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Sacked head was 'offering sympathy'

Ex-student denies alleged affair with Blackpool principal. Steve Hook reports

AN ex-student battling brain cancer has told college governors of her anger after they sacked their principal for having an alleged "inappropriate relationship" with her.

She has written to governors objecting to the way they removed Chris Fulford from his job at Blackpool Sixth Form College, after providing her with moral support and advice during her illness.

Documents received by The TES show that the allegation that Mr Fulford had been involved in an "inappropriate relationship" with an ex-student, which had previously been kept secret, was repeated to college employees in a staff and governors' meeting on January 30.

It has also emerged that the college is standing by the allegation despite having received a letter from the student firmly denying any affair.

The letter, a copy of which has been passed to The TES, was written on July 11, 2000. Mr Fulford was dismissed in August. It explained that the two had been in regular contact while she was at college because of the prominent role she played in college life. The woman re-established contact when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 - after she had left. The letter said: "I did not feel it was unreasonable to approach the principal for advice and a sympathetic ear when I was diagnosed as having a tumour of the brain.

"I felt anxious to speak to somebody who I knew I could trust. The consultant told me that the tumour was cancerous and, because of where it was situated in the brain, if the prescribed treatment was not effective, it was unlikely that I would live for much longer than 24 months. Fortunately, a very recent diagnosis was much more optimistic for my future."

Referring to the allegation of an inappropriate relationship, she wrote "This Iconsider to be ludicrous and a most offensive suggestion."

The student declined to comment further but confirmed that she is prepared to give evidence at an employment tribunal hearing for unfair dismissal which is set for August 28.

"This allegation is nonsense," said Mr Fulford. "It is ridiculous to suggest that, because I acted as a Samaritan to this ex-student, I had an improper relationship with her.

"It has always puzzled me that so much fuss has been made about this. She was an ex-student. Even if I did have a relationship with an ex-student it would never be immoral or illegal since I am not married. Nevertheless, there was no such relationship. I have been told not to comment further because my lawyer is in the process of negotiating with the college."

Mr Fulford, staff were told, is also accused of making a false expenses claim and refusing to carry out governors' instructions, which he has denied. John McGlynn, chairman of governors, said most staff attended the meeting in January but he refused to explain why the allegations were being aired when the tribunal was still pending.

He would not comment on the letter, which was passed to the college via Simon Thomas, solicitor for the National Association of Head Teachers, representing Mr Fulford.

An internal disciplinary report compiled by governor Graham Curry said the ex-student's letter "does not hold water". Asked why she was not formally approached by the college as part of its investigation, Mr McGlynn said:

"That would have been inappropriate."

Governor Bill Dickinson, who criticised the way Mr Fulford's case was handled by the board, was due to meet Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden today. "I would ask 'are these the actions of a reasonable-minded employer?'," said Mr Dickinson. "I would suggest not."

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