Bench memories of Cantona kick

10th November 2000 at 00:00
THE teacher who handed a prison sentence to Manchester United's former star Eric Cantona has just spoken about the case ... five years on.

Jean Pearch was chair of the bench at Croydon magistrates when the French footballer appeared on a charge of common assault, following his kung-fu kick assault on a Crystal Palace fan.

The two-week sentence was later reduced on appeal to 120 hours' community service, which Cantona served by coaching 732 Salford children in football skills.

But for a brief spell in March 1995, Mrs Pearch found herself tracked by photographers and reporters, and the court received thousands of letters about the case addressed to her.

"A lot of my pupils were United supporters, so they weren't too happy," she told The TES. The school is in sight of Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace.

"But as magistrates we take an oath o make decisions without fear or favour, and once that decision is made we don't worry about the reaction of the press and public.

"The point of being a magistrate is that you are insignificant - there's no way you want to draw attention to yourself. That's why I didn't do interviews at the time."

A music teacher since 1963, she works one day a week at St Chad's primary in South Norwood, Surrey, and is now in her 26th year as a magistrate.

She insists that "anyone can be a magistrate, as long as they have common sense, integrity, and interest in their fellow men". She also sees parallels with the qualities required for teaching - a sense of fairness and balance, patience, local knowledge, teamwork, and personal authority.

"In both my schools we have worked very much as a team. You have to do that as a magistrate."

Karen Thornton

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