Staff rally to fight off onslaught by racists

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Ross Slater and Nadene Ghouri report on the systematic persecution of a black teacher

Teachers in south London are to take to the streets in support of a black colleague who has suffered a catalogue of racist attacks.

The newly-qualified teacher has been the target of a month-long campaign of intimidation which her union describes as "unprecedented".

The teacher, who does not want to be named, was hospitalised for a week last month as the result of an attack which she described as "like something out of a horror film." She has still not returned to school.

Martin Powell-Davis, NUT branch organiser said: "We are determined that she will go back. She is the only black teacher in this school and if these thugs get away with intimidating her out of her job then that will set a very dangerous precedent."

She had just left the main building of Sandhurst junior school after doing some evening marking when the gang of four white youths struck from a nearby alley.

"About a second before they hit me, I remember hearing their footsteps. It was like something out of a horror film," she said.

They called her a "black bitch" and beat her unconscious, dragging her into some bushes.

She suffered injuries including a cracked pelvis and internal bleeding, and used her mobile phone to call for help from headteacher Brenda Hamblin.

Since her discharge from hospital the attacks have switched from violence to intimidation, with a get-well card concealing a note threatening the teacher with death if she returned to her job.

Last Friday the 30-year-old was awoken at the home she shares with her six-year-old daughter by the sound of smashing glass. She was confronted by two men in balaclavas who daubed National Front slogans and swastikas on her walls.

"I am really distressed but equally I am determined not to let ignorant youths drive me away from a very good job," she said.

Local response to the attack has disappointed police, who organised the distribution of some 18,000 leaflets asking for information about the incident.

The NUT is now organising a protest rally in Catford to allow collagues to "vent their anger". It sees the case as "crucial to its credibility" given the borough's close proximity to Eltham, where black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack five years ago. An official inquiry into the murder, for which no one was ever convicted, begins on Tuesday.

Fran Crowhurst, another Lewisham teacher, said: "We're not having a black teacher from Lewisham being driven out of her job by this filth. Teachers, pupils and parents want to express their solidarity."

A spokesman for Lewisham education authority said the school had been due to have fencing and close-circuit TV cameras installed in any case but other immediate measures had been taken and teachers had been told not to work on their own after hours in the meantime. The school has installed extra lighting.

Experts stressed that attacks of this severity on teachers were extremely rare. Professor Jim Graham, head of education at the University of East London, said there was much more positive integration in schools than ever before. He said: "I remember 10 or 15 years ago the National Front selling copies of Bulldog at the school front gate. That wouldn't happen now."

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