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Teen tells of bullying hell

Paula Garrett and daughter Danika
Paula Garrett and daughter Danika

by Emma Grove

A couple fined for not sending their child to school have had their conviction overturned.

Maidstone Crown Court heard how the teenager was suffering at the hands of bullies.

Paula and Peter Garrett were fined in March for not sending their daughter Danika regularly to the Isle of Sheppey Academy.

But at a hearing at Maidstone Crown Court, Recorder Christopher Jeans said the appeal was allowed by a majority – one of the two magistrates not being in agreement.

He said Danika had some extremely difficult experiences with bullying.

There were two major incidents – in December 2009 when she was chased in public by 15 or more pupils and in March last year when 10 or 11 pupils went to her home.

“It was a very menacing situation which was only ended by the intervention of her brother,” he said.

“These incidents and some lower level bullying and name-calling were the cause, we are satisfied, of absence problems which ran through 2010.

“There were a number of interventions, not least from the education welfare service.

“There were also some attempts by the school to assist.”

The court heard Danika had a poor record of attendance, at one stage making a total of 22 days out of a possible 176 at the academy.

There was an offer that she could attend at another site, but Mrs Garrett was not satisfied she could travel there safely and she might encounter bullying.

The bullying stopped after March but name calling continued, having a serious effect on her daughter, who lost her confidence.

Her GP stated Danika had made herself sick about going to school and threatened self-harming.

Recorder Jeans said she had since been able to change schools and was once again a happy girl.

Speaking about the bullying her daughter suffered, Minster Road resident Mrs Garrett said it had been horrendous.

Danika, now 16, is a keen baton twirler and was part of the England squad but she pulled out.

She has now taken it up again, but is not doing as much as she was.

Mrs Garrett, 42, believes a lot of the bullying stemmed from jealousy about Danika’s baton twirling success.

In court, although Mrs Garrett conceded her daughter had received help from some people at the academy, she felt she had been failed by the school.

Responding on behalf of Kent County Council, Myles Gibbons, asked Mrs Garrett if she accepted the importance of her child attending school.

“Well, of course I do,” she said. But she said she was also conscious of the need to protect her daughter. “And if that means keeping her at home, I would do it all again,” she added.

Danika is now happily settled at the Westlands School in Sittingbourne where she is studying hair dressing as well as working towards maths and English qualifications.

Responding, executive head at the Isle of Sheppey Academy east site, David Rahman, said: “We were shocked at the verdict.

“Danika attended less than 10% of the time as a Year 11 student.

“We were surprised that bullying was raised as a defence as we had offered Danika and her family every support and thought this issue had been resolved.

“As an academy, we take students’ attendance very seriously and we were disappointed with the outcome.”

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