X v London Borough of Merton
Out of court settlement: 16/12/2014
On 05/10/2010, the Claimant who was aged 14 at the time was a pupil at a school run by the Defendant. The Claimant attended class during the morning and her attendance was noted on the register. Following the morning break, the Claimant was detained in the school toilets and for approximately 1 hour, she was subjected to rape and sexual assault by four other pupils.
It was the Defendant's policy that the register was taken at the start of each lesson but following the morning break staff failed to raise the alarm that 5 pupils were missing from class. In addition, the Defendant had security guards who patrolled the school during class time and their policy was that the toilet blocks and other areas were to be checked at the end of break time to ensure no pupils were late back to class. On the day of the incident no staff checked the toilets or patrolled the area as they were supposed to. The claimant was detained in the toilet block by the other pupils until the start of the lunch period.
The matter was reported to police and investigations undertaken. Two of the pupils were charged and convicted of rape and sexual assault.
The claimant was absent from school until the end of November 2010 when she attempted a return, however due to further bullying she was forced to leave school in April 2011. The claimant was home schooled from April 2011. Her education was seriously disrupted at a time when she was taking her GCSE's. She became isolated from her peers and reclusive.
The criminal investigations leading up to trial placed an enormous strain on the Claimant and twice during this period she made suicide attempts. Between October 2010 and April 2011, the Claimant received counselling and then only sporadically until March 2012.
The opinion of an Educational Psychologist and Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist was sought.
The psychiatrist confirmed the Claimant was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (protracted type). Her symptoms included low mood, low self-esteem, a profound sense of loss, sleep disturbance, reduced attention and diminished concentration, episodes of wishing to die, self harming behaviour, social isolation, hyper-vigilance and repetitive intrusive thoughts.
It was confirmed that the Claimant may remain vulnerable in the long term to further episodes of anxiety and depression, particularly when under stressful situations. It was thought that she may also suffer significant sexual anxiety and feelings of personal vulnerability within romantic relationships.
The educational psychologist stated that the Claimant's education was seriously disrupted by the incident. Prior to the incident, the Claimant was doing extremely well in her education and worked hard at school. She was on the "Gifted and Talented Register" and was expected to achieve good exam results.
The expert stated that it was highly probable that the Claimant would have attained good GCSE and A-level results, enabling her to go to University and obtain a degree leading her into a professional career.
The Claimant actually attained 4 GCSE's and 2 BTech qualifications. At the time of settlement the Claimant was working in a pub kitchen.
The Defendant also instructed their own education expert, who stated that but for the incident, the Claimant would have achieved at least 5 GCSE's grade A* to C, leading to A-levels and a route to university. The Defendant considered that the Claimant still had the opportunity to return to education and that the incident had led to a delay in her education for a period of 3 years.
The Claimant brought an action for personal injuries and losses suffered as a result of the Defendant's negligence. Allegations were that a failure by staff to adhere to the school policy / practice of ensuring that all pupils are returned to lessons and checking the premises, led to injury being caused to the Claimant.
A Letter of Claim was sent to the Defendant on 09/10/2012. An admission of liability was made on 21/05/2013.
The value of the claim was disputed and proceedings were issued on01/04/2014. The Claim Form was served on 23/07/2014 and proceedings served on 26/09/2014. The Defendant served their defence in November 2014. The Defendant contended that the Claimant would suffer only a delay in her education and start of her graduate career.
Following a period of negotiation, the parties reached an amicable settlement of the claim in the sum of £145,000 on 16/12/2014.
The claim was settled on a global basis however, a rough breakdown of the settlement figure is as follows:
General Damages: £50,000
Special Damages: £95,000 to include loss of earnings at graduate level for a period of approximately 5 years to allow the Claimant the opportunity to restart her education and career.
The Defendant also agreed to pay the Claimant's costs of the case, which had been run under a Conditional Fee Agreement.
For the Claimant:
Counsel: Stephen Glynn, 9 Gough Square
Solicitor: Sarah Towler, Russell-Cooke LLP
For the Defendant:
Solicitor: Caroline Craigie, Kennedys LLP
This report was provided by Nimmisha Aslam of Russell-Cooke LLP