss dismissed each of the charges, saying there remained a reasonable doubt Mr Phillips committed the crimes.

He noted that he employed unusual teaching methods including shaking students by the hand when school finished for the day and holding both their hands as he spoke to them to ensure he had their attention.

He did not deny putting his arms around students' shoulders - only that it was done in a sexual manner.

"There's a fine line between trying to be an impressive big buddy to a student and adopting grooming behaviour," Mr Reiss said.

However he said there was room for mistake in the allegations, noting where Phillips was alleged to have pressed his erection against a student that "it could be something else that pressed against her back".

Phillips earlier told the court there was no such thing as personal space in the classroom but Mr Reiss on Monday dismissed this as "ridiculous" saying children's personal space should be respected.

Despite this comment, the magistrate was not persuaded on the balance of probabilities the teacher had committed the alleged crimes.

He noted Phillips was adamant in his denials and unshaken during cross-examination.

The court heard students who would have been in a position to witness the alleged behaviour did not see it, nor did any other teacher or a student-teacher present in the classroom on the days it was said to have happened.

While the prosecution's child witnesses "presented well and appeared honest and forthright" Mr Reiss said there were "a number of areas of contradiction and weakness" as well as inconsistencies in the evidence given.

Speaking outside of court, Phillips said the charges had taken an "incredible toll" on his life.

"As you would expect, to be accused of these horrendous charges impacts greatly on my personal career, my private life but we've been very fortunate to have excellent representation and excellent support from hundreds and hundreds of people," he told reporters.

Phillips said at this stage he has "no plans" to return to teaching.

A number of his friends and family in court as the charges were dismissed erupted in applause, some crying with relief.

Australian Associated Press