Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 16:59 UK

Pupil death conviction is quashed

James Porter
James Porter was convicted at Mold Crown Court in July

A headteacher has had his conviction quashed on appeal after a pupil jumped from steps at school and later died.

James Porter, who also owns the private Hillgrove School in Bangor, Gwynedd, had been convicted of health and safety breaches and ordered to pay 20,000.

Kian Williams, who was three, died in August 2004 from an MRSA infection.

The judges said all pupils could fall down steps and the only way to stop them would be holding hands or to prevent access, which was "impossible".

The court heard Kian's infection arose out of head injuries he suffered jumping during a game of Batman.

Three appeal court judges ruled Mr Porter's conviction in July 2007 was unsafe.

Lord Justice Moses said all children could fall down steps and the only way to stop them would be holding hands or preventing any access to stairs, which was "impossible".

Children cannot be contained to the point that all risks can be removed from their everyday lives
Patrick Harrington QC

"You cannot keep every child in a playground in eyeshot and earshot all the time, whatever the ratio of supervision," the judge told Monday's hearing.

The headteacher's trial heard how Kian had jumped from a height of about that of a standard household settee while playing "Batman" in July 2004.

The boy died after being moved to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool where he contracted the MRSA superbug.

Mr Porter, 66, who is from Bangor, was convicted on the basis that he exposed Kian to a risk of injury by failing to prevent unsupervised access to the school's stairs.

The prosecution said more staff should have been on duty, and there was no reason why a gate put up following the accident could not have been in place before.

Mr Porter's barrister, Patrick Harrington QC, challenged the safety of the conviction on the grounds that there was nothing to suggest that the steps were a risk.

He also claimed there was nothing "reasonably practicable" that could have been done to completely remove the risk of a child jumping and hurting themselves.

Kian Williams
Kian Williams was playing Batman when he fell

Mr Harrington said the only way for children to learn was to play.

"Children cannot be contained to the point that all risks can be removed from their everyday lives and, whilst of course we must cherish them and they must be looked after, they must be looked after in the real world," the QC told the appeal court.

The school steps had been in use since 1984 and it had never been suggested they were a risk of injury to children or anyone else, while a gate would have provided its own risks, he said.

There were also numerous flights of steps at the school and "if a child is going to jump, you're not going to stop them", added Mr Harrington.

Mr Porter, who had 29 years' experience at the independent school, had an excellent safety record, even when it was compared to other schools with completely flat playground surfaces.

Lord Justice Moses said that anyone wanting advice from an expert on safety in schools could do no better than to seek the advice of someone like Mr Porter.

A statement was later released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) saying it was "disappointed" with the court's decision but accepted it and would be considering it "fully".




SEE ALSO
Head appeals after death of boy
16 Jan 08 |  North West Wales
Head fined after boy's fatal fall
28 Sep 07 |  North West Wales
Head warning after guilty verdict
01 Aug 07 |  North West Wales


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