Judges attack council over truancy appeal

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The Independent Online

A council was censured by two senior judges yesterday for pursuing the parents of an emotionally disturbed girl all the way to the High Court on charges of abetting truancy.

Lord Justice Thomas told Sutton Council in south London it was a "monstrous injustice" to appeal against an earlier magistrates' court ruling acquitting the parents. Magistrates at Wallington said the parents of the 14-year-old girl, known as K as she cannot be named for legal reasons, were "doing their best".

The court heard that K had become aggressive and violent towards her mother when she had tried to get her to attend school, saying she had been bullied. K only attended 29 out of 174 days between October 2002 and March 2003.

Yesterday the two judges dismissed the appeal and said they were "appalled" that "perfectly reasonable parents who had obtained a good education for their other children up to university level had been put through the extended ordeal". Lord Justice Thomas added: "This appeal is completely and utterly hopeless and should never have been brought."

The judge said that he was "very, very concerned" that safeguards in education legislation to protect parents from unjustified legal action were failing. If convicted, the parents could face imprisonment.

The Government has been anxious to crack down on truancy and introduced on-the-spot fines and prison sentences for parents who fail to ensure their children attend school. However, Lord Justice Thomas said that in this case the parents had co-operated with all recommendations made by welfare officers.

The 51-year-old mother of K told the court that her family had been through "agony".

Tim Compton, Sutton's barrister, said the authority had come to court to seek guidance for future cases.