A FORMER teacher accused of indecently assaulting two pupils denied touching girls sexually.

Mario Morelli, now 77, of Keynsham Avenue, denies seven charges of indecent assault dating back to the late 1980s relating to two different girls.

On Wednesday Judge Stephen Hopkins QC directed the jury to return a not guilty plea on an eighth charge, which related to a separate incident of indecent assault on one of the girls.

Yesterday at Cardiff Crown Court Morelli categorically denied touching the girls in a sexual way.

He told the court he was ‘tactile’ and often patted the children on the back to ‘be friendly’ and encourage them to relax, but there was never any sexual intent behind the gestures.

The court heard one of the alleged victims, now an adult, was a pupil at a Newport primary school when Morelli asked her to give a demonstration of a handstand to the other students during a PE class around 25 years ago.

Morelli said he chose the girl at random and denied pulling her legs apart.

Morelli told the court there was a chance her legs may have come apart due to a lack of balance.

He added: “I certainly did not deliberately part her legs to to look at the girl in a sexual way.”

Morelli accused one of the girls of not liking him, and said while the whole class would change for PE she would look at him before turning her back to change.

He said: “For example if they were changing for PE she would look up at me and give the impression ‘oh, you’re looking at me’.

“That’s what made me think this girl is not quite right.

“Why would she think I’m looking at her?

“Without saying it she was accusing me of looking at her.”

Matthew Cobbe, prosecuting, said: “She was the last person then that you should be tactile with.”

Morelli replied: “I was trying to befriend the girl and get her to settle down.”

He said when he heard about the accusations, he was ‘very upset’.

The court heard Morelli was suspended from the school following the allegations relating to the girl.

He said this brought him to the verge of a nervous breakdown, resigning shortly afterwards and leaving the teaching profession.

The court also heard the prosecution closing speech and the beginning of the defence closing speech yesterday, which will continue this morning before the judge begins summing up.