Sheriff called on to amend inspection procedures

1st January 2010 at 00:00
Lawyer representing family at inquiry into head's death calls for postponement of school visits in cases of severe stress and staff illness

The sheriff in charge of the inquiry into the death of Borders head Irene Hogg has been asked to recommend changes to school inspection procedures.

On the final day of the fatal accident inquiry into Miss Hogg's death, her family's lawyer, Gareth Hale, said a formal step should be introduced that would allow a council to request a postponement of an inspection if it was likely to be stressful or if attention had been drawn to staff illness.

Mr Hale described the new step as a "moment of reflection" in a council's preparation for a school inspection. He also called for additional support to be put in place in schools, prior to an inspection.

The Crown and lawyers for Scottish Borders Council and HMIE asked Sheriff James Farrell at Jedburgh Sheriff Court to return a formal finding relating only to where and when the death took place and the cause of death. They made no submissions relating to any reasonable precautions that could have been taken or defects in the system.

But advocate Vinit Khurana, representing Scottish Borders Council, defended the local authority against any criticism of the support it offered Miss Hogg.

The inquiry heard Miss Hogg had sent an email to her line manager, Yvonne McCracken, in September, 2007, referring to the "unsustainability" of the job she was in.

Ms McCracken told the inquiry she was "deeply concerned" over the tone of the email and arranged a meeting with Miss Hogg, where an offer of counselling was rejected but a mentoring scheme was not dismissed.

Mr Khurana said Mrs McCracken had responded immediately to Miss Hogg's email and knew any short-term measure, such as counselling, would be rejected.

Instead, the council's head of schools was tailoring a package of measures, taking into account personal issues Miss Hogg had shared with her, he said.

"If I had a line manager, I would want Yvonne McCracken as my line manager. I would not be critical, I would be commending her," said Mr Khurana.

There were no signs that Miss Hogg was not doing her job well and she had shown no signs of any problems in the build-up to the inspection, he said.

"Then, following the outcome of the investigation, she proceeds to self-harm. If a connection is going to be made, it is the outcome of the inspection. There is no more Scottish Borders Council could have done," he added.

Sheriff Farrell highlighted the evidence of retired headteacher Mary Ross, who was the last person to have "significant contact" with Miss Hogg through a telephone conversation on Easter Monday, the day before she was reported missing.

Miss Hogg had told her the inspection had not gone well and that she felt she had let everyone down. Mrs Ross said they had arranged a theatre trip for the Wednesday - the night Miss Hogg was found dead - but Miss Hogg had replied she was not sure if she was going to be there.

Sheriff Farrell said he would deliver his determination early in the New Year.

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