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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Mother jailed over son's truancy
Parents of truants face imprisonment or a 2,500 fine

A mother has been jailed for failing to stop her son playing truant.

Karen Simmonds, 34, was sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment for failing to ensure the nine-year-old attended school regularly.

Ms Simmonds, a single parent from Blacon, Chester, was originally sentenced in January.

But Chester magistrates deferred its implementation to give the former barmaid a chance to improve her son's attendance from 50% to 80%.

But when she reappeared, the court found she had not co-operated with social services and the boy had spent just two full weeks in school since September.

'Last resort'

Cynthia Roe, senior education welfare officer for Cheshire County Council, said: "Taking parents to court is a last resort. But there is eventually little option if a parent consistently ignores all the help, warnings and advice they are given.

"While this sentence gives us no pleasure at all, it does reinforce the message that we are prepared to prosecute parents who refuse to co-operate."

Last month, a mother convicted of failing to ensure her teenage son attended school lost a human rights challenge to the truancy law at the High Court.

Lawyers for Alison Barnfather had argued that "utterly blameless" parents faced having a criminal record.

But judges ruled there had been no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

An earlier hearing was told that the 1996 Education Act imposed strict liability and gave parents no defence if their child truanted.

Under the government's policy, parents can be fined up to 2,500, or even jailed for up to three months, for each child's non-attendance.

Last year, Patricia Amos, from Oxfordshire, became the first parent to be imprisoned over her daughters' persistent truancy.

The BBC's Richard Lister
"Punishing the parents of persistent truants is not a new concept"

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