Bullying court claims soar

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EDUCATION authorities across Scotland are facing a flood of legal actions from pupils who claim schools have failed to protect them from bullies.

In recent weeks at least 11cases have been instructed against education departments by pupils seeking compensation for distress and injury which they claim they suffered at the hands of school bullies.

Cash-strapped councils now face spending thousands of pounds in legal fees defending the cases, or paying damages.

Legal experts last night warned that the cost to the public purse is set to soar as bullied children become more aware of their right to sue. Glasgow solicitor Cameron Fyfe revealed that he is currently representing 11 pupils aged between 11 and 15 in such cases.

He said: "It would not be unreasonable to suspect this is the tip of the iceberg. If a client can prove the school was aware of the bullying, or ought to have been aware, but took no effective steps to deal with it, then they have a very strong case."

Mr Fyfe believes victims who succeed in their cases could expect damages of up to 30,000 each for trauma suffered and damage to their educational career.

Mr Fyfe believes the recent spate of law suits may have been triggered by the highly publicised suicide of Lenzie Academy pupil Nicola Raphael, who killed herself after being victimised by fellow pupils for her taste in "Goth" music and clothes. Her mother, Rona, is suing East Dunbartonshire Council, claiming that school staff failed to protect her daughter from bullies despite repeated complaints.

Mr Fyfe, who is representing Mrs Raphael, has since had a flood of calls from parents desperate to see the bullying their children suffered acknowledged and recompensed.

Councils who face action include East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire , Aberdeen City , and North Lanarkshire .

Because they are children, his clients will be financially eligible for legal aid.

Although there is no specific law in Scotland which obliges schools to protect pupils from bullies, Mr Fyfe believes that a number of Scottish and international laws can be brought to bear, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute for Scotland, said the cases marked a worrying trend for cash-strapped education authorities.

He said: "We would not be content to see huge amounts of cash which would be better spent on frontline services going to defending cases like this."

A Scottish executive spokesman was unable to comment on the cost implications of such cases. He said that the executive funds a number of anti-bullying initiatives and is to publish an action plan on the recommendations of the Discipline Task Group, which education minister Jack McConnell, chaired, a number of which relate to bullying.