School 'ignored' suicide bid

17th July 1998 at 01:00
An unprecedented Court of Session judgment on school bullying may be brought forward because of serious implications for schools and local authorities.

Lord MacLean heard four days' evidence in a Pounds 30,000 damages action brought by Deborah Scott, a 23-year-old Edinburgh hairdresser, against Edinburgh City Council. Ms Scott claims bullying at the city's Royal High 10 years ago led to a suicide bid and that teachers ignored her difficulties.

Summing up, Lord MacLean said the action, the first of its kind to come before a Scottish court, was "unusual if not exceptional". He is studying the evidence before producing a written verdict.

Alastair Campbell, QC, for Ms Scott, said experienced teachers failed to respond adequately and monitor her plight after the attempted suicide. She was not offered private counselling and was not sent to a psychologist. The school also failed to link the deterioration of her school work and frequent absences to the suicide bid.

Neil Brailsford, QC, for the city, replied that teachers had fulfilled all their duties. A guidance teacher had telephoned her home to find out about the absences and her family satisfied him with notes of explanation. When Ms Scott complained to a teacher that she was being taunted, the school had dealt swiftly with the boys, two of whom were seen crying after an interview.

Delwyn Powell-Tattum of the Anti-Bullying Institute of the University of Wales told the court of a dramatic revolution in attitudes to bullying. Ten years ago headteachers had been reluctant to take it seriously.

"Time and again I would approach a school about a problem and I would be told: 'Oh, that is only tittle-tattle ... it will go away.' There was a very unhelpful response to the problem of bullying in schools," Mr Powell-Tattum said. Most schools now had anti-bullying policies.

Dr John Murray, the Royal High's depute rector, admitted the school did not have a written anti-bullying policy in 1988-89 but said bullying was discussed in social education. School rules called on pupils to "observe courtesy" to their fellows.

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