School delayed hammer attack inquiry over fears of liability

Insurers advised against co-operation with serious case review until after victim completed damages claim

An official review into a "racist" hammer attack on a schoolboy was unacceptably delayed because his school's insurers feared it would effect their liability, a judge ruled yesterday.

Henry Webster, then 15, was repeatedly hit on the head with a claw hammer at Ridgeway School in Wroughton, near Swindon, Wiltshire, in January 2007 and left with life-threatening injuries. But the school's insurers advised against Ridgeway co-operating with a serious case review set up by the Swindon Local Safeguarding Children Board until after a claim for damages by Henry and his family, alleging negligence by the school, had been heard.

Yesterday a judge ruled the board, instead of holding a speedy and comprehensive review, had unlawfully phased the inquiry in compliance with the insurer's wishes – delaying its final report by many months. He ordered the board to hold a new review to comply with the terms of his judgment.

The judge said the purpose of statutory serious case reviews was to learn lessons to prevent similar incidents. The assault on Henry involved a group of Asian schoolboys and three car-loads of Asian men who came on to the school premises after being summoned by the boys on mobile phones.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said: "The spectre of statutory serious case reviews being stifled by the insurance industry would be potentially of such significance to public policy as to engage the attention of the Secretary of State and, through him if need be, the Association of British Insurers and – in the last resort – the industry regulator, the Financial Services Authority."

As the judge gave his ruling, the damages action being brought by the Webster family against the school was proceeding before another judge in another court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Thirteen teenagers, and a man who did not attend the 1,400-pupil school, were convicted for their parts in the attack at Bristol Crown Court last year.

It is claimed there was a negligent failure by the school, which denies liability, to maintain proper discipline and deal with racial tension.

Henry's younger brother Joseph, mother Elizabeth, and stepfather Roger Durnford each say they were left deeply traumatised by witnessing his injuries, and are also seeking damages.

Later Mark McGhee, a solicitor acting for the Webster family, said: "This is an absolute vindication by the judiciary of every step that the Webster family has taken to try to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."

The Webster family had protested that the review was ineffective because its first phase was only inquiring into what had happened "since the attack", instead of interviewing school staff.

The judge said in his view – "given the particular gravity and injuries sustained by Henry in an incident with apparent racist overtones" – it was imperative that the board should promptly initiate a serious case review "that would report expeditiously".

But the board's decision in February to postpone interviews with the school until the conclusion of the damages claim meant delaying the review for such a substantial period that it would have "little if any practical value".

The judge said: "Although the matter was already urgent in February 2009, the procedure adopted was likely to delay the review by another 9-10 months." He ruled that, although the review might overlap the damages action, it was not reasonably necessary for the review to be delayed. The judge said: "The emerging picture of Parliament's intentions being frustrated in this way is not an attractive one."

The board failed to take proper steps to resolve the issue and seek a compromise with the insurers.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam