Slap case head plans return

27th October 2000 at 01:00
The legal feud is over, but Marjorie Evans has to deal with bitterness and recriminations at school. Julie Henry reports

MARJORIE Evans - the headteacher cleared of slapping a pupil - intends to be back at the helm of her Welsh village school by Christmas. But the row that has torn her community apart, is far from over.

She heard this week that the police will not press charges on further allegations of mistreating children at St Mary's junior, Caldicott.

However, Gwent police chief inspector Nigel Russell said the investigation reports would be passed to Monmouthshire council and the governors. On Wednesday she learned from governors that her suspension had been lifted.

Speaking to The TES about the 13-month ordeal, she said: "We were a team, staff and pupils working together. But a number of people have broken that spirit.

"I cannot envisage working with them again, and I know there are others who feel the same, and have found it very difficult to go into work every day.

"I do not honestly think that the school can move forward until some of these staffing issues are dealt with."

When her conviction for slapping a 10-year-old boy was quashed at Cardiff crown court - with Justice McKinnon saying her record should remain "unblemished" - the 56-year-old thought her nightmare was over.

But fresh allegations by school secretary Fiona Gibson and special needs teacher Sandra Cutler, discredited as a witness by the judge, confronted her almost as she left the court.

Her supporters say she has been the victim of a witch-hunt by staff and parents opposed to her strict discipline. However the police say they had to investigate 10 allegations of assault at the school

Two other teachers have been cleared of mistreatment. One of them has been unable to work since due to a stress-induced illness caused by the investigation.

If Mrs Evans does go back to school, she faces a staff of 13, divided by the conflict and a governing body split in its loyalties.

Her staunchest supporter, governor Graham Powell, who was voted from the chair last month, wants the "discredited" staff members disciplined. But rumours suggest that his own membership of the governing body could be under threat.

The slapping allegation occurred when the director of education David Young retired. Social services director Phil Cooke, now director of education, took over.

It also coincided with investigations into widespread abuse in children's homes which made the Welsh authorities and police very sensitive to any allegations involving children.

Mrs Evans said: "Mr Cooke has never spoken to me directly. There has been very little support from the LEA, no regard to its duty of care to an employee. I have my own theories as to why."

However, the school's 214 children have to be taught. St Mary's, surrounded by greenery and well-kept houses, serves a mixed community of affluent areas and pockets of deprivation.

There is a special needs unit on site. A number of pupils have emotional and behavioural problems, including the 10-year-old boy who made the initil complaint.

An inspection in 1996 found special needs provision at the unit and the school were "unsatisfactory" because of a lack of expertise and training.

The case has highlighted the dangers facing teachers while dealing with pupils with behaviour problems. For some Mrs Evans is a martyr, for others she is a harsh disciplinarian who overstepped the mark.

As Gethin Lewis, secretary of National Union of Teachers Cymru, said: "It has sent a shiver down the spine of every teacher in the country."

Yet Mrs Evans, barred from the school since her initial suspension, has refused to walk away.

She said: "I am determined not to give in to something I was not guilty of. I need a bit of rest and recuperation but would like to be back in before Christmas."


September 1999 - Marjorie Evans suspended from St Mary's following allegation that she slapped a boy during a row about a swimming trip. Gwent police and Monmouthshire education authority investigate.

October 13 1999 - Mrs Evans charged with assault.

July 9 2000 - five-day hearing before Abergavenny magistrates. Special needs teacher Sandra Cutler claims Mrs Evans told her: "I hit him and he won't be doing that again."

Mrs Evans denies slapping the boy and claims she was restraining him by holding his wrists and crossing them over his body after he attacked her.

July 14 - Mrs Evans found guilty of assault. Sentence is adjourned.

July 28 - magistrates impose a three-month suspended prison sentence. Crown Court appeal is lodged.

September 1 - appeal court clears Mrs Evans. A police video, not shown at the first hearing for legal reasons, shows the pupil admitting? to a campaign to oust the headteacher.

Judge Justice McKinnon said the boy's evidence was "deeply flawed" and called Sandra Cutler "an unreliable witness".

September 1 - Gwent police reveal there are fresh allegations of mistreatment lodged by staff members. The allegations concern events more than two years earlier and include claims that Mrs Evans used a skipping rope to tie a brother and sister together during a sponsored walk and that a pupil was removed by force from the school library. The head was also accused of shouting at a pupil in an "inappropriate manner". Two other teachers were also accused of mistreatment, including Janet Bowen, who gave evidence in Mrs Evans' defence at the original hearing.

September 4 - Mrs Evans says a "witch hunt" is taking place.

September 7 - governors suspend Mrs Evans and Janet Bowen pending a police investigation.

September 25 - Mrs Evans and three members of school staff are

questioned by the police.

September 29 - Governers extend Mrs Evans' suspension but agree to reinstate Janet Bowen. Chair of governors Graham Powell is voted out of his seat by the governing body.

October 23 - Gwent police and the Crown Prosecution Service drop the inquiry into St Mary's school. Investigation reports are to be sent to Monmouthshire County Council and school governors.

October 25 - Governors meet at the school.

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