Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Martyrdom of St Barnabas & Carol Hill

St Barnabas has a claim to be the natural saint of the bloggosphere and whistleblowers. He was tortured then stoned, or perhaps burned, to death for talking to the public.

The blogger Fr. Mark White notes that Barnabas may have been as prolific as St Paul, but St Paul was the one who got the attention and whose work survived and made it in to the official list. The MSM, if you like. St Barnabas' work seems to have mostly vanished and he has to make do with the credits others give him.

He's remembered in many churches, though. For instance, at Great Tey in Essex there is a church dedicated to him.

You might think that a vicar of a church invoking such a virtuous man would have an instinctive reaction when faced with someone telling an unwelcome truth. They would rise up and defend the them, especially if it concerned a child.

In June 2009, seven-year-old Chloe David was involved in a case of bullying at the Great Tey Voluntary Controlled CoE primary school, the one associated with St Barnabas Church and its vicar the Reverend John Richardson.

Chloe was tied to a fence with a skipping rope and lashed by four boys. Now, children play rough but this is exceptional. It is sufficiently serious that it may be an S&M act-out, which means you have to record it in full and make sure social services know in case they want to launch further enquiries as to where this game originated.

The dinner-time supervisor Carol Hill found Chloe. Mrs Hill is a first aider and has a duty to the child and her parents which, if ever there is a choice, takes precedence to her duty to the school. She wrote in the school record:
"Chloe has been tied up and then hit with a skipping rope – red marks on right leg and right wrist".
Hill reported it to her employers and left them to do their job.
The notice sent to the parents by Headmistress Deborah Crabb reads:
"She was hurt on the right leg and right wrist with a skipping rope"
"Chloe was hurt by some other children so to reassure you they had all missed part of their lunchtime today and their parents have been informed."
This is not quite the same thing. 'Hurt' implies playground accident. We've all had those. This was deliberately inflicted injury by a coordinated group. It also neglects to mention the bondage.

At tribunal, Crabb explained the boys insisted they were playing "Guards and Prisoners". So she was always fully aware that this was a coordinated playing-out of a fantasy by four boys whipping a small girl. In no sense could it be interpreted as an accident.

When Carol Hill, who also volunteered at the Beavers, bumped in to Chloe's mother, it transpired that Mrs David didn't appreciate how potentially serious the incident had been, nor the sexual connotations involved, nor that it had been in the nature of an attack.

Chloe's father demanded a copy of the original report and furiously withdrew the children from school, citing that the Crabb had attempted to cover up potentially serious abuse and so couldn't be trusted to deal with real abuse by adults if that ever occurred.

It was further suggested Crabb had acted in this way because one of the children who had been involved in the attack was the son of a governor. What else would she cover up? This is how child abuse continues to happen, everybody making excuses for it and closing ranks to protect their buddies instead of the victim.

In response, the school sacked Carol Hill, claiming that she had broken the child's confidentiality by talking to the parents. Unless Hill had some reason to suspect the parents were the dangerous ones, she had an obligation to speak to them if she believed them to have been misinformed, which trumps her obligation to the school.

She's there to protect children, not to save Crabb's face, or the face of another governor whose child was involved in the victimization. Child protection trumps employment law.

The school also claimed that Carol Hill had no right to go to the papers over their attempt to mislead the parents, and that she did so as a matter of personal antipathy to Crabb. So what?

Crabb tried to lie to the parents and untrustworthy governors colluded with her in that. It is a matter of public interest that a head deliberately misled parents and then tried to plead confidentiality in this betrayal of child protection. At no time could it have been in Chloe's interest to lie to her parents. But it was in the interests of some of the other children and the school.

On that sacking panel were three people from the C of E school’s governing body: John Wickes, Cathy Rayner and the local vicar, Rev John Richardson.

Unfortunately, eighteen months later, that which is glaringly obvious to anyone who isn't an employment lawyer also escaped the Employment Tribunal in Bury St Edmunds, another place where a martyr wasted his blood and is probably wondering if it was worth it.

Carol Hill has an inconclusive ruling which seems to say that technically, they could have sacked her for not keeping schtum about potential child abuse, even though every bit of child protection advice says she must speak out, not keep secrets. It's just they followed the wrong procedure for doing it. Yeah, right, a complete accident and not an example of grown professionals deliberately flouting employment law and child protection protocols.

Anybody with a lick'o'sense would rather Carol Hill looked after their children than this poisonous gang. It follows, of course, that Mrs Hill is the one who might be banned from volunteering with the Beavers and could end up with the social services arguing she can't have access to her own grandchildren.

She is the test case for the vetting and banning list. The school will have to notify what ever the Independent Safeguarding Authority becomes that she was sacked for gross misconduct, or would have been if they hadn't got the procedure wrong. (There is still some argument over what the heck it means).

But the whole point is that if she had a choice at all, she made the correct one in putting her duty to the child ahead of her duty to the employer. Rev Richardson should remember that; his duty to God is ahead of his duty to the Church.

As Carol Hill appears not to want to take it to Appeal, that is the end of this case. However, the political ramifications will carry on because now it looks like any employee who discovers wrong doing, especially abuse against children being covered up, is unable to go to the police without it being gross misconduct. The culpability ought to be in keeping quiet, not in talking.

Come on Michael Gove and Eric Pickles, get yer fingers out. This wants sorting. We can't have a big society if people like Mrs Hill aren't allowed to volunteer and exercise their role in child protection. Even Ed Balls - even Ed Balls - knew this case was rotten and wrote to the school to say so.

There is a way, via the admirable Anna Raccoon, to register support for Carol Hill and to wish her well and give her a pat on the back. Send her the equivalent of a box of chocs, more if you can afford it.

Update: Anna is still accepting donations to pass on to Carol Hill.


JuliaM said...

"Even Ed Balls - even Ed Balls - knew this case was rotten and wrote to the school to say so."

If ever there was a telling phrase...

lilith said...

I hope you copied this to Mr Gove. Or sent him a link.

Woman on a Raft said...

Funnily enough, yes, I was going to boil up a summary, but I'm going about it in a warning way. He's bound to be preoccupied with the free schools.

Here the church school and education authority were so united that they could even tell Ed Balls to mind his own beeswax.

gildas said...

Great post

Woman on a Raft said...

Thank you Gildas. Both the case of Katherine Birbalsingh and this one involve church - CoE - schools where there are whole libraries full of books about truth and justice and upholding the weak against the strong. Fat lot of difference it made.

It's a basic problem, though, that any individual parent is weak compared to the school structure. I've watched complaints in both the state and private sectors. In general, a parent has a better chance in the state system because there is usually less collusion between the professionals, but it still happens. It's a matter of degree rather than one being different to the other.

This is one of the banana skins whch Gove will find in the path of his free schools. We are going to need a ferociously independent arbitrator to stamp out cases where either the head has acted out of vanity or where the parents don't accept that little poppet is a liability.

banned said...

I've been following this story since it broke; the Telegraph has been scathing of the whole thing.

Pagan said...

It's now months later; the shool trundles on without Mrs Hill. A true Christian school would surely tell us this whole truth they allude to, rather than make a few enigmatic remarks, alongside silence about some of those involved. My experience shows that professionals right across the board NEVER agree - until a defensive story has to be told.

Woman on a Raft said...

One of the down-sides of more independent schools is that there are often either fights or back-scratching between the heads and governors, representing both ends of the spectrum where the adults stop serving the interests of the children and start running the place to suit their own private squabbles.

No school is immune from this - it seems to be human nature and bears no relation to the intellectual capacities of the adults - but the state schools have a slightly better control mechanism because there are more authorities which can force themselves in to the dispute who don't have children at the school and therefore don't have a dog in the fight.

Sadly, being Christian is no proof against this. I've seen absolutely rotten behaviour by the adults in a cathedral school.

They should all be ashamed of themselves. They won't be.