Sharon Millward (the Claimant) was a 47-year old female Teacher who taught one day a week at Thornbury House Secure Unit at Kidlington, Oxfordshire (a secure residential unit).

In April 2000, she was assaulted by a 13 year old boy in-mate at the unit, who had arrived 10 days before.

He had previously assaulted members of staff at other care homes and had shown an inclination to assault women.

When he arrived at Thornbury House Secure Unit, he had come without documentary evidence with regard to the previous assaults.

The day after his arrival, staff had a meeting and the in-mate’s history of violence was discovered.

The Claimant had not been directly told of the history of violence.

The Claimant had apparently told the boy to “shut up” and had been responded to by an assault, causing minor bruising and resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sharon Millward then brought an action against the Local Authority in respect of its alleged breach of duty of care. 

Mr. Justice Hughes concluded that there were failures of systems rather than of individuals in this case, and said that:

  • When a pupil was transferred, any relevant history of violence should be given in writing to the new school;
  • A telephone call on its own would not be sufficient;
  • The history should cover special circumstances, which in this case included a history of targeting women;
  • Putting up a notice on a general noticeboard was not a good enough system to warn people in Mrs. Millward’s position of the risk.

“If the risk that the pupil presented had been identified and communicated to Mrs. Millward as it should have been, I am satisfied that the injury she suffered would not have occurred. If the risk had been appreciated at least in the early stages, a single female teacher would not have been left alone. As it is, the pupil did precisely what his history said he might do. He showed violence and contempt towards a woman member of staff who offended him. What happened was foreseeable and would have been comparatively easy to prevent”.

Judgment for the Claimant.

Note: Mrs. Millward’s compensation was reduced by 25% for ‘contributory negligence’ on the basis that she had responded to the in-mates talking in class in a manner, which was confrontational and risky.