A FORMER Newport primary school teacher was yesterday cleared of indecently assaulting pupils in his class.

There were sobs from the public gallery as father-of-three Mario Morelli, 77, of Keynsham Avenue, was cleared of eight assaults on two girls, dating back to the late 1980s.

The complainants, now adults, had alleged he touched them intimately over their clothes.

The first complainant told Cardiff Crown Court he would touch her over her knickers as she stood next to his desk to read aloud while the second said he would sit next to her on the bus to school and touch her, obscuring what he was doing using a brief case.

She also claimed that on one occasion he touched her as she stood next to his desk reading.

But a jury unanimously acquitted Mr Morelli yesterday after an hour and a half of deliberations, having been directed to return a not guilty plea on one of the counts by Judge Stephen Hopkins.

Mr Morelli admitted being “tactile” and tickling some of his pupils on occasion but said this was never sexual or on an inappropriate part of their body and was done to encourage them to relax and to be friendly.

He said that if he had touched the girls indecently as they read at his desk, “the whole class would have seen.”

He said he had resigned from the school and never taught again after one of the girls spoke to the head teacher, rather than been asked to leave, because he felt so upset by the allegations and was close to a nervous breakdown.

The court heard he described the first complainant as a “knowing” pupil, saying she would look accusingly at him, and was “not a very nice girl.”

During the trial, the jury was told one of the complainants was in a PE lesson when Mr Morelli asked her to give a demonstration of a handstand to the other students.

He had been alleged to have pulled her legs apart as she attempted the handstand, but he told the court there was a chance her legs may have come apart due to a lack of balance.

Mr Morelli denied anything inappropriate had taken place. He told the court: “I certainly did not deliberately part her legs to look at the girl in a sexual way.”