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Record fine for truancy - but family cannot pay it

A couple fined a record total of pound;4,000 for their 15-year-old daughter's failure to attend school says they cannot control her and may appeal.

News of the fine came as Patricia Amos, the 43-year-old mother jailed for allowing her two daughters to play truant, walked free after her sentence was reduced on appeal to 28 days by Judge Peter Crawford QC at Oxford Crown Court.

Lewisham residents Michele Batstone and Stephen Mitchell were horrified when they discovered that Greenwich magistrates had ordered them to pay pound;4,000 and pound;523 costs. Ms Batstone claimed she could not attend the hearing because she was ill.

"With four other kids it's an impossible amount to pay," said Ms Batstone.

The previous highest truancy fine in the south London borough was pound;1,000. The latest is believed to be the highest yet imposed for a new offence of aggravated truancy that came into effect in March 2001. The maximum penalty is a fine of pound;2,500 per parent andor a prison term of up to three months.

Ms Batstone said she had done everything humanly possible to get her daughter Hannah to school and felt let down by the system. She claimed her daughter was bullied by other children.

"I cannot control her. I tried to explain to her what could happen if she did not go to school and that I could be put in prison but she didn't care. There has been no back-up, counselling or anything."

But Lewisham council said the couple had replied to only one of nine letters or telephone calls from officials last year about their daughter's non-attendance.

"I've tried everything from bribery to threatening to chuck her out and nothing has worked," said Ms Batstone.

"I went up to the school once when there had been some trouble and she went berserk and attacked me. I was covered in bruises."

Ms Batstone said her daughter was still not attending the all-girls Sydenham school but had promised to go to school after the family moved to Sussex in a couple of weeks' time. She said she had no attendance problems with her other primary-age children.

"They are all at school and are doing fine. They love it."

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