19th July 1996 at 01:00
There has been more than enough sport this summer, without the incipient horror of the Olympics. But sadly unpublicised was the liveliest event of the lot - the Department for Education and Employment's annual sports day.

Normally, this is a sporting event in every sense. But this year, something odd occurred in the five-a-side football final between the DFEE team and the lads from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

The truth may never be known, as the warring factions' versions differ. SCAA - otherwise known as Sir Ron's Rovers - says the game was a fix: the referee, who works for the opposition, predicted before kick-off that they would lose.

The boys from the DFEE, meanwhile, claim trouble came after a penalty was awarded to SCAA, which got a goal out of it but still lost 3-2. (No shame in that: the Sanctuary Buildings mob have been undefeated for 12 years. Perhaps this was what the ref meant?) Sadly, matters did not end there. As a DFEE source puts it: "The lads got a bit physical. There was a tussle." Exactly who threw the first punch is not known, but it appears to have happened after the final whistle inside the civil servants' social club at Chiswick.

The final ignominy came when the fire alarm was set off by a well-meaning but confused bystander, who explained: "I thought I heard shouts of 'fire, fire', but actually it was 'fight, fight'."

Betting has begun on the reshuffle of Labour's front bench that could follow next week's shadow cabinet election, brought forward so potentially embarrassing votes (especially against Harriet Harman, who maddened the rank and file by sending her son to grammar school) can be smoothed over before autumn's full-scale election alert. Little change is likely in the upper echelons - apart from, perhaps, the disappearance of employment spokesman Michael Meacher - but more action is likely below the salt.

Tipped for advancement is the energetic Steve Byers, who has been promoting Labour training plans. Higher education spokesman Bryan Davies is also felt to be safe, not least because he is still toiling away at the party's universities document. Peter Kilfoyle, the Liverpudlian MP who holds the schools brief, may be a casualty. If so, Greg Pope, the ridiculously youthful MP for Hyndburn, might be in with a chance.

Back to La Harman, who is probably still fuming after receiving a cheeky letter from Frank Cooke, Conservative leader of Bromley Council. He suggested she ought to congratulate the borough's Conservatives for fighting a hard battle in the 1970s to preserve its two grammar schools against the wishes of the then Labour government.

He explained: "It seemed to me she should be very grateful to Bromley for the education her son will receive." Was he motivated by the catfight over the shadow cabinet elections? "No, just trying to enliven the politics of life. " And has he had a reply yet? "No . . . even the 'bugger off' letter hasn't come."

Readers of the Guardian and The Times can hardly fail to have noticed the grovelling and apologetic notice concerning one Patricia Eaton, paid for by the descendants of the defunct Inner London Education Authority as a result of an action she took against it and its last education officer, David Mallen. This is a case which rivals the Dickensian Jarndyce vs Jarndyce for longevity, with its origins in events at the then Avery Hill college of education (later Thames Poly) in Greenwich 16 years ago. But what was it all about?

As the apology by the London Pensions Fund Authority - which has taken on the action - makes clear, Miss Eaton won a defamation case against one Terry Horsley in 1983 but her problems continued. The Authority admits serious mismanagement of issues arising from the original events; a failure by the ILEA to address Miss Eaton's legitimate grievances concerning the mismanagement by instituting disciplinary procedures or otherwise; that this failure continued and was exacerbated by the withdrawal of a promised special enquiry; and that she should have been shown an internal inquiry report without High Court intervention.

It also admits that Miss Eaton's professional reputation, career and status were irretrievably damaged to the extent that she was deprived of her employment and suffered severe harm to her health and future prospects; that the failure to address her grievances was a source of great sadness to her late mother; and that her distress was exacerbated by the need to pursue court proceedings in order to secure redress and acknowledgement of the wrongs done to her. The notice concludes with an "apology without reservation for all the above" and hopes that this, and the payment of significant damages, will go some way to restoring Miss Eaton's health and professional reputation.

What, you may ask, actually happened? The convoluted workings of the law mean the Diary cannot elucidate much more about the facts. We can, however, reveal that the rest of Miss Eaton's life has more or less been put on hold and that, despite having conducted her own case for much of the proceedings after running out of money, she is heavily in debt.

She has had at least 40 court appearances and the case was finally settled only moments before a six-week High Court hearing. Her victory is hard-won and she would have preferred not to have needed to fight the battle. "It is something that if they had acted at the start could have been settled around a table and should have been settled around a table, then, or at any time since," she said.

Her overwhelming emotion is that of waste: of her life, the career she loved, and, she added: "an obscene amount of public money".

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