Head wins appeal over 'slapping'of pupil

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A headteacher who was given a suspended jail sentence for slapping an unruly pupil won an appeal yesterday against her conviction.

A headteacher who was given a suspended jail sentence for slapping an unruly pupil won an appeal yesterday against her conviction.

Marjorie Evans, 56, from Usk, Gwent, was given a three-month suspended term at Abergavenny magistrates' court in July after being found guilty of common assault.

But at Cardiff Crown Court yesterday, Mr Justice McKinnon allowed her appeal. He said it was "entirely significant" that the boy, aged 10, had said in a videotaped police interview that he and his mother had hatched a plan to get the headteacher out of the school.

He said the evidence of Sandra Cutler, a special needs teacher, who said she heard Mrs Evans admit slapping the boy, was unsatisfactory.

Mrs Evans, who has 35 years' teaching experience, said after the hearing: "The last year has been a terrible ordeal for me and my family and I wouldn't wish this ordeal on my worst enemy. The number of false and malicious allegations is continuing to rise, and it is sad to think that many other innocent teachers will be put through the same ordeal."

A statement from her solicitors said: "Teachers should be assured that the law of self-defence does not vanish the moment they walk in through the school gates. Like anyone else in this country they are permitted to use reasonable force to defend themselves.

"After this hearing teachers should feel confident that the courts will carefully scrutinise the people who make such allegations to ensure that fabricated claims are not upheld."

The National Union of Teachers, which had backed Mrs Evans, said it was delighted with the outcome.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, said: "Teachers throughout Wales and England will celebrate for her. Marjorie Evans has suffered greatly over recent months. Her suffering and the threat to her professional career send a message to every teacher in Wales and England. The case demonstrates how vulnerable teachers are. They need greater protection and that requires that their professional judgement to exclude a pupil must be upheld."

Mrs Evans told the appeal hearing that she used text-book methods to restrain the boy, and denied slapping him. She told the court she restrained him because he was trying to punch, push and head-butt her as they walked from the special needs unit to the main part of the school in September 1999. She also said she had warned other teachers that the boy "had threatened to sue people".

Mr Justice McKinnon said: "The appellant was faced with a difficult pupil. When he tried to attack her as she described, by pushing, punching and head-butting, she administered the entirely appropriate form of restraint hold." He said the account of the incident given by the boy conflicted with the evidence of another pupil who said he saw Mrs Evans slap the boy. Each said the slapping happened in a different place and their accounts of events did not tally. The judge said Mrs Evans left the court "with her very good character entirely intact and with no blemish whatsoever on it".

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "A jail sentence would have seemed completely inappropriate, even if she had been found guilty. I think this will raise public awareness of the difficulties teachers are faced with when dealing with disruptive pupils. It is a debate we need to have."

Estelle Morris, the schools minister, said: "This is a sensible decision. The Government has already recognised the importance of teachers having clear guidance on restraint."

When the boy tried to punch and head-butt her, Mrs Evans took his arms, spun him round and restrained him, she had told the trial.

Government sources said yesterday that her action was within the definition of "reasonable force", as described in guidelines on self-defence.