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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 22:50 GMT


Abused pupil's damages claim blocked

The case was heard at the High Court in London

A man who suffered abuse at the hands of teachers has been told by a judge that he cannot sue the education secretary or his local authority for damages.

Michael Gallagher, 27, was seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages for treatment which he claims has left him psychologically damaged and unable to earn a proper living.

But at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Jackson ruled that only Mr Gallagher's claim against the now defunct Berrow Wood School, near Worcester, can go ahead.

His lawyers will now have to await the outcome of a hearing next month involving the school and its insurers, Sun Alliance, which is saying the school's policies are not valid for claims involving violence by teachers.

If Sun Alliance wins the action, Mr Gallagher will not be able to pursue his claim against the school, which is in receivership.

Robert Sherman, representing Mr Gallagher, told the judge during the six-day hearing that the case arose out of "the systematic physical and emotional abuse of pupils" who had been placed by local authorities at the independent school - which catered for for children with special behavioural difficulties.

Assault and cruelty

Mr Gallagher was a pupil at the school from 1984 to 1987 and although complaints were made to Hereford and Worcester County Council, no action was taken until police made an investigation in 1991.

Six teachers at the school received various jail terms for offences including assault and cruelty.

The court was told that Mr Gallagher was sent to Berrow Wood when he was 16 and, during his three and a half years at the school, was violently assaulted by Alan Gorton, the school's owner and principal, headmaster Ronald Morris and head of care Philip Gray.

Since leaving school, Mr Gallagher had had a series of jobs and served a prison sentence for robbery.

He told the judge in evidence that he did not think about making a claim against the school until he gave evidence during the police investigation into the school in 1991.

Mr Gallagher said he was not told by lawyers that he could sue the local education authority or the Department for Education until years later.

But the judge ruled that both had no duty of care to Mr Gallagher personally and that his claim against them was too late to be valid in law.

However, he added that Mr Gallagher could go ahead with his claim against the school - which could arguably be held liable for his treatment by the teachers.

'No rights'

Mr Gallagher, who lives in south London, said in a statement after the hearing: "Whilst I was at the school and suffering under the regime of violence I complained and said I have rights. I was told by the principal of the school that `The only rights you have here are to eat and breathe'.

"The difficulty I have with the decision today is, yet again, I am being told by the system of justice that I have no rights. In particular, no rights against the local authority and Department of Education who knew that the school was assaulting pupils.

"I cannot accept that it is in the interest of public policy that they had no duty to take any action. It might be in the interest of the legal system to prevent claims of this nature.

"Can it really be said by the judge alone that it is in the public interest that such public bodies who know of the abuse and have the power to prevent it are not obliged to prevent it?"

Mr Gallagher's solicitor, Chris Whiteley, said: "We are deeply disturbed by this decision and will be exploring avenues of appeal either to the Court of Appeal or the European Court of Human Rights.

"It cannot be right that a local authority owes one duty to those children who it places in their own schools and a different duty to those it places in independent schools."

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