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'All heads are vulnerable'

Headteacher cleared of slapping one of her staff vows to help others after her 'awful' year. Adi Bloom reports.

A headteacher who was acquitted of slapping a member of her staff has said that she will work to support other falsely-accused heads.

Maran White, head of Robert Le Kyng primary, in Wiltshire, was accused in March last year of slapping teacher Anne Williams across the cheek, during an argument over workload. She was suspended on full pay from September.

At a magistrates' court in Devizes last week, Annabelle Pilling, lawyer for the defence, highlighted inconsistencies in Mrs Williams' evidence, casting doubts on her accusations, and Mrs White was subsequently acquitted.

"It could happen to anyone," said Mrs White. "All heads are vulnerable because they are dealing with people who have issues. Not just teachers - some parents come in very agitated as well. You need people to talk to and not everyone has the friends, family and union support that I had.

"Last year was absolutely awful for me and my entire family," she added.

"To be accused of something you haven't done is bad enough, but then to be subjected to a court case is even worse. I felt total disbelief."

She will be contacting the police and Crown Prosecution Service to determine why the decision was taken to proceed with the case.

"It was a very painful process. And the cost was enormous. What's happening to all this public money that could be going into education?"

Mrs White, 51, has been head of Robert Le Kyng for four years. The mother-of-three was offered the job when her predecessor resigned, following a poor Office for Standards in Education inspection in 1997. She had previously been head of Moredon primary, in Wiltshire.

Following discussions with the governors and local authority, she will be returning to school shortly. But she says she will not let the experiences of the past year influence her working life.

"I'll be dealing with staff in exactly the same way as before, because I didn't do anything wrong in the first place. But we will be discussing with the local authority measures that can be put in place to ensure that all members of staff understand what is acceptable. It's important everyone is protected."

Philip Ashdown, chair of governors at Robert Le Kyng, said that he was relieved that the court case had come to an end. "We're pleased to be able to reinstate Mrs White. We're going to face some challenges now. It will be difficult for staff who gave evidence in court. But that reconciliation process is not insurmountable," he said.

Anne Williams has not commented on whether she will be remaining at the school.

Mrs White is eager to work again with the governors and staff who supported her throughout her ordeal: "I heard lots and lots of positive things you never hear otherwise, unless you arrive at your funeral early. It's quite good, really."

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