Sarah Harris, Daily Mail (London), September 9, 2010
Every playground tiff should be investigated for elements of racism, a report has recommended.
The warning follows a hammer attack by an Asian gang on a 15-year-old white boy on his school’s tennis courts which left the victim with brain damage.
Henry Webster’s skull was fractured when he was punched, kicked and hit with a claw hammer by a group calling themselves the Asian Invaders. They left him for dead.
A serious case review of events surrounding the attack found that his school had failed to tackle escalating racial tensions between Asian and white teenagers–even after a riot on the playing fields.
It warned that schools should record the ethnicity of bullies and victims and act if a pattern of racism arises, including liaising more closely with police.
According to the review, Ridgeway School in Wroughton, Wiltshire, did not prepare for the arrival of a ‘significant number’ of British Asian students in September 2005–less than two months after the 7/7 Tube and bus bombings in London.
Some problems between white and British Asian pupils were not recognised as racist by the school, near Swindon.
Henry had agreed to fight ‘one on one’ with an Asian boy to end the harassment he thought he and his friends were experiencing. But he was ambushed by a group of youths and young men in January 2007.
The attack led to the 2008 conviction of seven young men for wounding Henry with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm. Six more were convicted of conspiracy.
Henry, now 18, still suffers short-term memory loss. He had accused the school of failing to discipline Asian pupils who abused or intimidated their white classmates.
Last year, his family launched a High Court challenge claiming the school had been negligent, failed to maintain proper discipline or deal with racial tension. The school denied liability.
But in February, Mr Justice Nicol rejected their claims and said the school did not breach its duty to take reasonable care to keep Henry reasonably safe while on its premises.
Following his ruling, the Swindon Local Safeguarding Children Board commissioned a serious case review.
It found that not only should playground bullying be monitored for racism, but schools should also appoint ‘different race’ mentors for new pupils to help them settle in.
And teachers should consult parents about whether their approaches to religious and cultural requirements are ‘continuously appropriate’.
But Henry’s mother, Liz, 47, said the review confirmed her belief that his school was responsible for the assault. She criticised the report as a ‘whitewash’.
‘Whilst Henry has been the primary victim, we are–and always have been–of the firm belief that this school also let down the young Asian pupils who were eventually prosecuted. They have been criminalised and demonised.
‘Had their integration been properly handled we are certain this attack would not have happened. All anybody needed to do was simple community work–to get the Asian kids playing football with the white kids, or any kind of integration. Let’s hope every teacher in this country examines why this happened.’
The school said: ‘We have noted the recommendations and we always look to improve our practice and will continue to ensure our community which remained incredibly strong after the incident, continues to do so.’
Guidance recommends schools report all bullying. Schools nationwide will not be forced to adopt the 32 recommendations from the Swindon LSCB.