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Handgun threat father loses plea

William Stewart reports on the end of a school's terrifying ordeal

A head whose school was threatened with a Dunblane-style massacre was so terrified that he kept a metal bar in his office for protection during his 14-month ordeal.

The frightening chain of events started after Jim Green warned a parent, Anthony Gatenby, that his behaviour in accepting a kiss from a four-year-old girl at the school could be seen as inappropriate.

Last Friday Gatenby, who had threatened to shoot Mr Green, had his appeal against conviction for harassment dismissed by Nottingham crown court.

The head now hopes to draw a line under an affair that he said had left his school in a permanent state of fear and anxiety.

"I saw staff looking ill because of this," he said. "They looked drawn and white. The metal bar is still under my desk. I thought, 'I have been threatened and I am taking that threat seriously'.

"I feared I might have to fight and defend myself. This has been an incredibly stressful time for the whole community. I just hope that this is the end of it."

His ordeal began in April last year, when Gatenby's demands for a meeting with the teacher who had reported the kiss were refused by Mr Green. In a telephone conversation, Gatenby told the head he would take "extreme measures".

"He said, 'I have got handguns and I am coming to the school to shoot you'," Mr Green told the court. Gatenby appeared at the school two hours later and was arrested.

The court heard that less than a month afterwards the 38-year-old had met John Cross, a police community support officer, in the street and told him that if Mr Green was not careful he was going to "get his skull cracked".

By then the school had already received the first of seven threatening emails that terrorised staff and parents. But these were not admitted as evidence in court because it could not be proved who had sent them.

They claimed to be from a friend of Gatenby's, acting without his knowledge. One warned Mr Green: "This is jihad now. We have enough AK47 and Uzi 9m to do the job. Call the cops and you forfeit 10 more lives." Another said: "You will cause the deaths of staff and kids at your school and the whole world will know you could have stopped it."

As a result, security guards with protective vests were deployed at the school, shrubbery was cut back to eliminate hiding-places and staff were given walkie-talkies.

All outside lessons and library visits were cancelled, the nursery was closed on three occasions and at least two families kept their children off school.

After the first email threatening pupils was sent in May, Mr Green tried to withdraw Gatenby's son's nursery place but was unable to because of government regulations. He said these rules must be changed.

Earlier this year, the National Association of Head Teachers also called for the power to exclude pupils because of parental behaviour in extreme situations.

The Department for Education and Skills says such exclusions are inappropriate. But Home Office officials said last week they would be exploring ways of toughening prison sentences for those who attacked teachers.

Gatenby's son has attended a different school since September, as the family have left Nottingham. Last Friday, Nottingham crown court upheld Gatenby's original sentence, which banned him from the school and from contacting its staff for two years.

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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