Head's penalty for roof fall ruled 'excessive'

11th March 2011 at 00:00
Legal costs cut for man whose post-party tour resulted in pupil's serious injury

A headteacher who was ordered to pay #163;42,708 after a pupil plunged through a skylight during a tour of the school roof has had the sum cut by the Court of Appeal.

John Summerfield, 65, was fined #163;20,000 and hit with costs of #163;22,708 after a teenager was seriously injured when the head took a group of 10 sixth-formers up to the roof following a post-A-levels party.

Mr Summerfield, who was convicted of failing to take reasonable care for the safety of the students at Leeds Crown Court last September, this week had the costs element of the bill reduced from #163;22,000 to #163;15,000.

The head, who has now retired from Sacred Heart Catholic College in Crosby, Merseyside, had a distinguished 40-year teaching career behind him when the incident took place in the summer of 2008.

He had warned the pupils of the risks involved but one of the students crashed through a skylight, fracturing his skull and ribs and suffering major damage to his vision.

Mrs Justice Cox, sitting at the Court of Appeal in London, dismissed Mr Summerfield's challenge to the #163;20,000 fine, which she said was "not manifestly excessive".

She said: "He decided to take a group of more than 10 on to the roof, some of whom were likely to have consumed drink.

"He was well aware of the risk and thereby exposed them to a significant risk of serious injury."

But the judge went on to reduce the #163;22,708 costs, agreeing that "the overall financial penalty was excessive".

Appeal documents lodged by Mr Summerfield's lawyers argued that the incident was "an isolated lapse" in the devoted teacher's career.

They also said that although he had the means to meet the fines and charges thanks to a retirement pay-off, it was still too much.

They highlighted that all the pupils the head took on to the roof to admire the view were adults.

Earlier this year, Mr Summerfield told a local newspaper that he might have to take out a bridging loan to pay the fine and costs.

"I could have appealed the verdict, but I just could not cope anymore. I was putting my family through it and no one was going to stand with me," he said.

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