Crime and punishment

Steve Eddison

"Why is there a child crying in the disabled toilet?" Ms Boudicca demands. The noise subsides as everyone turns to look in my direction. The sound of distress that was no more than an annoying component of the general clamour a moment earlier is suddenly the focus of everyone's attention.

By the time the little girl is released, a crowd has gathered. People are muttering and pointing the finger of blame at me. If this were the Wild West, they would have me strung up from the nearest tree. My excuses ("I never heard her.I was busy.I thought somebody was dealing with it.") are the pathetic pleadings of a guilty man.

To make matters worse, Ms Boudicca, our headteacher, insists on clutching the sobbing infant to her maternal bosom. "There there, sweetheart, you're safe now," she soothes. "He's a very naughty Mr Eddison, isn't he? Leaving you locked in the toilet like that." She gives me the sort of look my wife adopts when she arrives home in the pouring rain to find that Sky Sports has taken precedence over getting the washing in.

But before anyone rushes to judgement, it is important to examine the facts. At 8.40am, our school entrance area (where the disabled toilet is situated) is like a mining town during the gold rush. Sounds of distress - blubbing children distraught at having to come to school, weeping parents whose lives are falling apart, sobbing teachers tormented by upcoming lesson observations - are just part of the general hubbub.

Under these circumstances, one child locked in a lavatory is easy to overlook. Especially by someone who has other things on his mind.

I am working in our integrated resource unit today and have been sent to meet the students who arrive by taxi. We greet each other with whoops and high-fives - and that's just the taxi driver, who is overjoyed that I am taking them off his hands.

But exchanging greetings is only a part of my remit. I am also required to make mental notes about the children's behaviour, take messages from parents and carers, collect and record medications and reunite lunchboxes with owners. Too much, perhaps, for someone who, by his own admission, is not gifted in the art of multitasking.

Taking all this into account, is it not proved beyond reasonable doubt that I am innocent? That I am a man more sinned against than sinning? And that my only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

When I get home from school, I complain to my wife about the injustice I have suffered at the hands of Ms Boudicca, but for some reason she isn't listening.

"Did you hear what I just said?" I ask. She fails to respond. Instead, she stares through the window at the sodden washing. And I catch that look in her eye. It is reminiscent of someone contemplating a lynching.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.

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Steve Eddison

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