Bully row head up for award

20th May 2005 at 01:00
The headteacher at the centre of the Laura Rhodes bullying row is hoping to win a top teaching award on behalf of his "caring" school and staff.

Alun Griffiths was accused of not doing enough to stop the tragic teenager being bullied over her weight, and later her sexuality, before she died in a suicide pact with a friend last September.

But since a coroner ruled that bullying at Cefn Saeson comprehensive school in Neath was not to blame for 13-year-old Laura's death, he is hoping to set the record straight and draw a line under his "nightmare year".

Mr Griffiths has been nominated for head of the year in the Welsh teaching awards, to be held at Cardiff's city hall next month.

He said: "The school has been vindicated and we now hope to win the award as consolation for the awful year we've had.

"I am confident we did everything possible to help Laura, and though my heart goes out to her parents there was nothing more we could have done to prevent her death.

"We are a really caring school which has been deeply hurt by all the bad publicity."

Laura's death sparked a national debate after her parents published a letter left by their daughter detailing bullying by fellow pupils.

They attacked Cefn Saeson for not doing more to help Laura. But just two months after her death, the 843-pupil school was praised by Estyn inspectors for the "outstanding" care, support and guidance it gave to learners.

Mr Griffiths said that schemes to combat bullying were established in 1997, but were not enough to deal with Laura's problems. Laura first attended Cefn Saeson from September 2002 and left the following July for a pupil referral unit.

Last week's inquest, in Neath, heard she died of drug toxicity after taking a lethal cocktail of tablets with her Birmingham friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons. She survived. The pair had met over the internet and were inseparable before Laura's death.

Dr David Osborne, the coroner for Neath and Port Talbot, said it was clear Laura had been unhappy from day one at Cefn Saeson, and that her unhappiness was compounded by abuse about her weight and later her sexuality.

She weighed almost 14 stone and was called "dyke" by boys after telling a girlfriend she was a lesbian.

But Dr Osborne said the bullying appeared to stop, apart from on two occasions outside school when she was shopping a year before her death and when she was placed in a pupil referral unit.

He also highlighted expert evidence from a consultant child psychiatrist who said the "fatal suicide pact" had not been caused by problems at the school.

And he underlined evidence from a psychiatric nurse who was convinced that both girls had knowingly set out to kill themselves.

After the suicide verdict, Peter Davies, the family's solicitor, said her parents Michael and Yvonne "do not accept that Cefn Saeson did all it could to deal with the bullying".

"The family hopes that lessons will be learned from their tragic loss so that others do not have to suffer as they have," he added.

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