Falsely accused deputy head gets £120,000 payout

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The Independent Online

A deputy headteacher, awarded £120,000 damages after she was wrongly sacked, told yesterday how her career was ruined because of false accusations by governors and the local education authority.

A deputy headteacher, awarded £120,000 damages after she was wrongly sacked, told yesterday how her career was ruined because of false accusations by governors and the local education authority.

Cherryll Pepper, aged 53 and a teacher for 30 years, was accused of misleading governors into awarding her a pay rise and was dismissed from Montem County First School in Slough on the advice of what was then Berkshire County Council.

But an industrial tribunal ruled that "this was a blatant case of unfair dismissal against an applicant, who, in the tribunal's view, was blameless". The damages were agreed after the council admitted negligence.

Ms Pepper said the stigma attached to her dismissal meant she would never get a job as a head or deputy. She has made 38 failed applications for deputy head jobs and now teaches at a primary school in Southall, west London. She said: "Money is only bits of paper. It does not bring my career back. It does not bring my self-confidence back. It does not bring my health back. I was very, very near to a nervous breakdown."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which brought the case, said: "Cherryll Pepper's career was ruined by the governing body and the local education authority. Trumped up charges were thrown out by the industrial tribunal. This is a ground-breaking case which means that deputies and heads can receive substantial damages if their employers act as outrageously as those in this case."

Before Ms Pepper was sacked in February 1995 she had been acting head for 20 months. Six weeks after the arrival of a new head, she was accused of misleading the finance committee into recommending a pay rise for herself of £30 a month. The governors were backed by the council, which threatened to suspend the school's budget unless Ms Pepper was dismissed for gross misconduct. They said the pay increase was illegal.

In January, 1998, an industrial tribunal ruled that the dismissal was unfair. Cherie Booth QC advised the NAHT to claim negligence against the council. Damages were awarded for stress, the money Ms Pepper would have earned as a head and lost pension.

Mr Hart said governors needed better training and should not allow themselves to be brow-beaten by local authorities.

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