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How to avoid a charge of theft

Schools sometimes find it necessary to confiscate pupils' property for disciplinary reasons. Apart from cigarettes and sweets, there are many other unacceptable items.

Teachers must not keep them or throw them away. Destroying or consuming the offending articles would amount to criminal damage or theft. Nor can property be kept indefinitely as this, too, would be stealing.

Teachers are obliged to take reasonable care of such property. If it is damaged they andor the school could be held responsible.

Therefore, schools should ensure that confiscated property can be locked away securely. A record should be taken of the owner, the person who confiscated it, when it was confiscated, and where it was stored.

Normally property should be returned by the end of the school day. It is acceptable for parents to be told that property must be collected by a certain time, or the local authority has the right to sell it. If property is illegal (drugs , weapons) the head must decide whether to hand it to the police.

If the owner cannot be found the property will vest in the LEA one month from coming into the LEA's possession. The LEA has the power to dispose of uncollected property, charge parents for its return or to get owners to collect it.

Independent schools have a contractual relationship with parents, and should make it clear in prospectuses what the procedures are for dealing with confiscated property. They, too, can charge for safe-keeping and return, but this would have to be made clear in the information provided for parents.

Chris Lowe

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