Head who claimed #163;3k Caribbean trip on expenses loses High Court battle

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Ban upheld on teacher whose school picked up bill for holiday with lesbian partner

A decision to strike off a headteacher for claiming a #163;3,000 Caribbean holiday with her lesbian partner on school expenses has been upheld by the High Court.

Susan Duncan, who was head of Meadows special school in Oldbury, West Midlands, was banned from teaching for five years by the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) for unprofessional conduct.

Lawyers for Ms Duncan told the High Court last week that it had been unfair to brand her "dishonest" and asked for her teaching ban to be replaced with a reprimand.

They claimed the GTC failed to consider evidence, did not give adequate reasons for its decision and had not given her the opportunity to respond.

They argued that Ms Duncan had been fully justified in going to the Caribbean to carry out "risk assessments" for future school trips.

But Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the appeal. He said Ms Duncan, who has now retired on the grounds of ill health, had brought her legal challenge to protect her reputation and standing.

The allegations of making false expenses related to trips to the Caribbean in 2005 and 2006 with her partner Rita Simcox, also a teacher at the school.

One allegation involved total claims of more than #163;3,000 for a trip to Jamaica in April 2006. Another related to a claim for #163;306 for swimming with dolphins in Antigua. Ms Duncan had attempted to justify both as risk assessments for future school visits.

She was also found to have allowed four members of Ms Simcox's family to go on a school trip to Jamaica in May 2006, and failed to inform the school governors.

The presenting officer in the original case said she had been "opportunistic" with school money and used it towards her exotic holidays, charging "private pleasure" to school expenses.

The 51-year-old was cleared of claiming for handbags, table lamps and scuba diving equipment.

Suspicions regarding the claims were raised after Ms Duncan was seconded away from her school suffering from sick building syndrome nearly four years ago.

Ms Simcox was found not guilty of unacceptable professional conduct for allowing her family to attend the school trip to Jamaica. She was also cleared of making false expenses claims.

Tristan Jones, Ms Duncan's barrister, argued she had made a "clear statement" to the school that she intended to use her Jamaica holiday to carry out a risk assessment.

He added that she believed the dolphin experience was a legitimate expense as it was similar to one school children would take part in.

The GTC had told the court there was no reason to overturn its verdict.

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