Parents face pound;300k bill for costs after public school 'bullying' case collapses

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Lawyers for Graham Greene's alma mater claim former pupil was `man of straw' who was talked into suing

The parents of a public schoolboy who tried to sue his former school for almost pound;1 million over claims of bullying could be forced to foot the six-figure bill for his failed case.

Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire wants the parents of its former pupil, John Thomson, to pay pound;300,000 to cover its legal costs in the High Court action.

Ian and Glacinda Thomson have already paid pound;250,000 in support of their son's case. He claimed he was left mentally scarred by the school's failure to protect him from bullies.

The 24-year-old attended the school between 1994 and 2002. In the March court hearing, he broke down in the witness stand while recounting how he was bullied for being a "poor little rich boy".

He said his tormentors also invited him to parties, where he claimed he was "subjected to sexual approaches by young women" friends of theirs. The bullies then exploited his discomfort, he told the court.

His lawyer, Robert Glancy, said that Mr Thomson had been teased "mercilessly". He reported the incidents to a senior teacher, but no action was taken.

The school, whose "old boys" include writer Graham Greene and former Labour minister Michael Meacher, denied liability. Its lawyers insisted that most of the incidents were "simply not bullying".

Mr Thomson said his torment left him subdued and introverted. But the school's lawyers pointed to 3,500 photographs on social-networking website Facebook, which they said did not look like pictures of someone who was traumatised.

On the 11th day of the hearing, Mr Thomson dropped the case.

This week, the school's lawyers launched a High Court application for his parents to be made liable for costs. They argued there was "very substantial evidence" that they were the driving force behind the case.

Arthur Miller, representing the school, said that Mr Thomson had admitted that it was his parents' idea.

"The claimant was, by his own admission, a man of straw, unable to pay for the action out of his own pocket," Mr Miller said.

"The school suggests that there is a powerful public-policy argument . which may cause other parents in the same position to give very careful consideration to what is in the best interests of their children."

At the end of this week's hearing, Mr Justice Blake ordered Mr Thomson's parents to disclose all correspondence related to the claim. The case is expected to return to court later this year.

Mrs Thomson told The TES that her son had dropped the case because he was ill, adding that the bullying had made him suicidal.

She said that the family would fight the claim for costs and hoped to pursue the case in the European courts.

"They are claiming that we controlled the case, but they will not find any evidence - it's a red herring," she said. "My son's case raises serious, serious issues for parents."

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