One week to apologise - or else

27th February 2009 at 00:00
We'll kidnap your kids, burn down your house and `expose' you as a paedophile: horrific threats against head caught up in `hell' media row

A headteacher who reprimanded a child for suggesting that non- Christians would go to hell has been bombarded with threats against him and his family.

But Gary Read, head of Landscore primary in Crediton, Devon, insists that he will not back down.

Since the story first appeared in the press, he has received 250 emails and 85 letters, including threats to kidnap his children, brand him a child-molester and burn his house down.

One claimed, "it's bastards like you who ruin our country". Another said: "Apologise publicly. You have one week to comply, otherwise accusations that you're a child-molester and paedophile will be posted on the internet."

Other letters threatened to kidnap his children and "torch" his house. "You heathen, may God strike you down," one correspondent said.

The row escalated from an incident in which five-year-old Jasmine Cain told a fellow pupil that she would "go to hell" if she did not believe in God. The distraught pupil reported the incident.

Mr Read advised the teacher to reassure Jasmine that she was allowed to talk about Jesus, but that she should not tell other children that they are going to hell.

But Jasmine told her mother that she had been prohibited from talking about God. Jennie Cain, who works as a receptionist at Landscore, sent an email to her church group, asking them to pray for her. Her email also included more serious allegations against the school, which have not been disclosed. The email was forwarded to Mr Read, who launched an official investigation.

Within days, the story appeared in the press, with headlines such as "I face the sack because my little girl talked about God". Mrs Cain has not been sacked or suspended, but has not been at work since the row began.

The Archbishop of York weighed in, telling the Daily Telegraph: "Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door . is akin to asking someone to remove their skin colour."

"It's bloody outrageous," said Mr Read, who has spent five days so far, including two during half-term, dealing with the fall-out.

"What started as the kind of one-child-upsets-another incident you deal with every day has snowballed into a religious battle. But it's not something I want to back down from because I've done absolutely nothing wrong.

"It's probably not a good idea to use Old Testament ideas of damnation to keep five-year-olds in line. But we absolutely, very, very clearly, are not an anti-religious school."

Landscore works closely with two local churches, as well as with nearby synagogues, mosques and temples. It is also twinned with an ethnically diverse school in Gloucester, which offers a counterpoint to its own, mostly white, roll.

"We live in a world that's very different from what those people who are attacking us would like," said Mr Read. "I make no apology for that. All the schools I know work their arses off to reflect the society we actually live in. We're educating children to ask questions and come to their own conclusions."

Landscore parents, staff and governors have spoken out in support of Mr Read. Pupils, meanwhile, have been more interested in seeing their school on television than in learning about the finer points of religious debate.

"If it were a bullying issue or a race issue, we'd be expected to deal with it," he said. "Just because it's religion, doesn't mean it's any different.

"I'm not a chippy left-wing person. I just feel really strongly about my school, and educating kids."

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