People: Dyslexic successfully sues education authority

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The Independent Online
Pamela Phelps, a dyslexic, brought hope to hundreds of fellow sufferers yesterday when she successfully sued her former education authority for failing to spot the condition.

In a landmark judgment, the High Court awarded pounds 45,650 damages to Ms Phelps after hearing how she had been condemned to a life of "temporary menial tasks" because of her "inadequate" education.

The ruling is likely to open the way for hundreds of dyslexics preparing similar legal claims against their schools and local education authorities.

Ms Phelps' solicitor, Jack Rabinowicz, whose firm is handling 50 such cases, said: "Many children have been badly let down and this case will mean they can now go ahead to claim compensation." He added: "Pamela hopes that her success will mean that other children will not have to go through the trauma that she had, and that there will be ... better appreciation of the needs of special-needs children."

Later, David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned the ruling could have "devastating" implications for schools. "It implies that schools are going to be at much greater risk of claims for damages," he said.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Garland ruled that Hillingdon Borough Council was liable for breaches of duty of care by educational psychologist Diane Melling who failed to diagnose that Pamela was dyslexic in 1985. Miss Melling "erred" in attributing her learning difficulties to emotional problems.

Ms Phelps went to Hayes Park Infants School in 1978 and was referred for the first time to an educational specialist at the end of 1980. She was not seen by an educational psychologist until she moved to Mellow Lane Comprehensive School in 1985. Cherie Booth QC, who represented Pamela at the hearing in July, said the condition was only spotted when her family saw a television programme on the subject and arranged for her to have tests.

After yesterday's decision Ms Phelps, from Hayes End, Middlesex, said she would use the money for special tuition and hoped to take GCSEs eventually so she could become "rich and famous".