Murder case sparks call for more school legal advice

School leaders call for more legal advice on overseas recruitment after primary school employs convicted murderer

Catherine Lough

crime scene

School leaders have called for detailed legal advice on overseas recruitment, after a primary school employed a Spanish teaching assistant convicted of child murder.

Iria Suárez González, 35, worked at West Oxford Community Primary School for ten months as a teaching assistant in 2016-17. It later emerged she had been convicted of the brutal murder of 16-year-old Clara Garcia in Spain in 2000, when she was 17 years old.

Staff, parents and teachers at the school are said to have been unaware she was a killer. But her criminal past came to light when it was reported to Crimestoppers by an anonymous caller.

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Earlier this year, Ms Suárez González appeared at Oxford Crown Court charged with fraud by false representation for allegedly not disclosing the murder as a previous conviction in her job application to the school.

But the case has since been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), reportedly due to a lack of evidence.

Under Spanish law, all crimes committed by minors are considered spent convictions and can be expunged after the offender reaches the age of 18. In the British legal system, a conviction for murder will always remain on a criminal record.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the case highlighted the need for school leaders to be given much more detailed information about the differences between international legal systems.

Speaking to Tes, Mr Barton said: “We can assume what the primary school has done is to follow due process, but it alerts us to how some countries have different legalities, and heads need to be aware of it.”

Mr Barton said while the UK’s safeguarding procedures are internationally seen as “very robust”, the fact a crime such as murder could disappear from a criminal record highlighted stark differences in legalities across the EU. He said the case exposed a clear safeguarding issue for school leaders recruiting staff from overseas.

“We need a clear line on jurisdictions,” Mr Barton said. “The Department for Education needs to advise leaders pretty urgently and give them that information.”

A spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council said: "The school had followed safer recruitment processes in terms of the recruitment of this individual.

"Information had been provided anonymously through Crimestoppers. Police alerted us in October 2017, by which time she had already left the school.

"There is a clear recruitment process in place for schools to follow in line with safer recruitment procedures.

"The person in question was a teaching assistant in foundation stage from 1 September 2016. She left the school in July 2017.

"We know this has been a very difficult time for the school and parents. The school are in liaison with the council to continue to support students through the curriculum around feeling safe and knowing they have people that they can talk to in school if they need to.

"We would stress this charge was not in any way related to any children at the school and only came to light after the staff member had left the school."

West Oxford Community Primary School has been contacted for comment.

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