Six-figure payout ends paralysed teacher's wait

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Eight-year battle for compensation resolved after attack by nine-year-old pupil caused serious injuries

A teacher left semi-paralysed after being attacked by a nine-year-old pupil has won a six-figure compensation payout.

Caroline Knight was forced into an eight-year battle for the money as she underwent numerous operations as a result of the attack. Southwark Council, in south London, initially offered her just pound;12,000 in compensation.

Mrs Knight was pushed against the edge of a metal filing cabinet by the child while working at Heber Primary School in East Dulwich.

This shunted vertebrae in her back, causing nerve damage that left her right leg paralysed and her bladder and bowel unable to function properly.

The mother-of-three has had 12 operations, with another scheduled for next month. Mrs Knight is now also suffering from cancer, which her doctors have told her could be related to the injuries.

Mrs Knight is highly critical of Southwark Council, claiming the authority delayed settling her case and was unsympathetic when she returned to work.

"What upsets me is nobody at the school said sorry, the child did not say sorry," she told The TES. "There have been no consequences for him, no realisation that what he did was extremely serious and that it has destroyed someone's life."

She was hurt while trying to prevent the child, who had emotional and behavioural problems, from hitting another pupil around the head with a metal ruler.

"If I hadn't intervened and the child had been injured I would have been held responsible," she said.

Eight months after being attacked Mrs Knight returned to work, but was moved to another school because her legal case against Heber had started.

She says she was put in an unsuitable Victorian building, forced to use a portable toilet put in the playground and was not able to reach the staffroom or offices, which were on an upper floor.

Southwark Council initially offered her pound;12,000 in 2003. Mrs Knight rejected the offer and, with the support of teaching union the NUT, took her case to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which awarded her payout last week.

"I do think `why me' sometimes, but you've just got to get on with it and be pragmatic," Mrs Knight said. "I'll do what I can, but I've had to completely change the way I teach. People might not be aware that incidents like this go on in schools. It's important someone now takes responsibility for keeping teachers safe.

"We can't all be experts at dealing with children who have challenging behaviour, current training doesn't give us those skills."

Mrs Knight now works part-time with special needs pupils at Kelvin Grove Primary School in Lewisham, south London. The headteacher has revamped the school building to accommodate Mrs Knight's wheelchair.

Tim Harrison, London regional secretary of the NUT, said: "Mrs Knight has had to wait an unacceptably long time, and we welcome this award in light of her appalling injuries and amazing courage and fortitude. This will help her live a more normal life. The whole case has been a terrible ordeal for her."

A Southwark Council spokesman said: "It would be inappropriate to comment publicly on this case."

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