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Man cleared of beating sons with belt: Verdict criticised by groups against corporal punishment

A FATHER who was reported to police after disciplining his children with a leather belt was cleared of assault yesterday. Campaigners against corporal punishment said the North Avon magistrates' verdict was wrong.

Peter Newell, coordinator of End Physical Punishment of Children, said: 'Beating children with a belt is child abuse.' He said the message that belting gave children was that adults felt violence was an acceptable way of dealing with problems. Other courts had convicted parents in similar circumstances, he said. He feared that the case would confuse discipline with violence.

In English law the defence to a charge of assault by parents is to argue they were using 'reasonable chastisement'. Each case is decided on its merits. The Scottish Law Commission last year recommended that beating children with any instrument, or inflicting injury, should be a separate offence.

Corporal punishment is banned in state schools.

In the case decided yesterday the 30-year-old defendant, who has five children, and cannot be named for legal reasons, found his two sons aged five and eight wrecking a dining room chair with a knife at their home in Bristol. He first shouted at them to stop, then when they ignored him, he gave them 'three of the best' on the bottom with his belt, and forgot the incident.

Within 24 hours a PE teacher at the boys' school spotted their bruised bottoms and told his headmaster, who told the local social services, who in turn called the police.

The father, a security guard, was arrested and charged with assault causing actual bodily harm. He admitted hitting the boys but denied assault charges claiming he was legally allowed to chastise his own children.

After the case was dismissed, he said: 'I love my family and don't enjoy disciplining my children. I'm a good father and I didn't do anything wrong. They were naughty and I punished them in the way I saw fit.

'I believe in discipline when it's necessary and corporal punishment. The law in this country is too soft.'

Nick Smith, for the prosecution, had told the magistrates: 'He got a belt from his dressing room table, put each of the boys over his knee and smacked them three times each on the backside with the belt. There was severe bruising on each child.'

David Hebblethwaite, for the defence, told the court: 'There is no law in this country preventing parents from punishing their children.'