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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Girl sues over bullying claim

A teenager is suing her local education authority for 75,000 damages, claiming it failed to protect her from being bullied from the age of nine.

Leah Bradford-Smart, 19, from Crawley, claims she suffered personal injuries as result of negligence by West Sussex County Council.

A High Court judge was told that Miss Bradford-Smart had been subjected to "persistent and prolonged bullying" while a pupil at Ifield Middle School, Crawley, between September 1990 and July 1993.

Was this claimant bullied throughout her school career or not?

Augustus Ullstein QC
The authority is contesting her claim and the judge, Mr Justice Garland, is to decide on the issue of liability during a trial expected to last five or six days.

The teenager's counsel, Augustus Ullstein QC, said there was a real matter which the court had to decide: "Namely, was this claimant bullied throughout her school career at Ifield Middle School or not?"

He said there was "clearly a duty imposed upon the defendants to keep the claimant safe", adding: "Whether or not they did so will depend upon the view the court takes of the facts."

'Swot and creep'

In a witness statement, Miss Bradford-Smart said children started pushing her around, calling her a "creep" and a "swot" when she joined the school in 1990.

She was frightened, she said, to tell anyone because they had said they would "get her" if she "grassed them up".

I was never informed of anything or saw anything which suggested that she was being bullied

Head teacher's statement
Mr Ullstein told the judge: "That was the beginning of persistent and prolonged bullying which subsisted until she left Ifield Middle School in the summer of 1993."

He said the school's head teacher had declared in a written statement that he was "never informed of anything or saw anything which suggested that she was being bullied".

Counsel said the tenor of the head teacher's statement was that he took bullying very seriously.

But there was, nevertheless, a problem at the school, Mr Ullstein went on.

'Post-traumatic stress'

The teenager's case is being supported by a consultant psychiatrist, who will argue that the teenager was "suffering from depression and manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder".

Miss Bradford-Smart's health had been "totally normal" up until the events at the centre of the case started, the court heard.

The defendants will argue that there was very little, if any, sign that she was being bullied and that she and her mother had "greatly exaggerated" how often any such bullying was brought to the attention of the school.

They claim that on the facts of the case, the authority does not owe Miss Bradford-Smart a duty of care.

The case continues.

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