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October 9, 2010 permalink

Being nasty to a child is abuse. But what about being nice to a child? That is also a no-no. It is called grooming. A British woman has come out of two years of purgatory for giving a child a biscuit. A few of the best reader comments follow the article.



School dinner lady in 'grooming for sex' row with education chiefs after giving pupil a BISCUIT

Pat Lavery
Warning: Pat Lavery, seen being driven home tonight, was told that she could be accused of grooming for giving a primary school pupil a biscuit

A dinner lady was warned she could be accused of 'grooming' a primary school pupil after she gave him a biscuit.

Pat Lavery, a catering supervisor, handed the boy a biscuit after he asked for one. The child and the woman are related.

But the following day, she was warned that her action could be interpreted under child protection legislation as 'grooming' the child for sexual exploitation.

She was so upset that she refused to return to work at St Mary’s Primary School in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, until the row was sorted out.

During this time, she was threatened with the sack and suffered a 'horrendous' two years of rumour and innuendo.

Yesterday her husband, Eoghan Lavery, said: 'It has been a horrendous two-plus years for my wife because there was a shadow hanging over her that she’d done something wrong.'

His wife was made to attend three meetings, firstly with the acting principal then two with the school principal to discuss the biscuit incident.

One of the meetings lasted more than an hour and when she was requested to attend a fourth meeting, she left her job because she was so upset after being subjected to 'a grilling'.

The incident was reported to Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley, who heard that during her absence the woman’s parish priest was told by the principal that she was absent from school due to a 'serious child protection issue'.

Mr Frawley said Mrs Lavery should receive an apology for her treatment. She will also receive compensation.

The dinner lady told the ombudsman that in May 2008 she was working in the school kitchen when a child raised his hand and asked for a biscuit.

She brought this to the attention of the catering assistant who was serving biscuits and gave permission that the child could be given one.

St Mary's School
St Mary's School in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, is at the centre of the row

She said that the next day, the Key Stage 1 manager, who was acting principal, came to the kitchen and told her that under the Child Protection Act she could be seen to be grooming a child.

The child in question is a relative of Mrs Lavery.

Mrs Lavery then endured a meeting at which the matter was considered resolved. But when the permanent principal returned to work, she told of the potential child protection problems.

She told the ombudsman: 'I left the meeting very upset and confused... I felt that I had been subjected to a grilling and a "wrist-slapping exercise".'

She also told the inquiry that she gave no preferential treatment and any child approaching the serving hatch would have been treated in the same manner.

A further 40-minute meeting took place and when the principal sought a further meeting with her she decided to leave her job.

She was informed that if she did not return to St Mary’s by February this year she would lose her job.

She said she was 'aggrieved' that the principal told the parish priest she was absent from school due to a 'serious child protection issue'.

The ombudsman said the board did take the initiative to arrange temporary postings for Mrs Lavery in other schools while a resolution to her complaint was being sought.

But he noted his 'concern' that Mrs Lavery was informed that if she did not return to St Mary’s by February 1 her employment would be terminated.

'It is my view that the abrupt manner in which the board informed her of that development was highly insensitive to her position... it made her feel very anxious about having to return to a working environment in which there was still a lack of policy or procedure for dealing with any future grievances she may have had about her non-board co-workers,' the ombudsman said.

The threat to terminate her employment if she failed to return was 'entirely inappropriate'.

A deal was eventually reached between the school and Mrs Lavery and she returned to work.

In a statement, the school said: 'We understood that the issues were resolved to the satisfaction of the individuals involved using mediation through the Labour Relations Agency.'

Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Stormont Education Committee, said that while rules were there to protect children and staff, this was a case of 'political correctness gone too far'.

'I think it's a sad situation that schools are so boxed in because of legislation,' Mr Storey said.

wow I'm glad I read this just in time.

My wife gave me a cup of tea and said. "Would you like a biscuit with that love"

Common sense shown the door

- Toto Kubwa, Cyprus, 09/10/2010 21:11

Every morning at 11 o'clock I bring my boss a cup of tea with two biscuits. What does that ... oh sorry, there's a knock on the door!

- Christine, London, 09/10/2010 20:08

I wonder whether a Key Stage 1 Manager is in reality a Political Officer which each battalion in the Red Army was saddled with during WWII.

Susanna Smith, Newmarket Suffolk, 09/10/2010 18:02

No susanna, it's someone who has recently graduated from a 'Common Purpose' course and, yes, they most certainly will be political [post democracy].

- Malis, Planet Earth, 09/10/2010 19:53

Source: Daily Mail