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The BBC's Mike Baker
"This judgement will be greeted with relief by schools"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 13:36 GMT
Teenager loses bullying claim
Leah Bradford-Smart and her mother, Susan outside the High Court
Leah Bradford-Smart: "still living with the scars"
A teenager has lost her attempt to win damages from her local education authority for allegedly failing to protect her from being bullied.

Leah Bradford-Smart, 19, from Crawley, was seeking 75,000 from West Sussex County Council, claiming she had suffered post traumatic disorder after being bullied from the age of nine.


If bullies can get away with it outside school, they're just going to do it

Leah Bradford-Smart
Sitting in London, High Court judge Mr Justice Garland ruled against her claim of negligence on the part of the authority.

"I make no secret of the fact that I find this a most anxious case," he said, but refused Miss Bradford-Smart leave to appeal.

Her lawyers may apply directly to the Court of Appeal for permission.

Earlier Mr Justice Garland had heard Miss Bradford-Smart had apparently been subjected to "persistent and prolonged bullying" while a pupil at Ifield Middle School, Crawley, between September 1990 and July 1993.

Outside school

The judge heard how that bullying had extended outside the school gates, for example, on the school bus and on her housing estate.

But, he ruled, the school did not have a duty of care for events which had taken place outside its premises.


A school cannot reasonably be expected to do more than to take reasonable steps to prevent a child being bullied while it is actually at the school

Mr Justice Garland
While he had no doubt that Leah was "seriously bullied at home and on the bus going to and from school", this was in the context of a vendetta against the teenager's mother - Susan - by neighbours and their relatives.

By launching an inquiry or offering counselling, a school might exacerbate rather than ameliorate the situation, the judge said.

"In my judgement a school cannot reasonably be expected to do more than to take reasonable steps to prevent a child being bullied while it is actually at the school."

BBC Education correspondent Mike Baker said the judgement meant an important precedent - that schools must prevent bullying outside the school gates - had not been set.

Local education authorities, schools and teachers' unions would have been watching the case closely and would be relieved at the outcome, he added.

'Green light' for bullies

After the ruling, Miss Bradford-Smart - who is considering whether to take the case further - said: "We are naturally very disappointed by the result.

"However, our evidence was substantially accepted by the judge.

"The decision turned on whether the school had a duty which extended beyond the school gates - and on that point the judge found against us."


To allow bullies to drag a pupil out of a school just seems to be a distinction which gives schools and bullies the green light to make things worse

Jack Rabinowicz, solicitor
But she was "still living with the scars" of her experiences at school, she said, and expressed concern that the ruling will only encourage bullying.

"If bullies can get away with it outside school, they're just going to do it," she said.

"She's been through a huge amount and the judge has recognised that in his judgement," her solicitor Jack Rabinowicz said.

He criticised the ruling, saying bullying was "very pernicious, very disruptive of school life".

"To allow bullies to drag a pupil out of a school just seems to be a distinction which gives schools and bullies the green light to make things worse," he said.

'Little evidence'

West Sussex County Council had argued that there was very little, if any, sign at the time that she was being bullied.

She and her mother, Susan, 49, had "greatly exaggerated" how often any such bullying was brought to the attention of the school, the council said.

On the facts of the case, the authority did not owe Miss Bradford-Smart a duty of care, it was argued.

The school was up to date in its anti-bullying policy and was actually "in advance of what was to be expected at the time", it was claimed.

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24 Oct 00 | Education
Girl sues over bullying claim
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