Three-year fight to clear name

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Teacher who clashed with head wins case for unfair dismissal. Sarah Shenker reports

A Birmingham teacher has won a three-year fight to clear her name following accusations that she physically and mentally abused her primary pupils.

Sue Bacchus was accused of throwing books at children at Kingsthorne primary, poking them with pencils and making one pupil wear a dunce's cap.

It was alleged that she frightened another child so much that she was afraid to ask to go to the toilet and sat in dirty clothes for an hour.

The 36-year-old teacher, who had worked at Kingsthorne primary for 10 years, was cleared of assault and wilful mistreatment of children in her care in October 2001, but was sacked five months later.

An employment tribunal in Birmingham ruled this month that she had been unfairly dismissed.

It said that Marian Morris, Kingsthorne headteacher, failed to carry out a proper investigation before governors terminated her contract.

The tribunal said the allegations against Mrs Bacchus amounted to no more than a general criticism of her teaching style.

Mrs Bacchus, whose marriage broke up under the strain of the three-year fight to clear her name, said: "I burst into tears when I heard the result, but I don't think it has sunk in. Nobody should have to put up with what I did."

A remedy hearing early next year will decide the level of compensation.

Mrs Bacchus was suspended from Kingsthorne primary in November 2000 over allegations of "inappropriate classroom practice".

She and the head disagreed over teaching methods. Mrs Morris was heard telling Mrs Bacchus: "You don't like me and I don't like you, but we have to be professional."

The employment tribunal said Mrs Morris "relentlessly pursued an agenda of establishing evidence damaging to (Mrs Bacchus)".

Mrs Bacchus is now working as a supply teacher in Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands.

Jenni Watson, national secretary of Redress, an organisation which advises bullied or sacked teachers, represented Mrs Bacchus at the tribunal. She said: "Teachers need to know that these things happen and can be fought and won. It might take a long time, but you can get through it. Headteachers are not above the law."

The school refused to comment on the judgment, but a spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council, said: "The tribunal found against us on procedural grounds and the remedy hearing will consider whether Mrs Bacchus contributed to her own dismissal."

TIMELINE OF TEACHER'S BATTLE

* November 2000: Suspended from Kingsthorne primary on allegations of "inappropriate classroom practice".

* October 2001: Charges of assault and wilful mistreatment of children dismissed by magistrates.

* March 2002: Dismissed at a school disciplinary hearing.

* June 2002: Dismissal confirmed after unsuccessful appeal and contract terminated.

* November 2003: Employment tribunal publicly rules unfair dismissal.

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