Following agreement at a roundtable meeting, the High Court yesterday approved a five figure settlement in a case involving a local authority defendant where a six year old girl disclosed she had been repeatedly sexually abused by two boys at school in 2015. The local authority agreed the settlement without admission of liability.
It is understood this is the first time the High Court has approved damages relating to sexual assault involving primary school children.
The girl disclosed the abuse to her mother when she could no longer sit down for breakfast because of genital pain. The mother reported it to the school and it was subsequently revealed that a staff member at the school had witnessed the girl after an episode of abuse and two other staff members had seen the boys displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour towards the girl, but no action was taken at the time.
It is reported that one of the boys was excluded for displaying the most severe harmful sexual behaviour. The second boy was also subsequently suspended and left the school.
The parents argued the school had been negligent by failing to do enough to prevent the assaults happening and staff were not adequately trained to recognise the signs of the abuse.
The mother later alleged that the school had not offered any support to her daughter following the abuse whereas support had been offered to the boys involved. The family had to pay for private counselling for the claimant.
The girl’s mother commented that the compensation would hopefully make her daughter feel like some action was taken as neither of the boys were punished or criminally prosecuted.
There is no reference to the ages of the boys in press reports however the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The abuse was carried out in October and November of 2015. In September 2018, before the civil claim had resolved, the Department for Education released ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’. This is revised statutory guidance which incorporates guidance from the ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018’ document.
A significant part of the revised document focused on what should be done when there are concerns about a child’s welfare and the options available to a teacher/school when they have concerns. It states that concerns relating to a child’s welfare should be acted on immediately and it emphasises requirement of speaking to a school/colleges Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) which all schools must have in post. It refers to the options available to staff when dealing with safeguarding concerns.
It also made it clear that all schools should have their own individual child protection policy to reflect local circumstances, rather than relying on the overarching child protection policy which may be available from linked schools or the local authority.
Child on child sexual abuse should be recognised as a concern to anyone with responsibility for the welfare of young people. This is a stark warning to local authorities, the schools within them and schools outside of local authority control to ensure that they have up to date safeguarding procedures, to carry out thorough and regular training for staff on protecting children, to recognise signs of abuse and that staff should feel confident to report any suspicions.
Garry Dover, Partner, BLM
Nicola Aspinwall, Associate, BLM