This case was a damages claim brought by a teacher (X) alleging the Defendant Council (Newham Council) were negligent concerning an assault upon X by a pupil (P) at the special needs school where X taught.

P was a boy of 14 years who had multiple handicaps and displayed dangerous and challenging behaviour. P was brought to school by a pupil escort (F) on 15 June 1998. The Council provided the escort service. F was not given any information concerning P’s behaviour and had never taken responsibility for P before. Further, F was not given instructions as to the practice that was to be exercised on arrival at school or on handover. F therefore entered the school with P before the start time of 9 a.m. at which time there was no one immediately on hand to accept transfer. P was taken by F to the head’s office where P escaped from F and attacked X scratching her face. X suffered grazing to her face, forehead, nose and chin.

The Court had to determine how P was able to attack X and whether in law the council was responsible because F was negligent, or because the Council had failed to implement a proper system of handover of responsibility on that day.

The Council accepted liability for negligence on the part of F.

X alleged that the Council was negligent in that it had:

(a) allowed P to come into school before 9 a.m.;

(b) allowed P to enter the head’s office on his own and without prior warning;

(c) failed to exercise proper control over P;

(d) failed to establish an adequate policy for violent pupils.

The claim was centred on the psychiatric impact of the assault on X and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as opposed to physical injury.

The Council suggested that (1) X was vulnerable to psychiatric illness at the time of the assault because of crises in her life; (2) any “straw” would have broken the camel’s back; (3) it was more probable than not a breakdown would have occurred without negligence on its part.

HELD:

(1) F had received no instructions on dealing with P, but instructions would have offered little help because the danger P presented arose when others were in close proximity. F as a stranger to P was at risk himself. F was not told that the handover was to be 9 a.m., but this did not have much causative effect.

Taking P to the head’s office was not in the circumstances inappropriate. Had adequate prior information and instructions been given to F about P, F would have taken greater steps to ensure P did not escape from him.

This escape had caused the assault and this amounted to negligence on the part of the Council.

(2) The Council owed a duty to X to take reasonable care to minimise the known risk of injury to staff and other pupils posed by difficult pupils such as P. The Council had breached that duty of care and this led to the assault.

The Council also owed a duty to X to provide a safe system and place of work.

(3) The psychiatric experts agreed that X was suffering from PTSD and that with the appropriate treatment, the disorder could have been relieved. Given X’s history she was clearly on the point of a burnout regardless of the incident. The incident was only one of several factors which contributed to X’s state of health.

(4) The court considered that X, who could not return to teaching, would have been fit to work on a full time basis within 15 months of the hearing, 5 years after the incident. By that time X would be 55, and given her history, it was unlikely that she would find employment outside the voluntary sector.

(5) General Damages awarded £20,000.