What Benny did next;The Sweeney;School Management

11th June 1999 at 01:00
It was one of the busiest weeks of the year. The new timetable was due to begin in a few days. There was the leavers' ceremony with concomitant records of achievement to be arranged. Induction days for the biggest first year intake ever were being sorted out.

Amid this frenetic activity, the headteacher, deputy head and one auxiliary were suddenly transported to the waiting room of the Edinburgh Sheriff Court for a day, to recall the antics of Benny the Biker.

The incident took place in February. As pupils returned from lunch, speckled in grazing groups across the playing fields, there appeared at full pelt the familiar figure of Benny on his bike, riding in a display of unbridled bravado across the grass.

Norah, the auxiliary, alerted me, and I set off with depute head Mike Wilkins to banish the unwelcome intruder.

The friendly, non-confrontational approach failed to impress Benny, whose temerity was boosted by a combination of speed and attention. Clenching his fist in a salute of defiance, he drove the motorbike straight at us, passing within three feet of where we stood.

We reported Benny to the police, as we had done on countless occasions. They too were weary of his acrobatics, and frustrated by the inadequacy of their powers and of their vehicles to curb his youthful enthusiasm.

However, they did pursue the matter on our behalf, painstakingly interviewing staff and pupils over the ensuing days.

The matter was reported both to the education department and to the school board, who were understandably perturbed by the tale of Benny's brazen biking. Finally, an injunction was gained to prevent Benny from encroaching on the precincts of the school.

So we were puzzled to receive a summons to appear as witnesses in Benny's trial. Surely what had transpired was straightforward; the police had our statements, how could the facts be contested?

We joined around 50 other assorted prosecution witnesses for various trials in the waiting room. It was comfortable, with a trolley selling sandwiches and Mr Bean playing on the video.

Mike insisted on continuing with his timetable and enlisted Norah to call out the numbers and classes, as he checked them off. The public was initially bemused by this cameo of school life, but thosein close proximity quicklyconcluded that it was some bizarre variation of bingo.

The hours passed slowly, as every case was called except Benny's. The entire morning slipped away. In the afternoon, Norah was finally called, followed by me.

I was on the stand for 45 minutes, and few of the questions related directly to the incident. "What does it say on the signs outside your school?" "What is the distance between the gate and the car park?" "What would you do if somebody ploughed up the playing fields?'' In the dock, Benny grinned throughout, clearly lapping up the attention of a sheriff, two lawyers, four police officers and all these folk from the school. However, he did finally concede that the game was up and pleaded guilty to the charges, sparing Mike Wilkins from having to be diverted from his squared paper to answer questions.

But Benny will be back. While he may suffer a transitory loss of freedom, he has succeeded in attracting even greater attention than he originally craved. As for society's response to his behaviour, he may feel that he has a sharper-toothed tiger in his tank than the forces seeking to restrain him do.

An interesting footnote to the story was provided by Alison, one of the police officers involved. She appeared in civvies, and we assumed that she was having the day off. In fact, she had left the police to become a teacher.

She felt that she would be able achieve more and derive greater job satisfaction from life in the classroom. Although she has a degree in marine biology, she has chosen primary rather than secondary teaching, perhaps preferring to use her expertise on minnows rather than sharks.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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