Classroom Apartheid: Teachers Who Were Afraid to Discipline Thuggish Minority of Asian Pupils for Fear of Being Branded Racist
Paul Bracchi, Daily Mail (London), October 30, 2009
He gave his name as Henry Webster when he stepped into the witness box at the High Court in London last week. But he wasn’t the Henry Webster his family and friends remember.
The real Henry Webster was a strapping 6ft 2in rugby player, not someone who struggled to string sentences together and had to be given painkillers to complete his evidence.
Instead of preparing for college or university, he has been left with learning difficulties, short-term memory loss, and epilepsy. Henry will settle for that because the alternative would have meant not being here at all.
This is the only upside of being attacked with a claw hammer that left an inch-deep impression on his skull.
One claw hammer and 12 teenage thugs versus one young man. Those were the odds when a gang of Asian youths ambushed him.
After their work was done, his attackers punched the air in triumph–‘that’s what you call Paki bashing,’ they yelled.
The thugs have all been jailed. Not all the culprits, however, have been brought to book–not in the eyes of Henry’s family, anyway. They believe teachers at his school, near Swindon–where the assault took place in 2007 when Henry was just 15–are as guilty as the actual perpetrators themselves.
Why? Because, they say, the school allowed ethnic minority pupils to get away with flagrant misbehaviour, and then handed them less severe punishments than their white classmates because staff feared they might otherwise be accused of racism.
In other words, a culture of ‘ educational apartheid’ prevailed in all but name at Ridgeway School.
Had this not been the case, Henry’s parents insist, their son would probably not have sustained brain damage outside the school tennis courts one day in January nearly three years ago.
Wasif Khan, 18, outside Bristol Crown Court, where he is charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm on Henry Webster in an attack on a tennis court at Ridgeway School in Wroughton, Wiltshire
They have now brought a civil action against Ridgeway and are seeking compensation of up to £1 million. The allegations amount to a devastating indictment not just of Ridgeway, but of policies that were supposed to lead to integration, not segregation, in our schools.
Our own investigation into the events which culminated in Henry Webster being left for dead within walking distance of his classroom does little to counter that view.
Remember, this is not some inner city hell hole. Swindon (population 200,000) is often used for market research purposes precisely because it is considered to be a typical British town; neither the best nor the worst place to live, just average.
Ridgeway School, too, is average. Only about 70–5 per cent–of the 1,400 or so pupils are from ethnic minorities.
Exam results are good, and the school continues to receive glowing government reports. Only last year, Ridgeway’s headmaster Steven Colledge, who took over in September 2006, was praised by Ofsted inspectors as ‘Outstanding’ for his ‘leadership and management’ skills.
But anyone who saw his performance on Channel 4 News the day after Henry Webster was attacked might beg to differ.
‘I think there is always a danger where there is a mixture of races and peoples which reflect the community we live in that any tension that might exist, any little scuffle or fight, can be twisted to be much more of a major thing than it really is,’ he told the cameras.
No, this is not a misquotation. He really did use the words ‘little scuffle’ to describe the attack in which Henry Webster was left brain damaged.
Furthermore, in the immediate aftermath, neither the ‘outstanding’ Mr Colledge nor any of his colleagues visited the Webster family or even sent a get well card. Mr Colledge later told a governors’ inquiry that gestures such as sending cards or flowers ‘were not in his nature’.
Parents and former staff say that multiculturalism at Ridgeway, under his leadership, meant pupils on both sides of the religious and cultural divide breathing the same air but sharing very little else.
Asian youngsters, we have been told, had their own officially designated meeting room which, to all intents and purposes, became the unofficial base for a 30-strong crew known as the ‘Asian Invasion’ and the ‘Broad Street Massive’.
Many, if not all 12, of those convicted of assaulting Henry belonged to the gang and lived mainly in the vicinity of Broad Street in Swindon. Four of them were still pupils at Ridgeway. They would often call older relatives and friends from outside school to settle disputes.
One such was Wasif Khan, then 18, who was the person who wielded the claw hammer. He was a ‘wannabe militant’, according to the police, and carried on his mobile phone a screensaver of the collapse of the World Trade Centre. A number of accomplices used social networking sites to communicate their message.
One said: ‘Play with a gun, play with a knife, play with a Bangli [Bangladeshi] and you’ll lose your life.’ A second posting featured a soundtrack with anti-Western lyrics.
There’s no suggestion that these poisonous views were shared by the majority of the Asian pupils at Ridgeway–in fact, bar the members of the gang who attacked Henry, there were generally very good relations between the Asian and white pupils.
Police attend the Ridgeway School after the hammer attack on Henry
Police attend the Ridgeway School after the hammer attack on Henry
Most have no interest whatsoever in violence. Equally, there are inevitably white children at the school who have been guilty of reprehensible behaviour.
But the disturbing, and disproportionate, influence the Broad Street Massive is said to have exercised over the life of Ridgeway School is revealed in statements summarised in court papers obtained by the Mail, from parents, pupils and former staff.
All are expected to give evidence for the Websters in the High Court over the next few weeks. Racial intimidation and violence, they say, was commonplace and escalated into a mass fight on the school tennis courts after Asian gang members threatened ‘warfare’ against white pupils.
Yet the school’s extreme sensitivity on ethnic issues allegedly allowed the thuggish minority to believe they were ‘untouchable’.
One parent, Donna Burnett, said that when her son Alistair got into a fight with a member of the ‘Asian Invasion’, Alistair received a longer suspension. When she reported her fears about the Asian gang causing racial tensions to teacher Dawn Blackler, her reaction, she claimed, was abrupt to the ‘point of being rude’.
Another parent, Gail Rich, tells in the court papers how her son Taylor was assaulted by Asian gang members–who filmed the attack. Those responsible, she claimed, were not disciplined, which meant they continued to pick on her son.
Taylor, on the other hand, was disciplined for wearing an England football shirt to school–because it contravened the rules on uniform–while pupils from ethnic minorities, she says, were not punished for wearing hoodies or listening to music on their mobile phones.
On one occasion, one youngster turned up for class wrapped in a Pakistani flag. When the head, Mr Colledge, was questioned by the school governors about this, he said it was no different from a Welsh governor wearing a daffodil.
Yet another parent, Ashley Thorne, tells in the court papers how he was on his way to collect his son David and his friend Sam Barrington when he realised they had been injured.
Both the boys, he was told, had been set upon by older Asian pupils wearing knuckledusters in front of the school, while two teachers stood and watched.
Mr Thorne claims he heard Mr Matthews say he could not intervene for insurance reasons because the incident had not occurred within the school grounds.
According to the court papers, Charlotte Benhalilou, a pupil at Ridgeway, was also threatened outside the school by a young Asian man. ‘I’m going to slash you up,’ he told her.
One of the mothers stepped in to help her and suggested that the police should be called. Instead, she said in the court papers, Christopher Walton, the acting head prior to Mr Colledge’s appointment, simply told Charlotte to get on her bus without even asking her if she was OK.
And so it goes on; more than 50 pages of what is, on the face of it, damning evidence.
One parent’s son, Charlie, who is now 18, only recently left Ridgeway.
His father said: ‘There were racial tensions, and I felt I had to go to the school and express my concerns about it and the safety of my son.
‘I told the teachers there’s a problem with the group of boys who called themselves the “Asian Invasion” and they’re picking on people like Charlie.
‘I was so concerned with the way the school was handling the situation that I was prepared to take him out of school.
‘The teachers more or less tried to dismiss me. Mr Walton made me feel as if I was wasting his time.’
Some teachers, though, shared his concerns. One of them was Rachel Barker, who also gave evidence earlier this week.
Ms Barker, a trainee teacher at the school for three months in 2005, said that when she first heard a pupil had been attacked in Swindon she ‘knew instinctively’ that it had to be at Ridgeway. ‘
I think staff found it relatively easy to cope with the unruly white pupils, but the Asian pupils were in a league of their own. I think one of the reasons there were such problems with discipline was because the school did not promote a positive culture of cohesion and integration.
‘I felt the school was letting down its pupils; all that was needed was some education for the pupils in terms of respect and good discipline. The Asian pupils at the school were allowed to think of themselves as superior. This was partly the fault of the school because the Asian pupils would never be disciplined or, if they were, they would receive a lesser punishment than the white pupils.’
Again, it cannot be stressed too strongly that the majority of Asian pupils at Ridgeway are entirely guiltless in this affair, and should not be tarnished by the thuggery of a minority.
But Ms Barker said that even during her short period at the school she could feel the tensions increasing between white and Asian children, and that the school allowed male Asians to separate themselves from the mainstream.
‘In my opinion, the school did not deal with the problem effectively because they were fearful of being accused of racism,’ she said.
‘After the riot [when a mass fight broke out on the tennis courts], I remember the reluctance of the school to contact the police, and their insistence on playing down what was obviously a racial incident.’
Indeed, the nearfatal attack on Henry Webster on January 11, 2007, was not racially motivated in the eyes of either the school or the police.
It was triggered by a confrontation in a corridor with a 14-year-old Asian boy, which led to a challenge to a ‘one- on- one’ fight on the school tennis courts after classes had ended.
When Henry–who had no record of disciplinary problems–arrived, he was ambushed by three car loads of mostly older teenagers who had been mobilised by 59 mobile phone calls in the space of an hour.
Callers passed on the message that one of the ‘gora’ [whites] wanted a fight. The 14-year- old who had tangled with Henry earlier in the day then pointed him out.
In a video interview filmed six days after the attack, Henry said: ‘I heard screams, then I was punched in the back of the head. I was curled up on the floor, but they repeatedly kept hitting me. Then I felt the hammer hit the back of my head.’
Just to repeat–the scene of the attack was not outside a bar on a Saturday night, nor a sink estate, but by the school tennis courts.
Henry has now moved to another school, where he has fallen a year behind and is struggling to catch up. He and his younger brother Joseph, 14, live with their mother Elizabeth Walker, 46, who runs a nanny recruiting business, and stepfather Roger Durnford, 44, boss of a building company.
Ridgeway School disputes the allegations against it, and says blaming it for an attack outside school hours is ‘unprecedented and far-fetched’.
After all, it would no doubt argue, a recent Ofsted report concluded: ‘Students feel safe in school and they show respect and consideration for each other.’
Sadly, Henry Webster and his family would beg to differ.