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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October 2004, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Judges criticise truancy case
An education authority has been criticised by judges for pursuing a case against the parents of a teenage girl who refused to attend school.

The girl had said she was being bullied.

The London Borough of Sutton had appealed after local magistrates cleared the parents of failing to ensure her school attendance.

But two High Court judges dismissed the appeal as "hopeless", saying the parents were "doing their best".

'Lack of support'

The girl, now aged 15, and her family cannot be named for legal reasons.

The court heard she had become violent towards her mother, and had not attended school at all since December 2002.

The magistrates had said they were "greatly disturbed" about the apparent lack of early direct support from the authorities for the girl's serious emotional and educational problems.

In the High Court, the judges described the girl's mother and father as "perfectly reasonable" parents who had obtained a good education for their other children but had been put through an "appalling" legal ordeal.

Lord Justice Thomas said the original prosecution had been "perfectly proper" but, after losing the case, Sutton had committed "a monstrous injustice" in pursuing the parents.

He was "very, very concerned" that safeguards to protect parents from unjustified legal action under the 1996 Education act might be failing.

Advice

Sitting with Mr Justice Fulford, he said: "This appeal is completely and utterly hopeless and should never have been brought."

He said advice had been offered to the mother by an education welfare officer and she had attended meetings of the joint adolescent service, parenting classes and school meetings and following various strategies at home.

All had failed, and the girl's relationship with her parents had broken down.

She had said she was being bullied but that was not investigated by the school or other agencies, the judge said.

The suggestion was that the bullying was happening outside the school.

The welfare officer said the girl had never mentioned bullying and did not come across as a bullied child.

During the hearing, the mother told the council's lawyers that if she had the money she would have prosecuted them for the "agony" her family had suffered.

"We have been through utter hell. It is a disgrace," she said.

"I did everything I could to get help. I asked the school, social services, and even the police for help. We only got a social worker on the day of the magistrates' court hearing.

"I think this case was an absolute shambles and I would not like anybody else to go through it."

A Sutton Council spokesman said the decision to appeal had been "based on the need to seek guidance on the legislation for future cases".

He added: "The authority notes the judges' comments but believes that its officers worked hard to provide a package of support to the parents and their daughter.

"Sutton has well-established anti-truancy policies: teachers and welfare officers work with parents and pupils to resolve problems effectively. The authority does not have a significant truancy problem."




SEE ALSO
Bully victims 'need more study'
05 Sep 04 |  Education
'Nearly half' of pupils bullied
16 Apr 04 |  Education

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