by Lizzie Parry
Friday, December 21, 2012
THEY blamed me for my son’s crimes.
Those were the words of a teaching assistant who was sacked from an Ipswich school after concerns were raised over her contact with her sex offender son.
An employment tribunal found that Tracy Hodgkinson was unfairly dismissed from her position at Halifax Primary in January.
The 47-year-old, of Hawthorn Drive, said the last year had been a “living nightmare”.
“I am just so pleased that the little person has fought against all odds and won,” she said.
“At the end of the day I took them on because while I know my son has done wrong – I’m not disputing that and have never condoned his crime – it was his crime, not mine.”
Mrs Hodgkinson’s son, who was 18 at the time, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in May 2010 for sexual activity with a female under the age of 14 and a further offence of grooming.
She claimed the school set out to get rid of her after she informed headteacher Anna Hennell-James and Janice Lee, strategic manager for the learning and improvement service at Suffolk County Council, that her son had been arrested in November 2009.
The mum-of-one was eventually dismissed in January but she took the Prince of Wales Drive school to a tribunal.
In his judgement, tribunal Judge Moore found she was unfairly dismissed due to the way the school treated her following the arrest of her son.
Mrs Hodgkinson, whose daughter Shona Gill died from a rare form of cancer in December 2004, says she has applied to be reinstated.
“I had worked at the school for ten years, I loved it there and my little girl loved it there before she died,” she said.
“Now I can’t look at it in the same way.
“After losing my daughter I couldn’t just stop seeing my son. He’s the only child I have left.
“After I told the school it seemed everything I did was picked up on. It feels like they have tried to make me pay for what my son did.
“Me having contact with my son poses no risk to the children.
“They [the school] have tried to make me out to be a bad person. It’s been a living nightmare.”
The school’s concerns surrounded two incidents:
n Mrs Hodgkinson received a visiting request for a friend’s 15-year-old daughter to visit her son at Norwich Prison – a request the prison later admitted they should not have issued – and called her parents to seek their permission. When the girl’s mum refused, Mrs Hodgkinson said she had not informed the school because the visit hadn’t happened and as such hadn’t considered it a “serious matter”.
n Mrs Hodgkinson met her son at a McDonald’s restaurant after his release to a bail hostel in Ipswich. When the pair met, her son had a friend from the hostel with him. The school raised concerns that Mrs Hodgkinson should not be associating with offenders.
Delivering his judgement, Judge Moore said Mrs Hodgkinson had not been handed any formal disciplinary warnings, “let alone a warning her job was at risk”.
He said the school’s case that they could “no longer have trust and confidence in her” because she was associating with known sex offenders and had failed to appreciate she was acting in a way which was inconsistent with carrying out her role as a teaching assistant, “was not based on reasonable grounds”.
The judgement document also states the “evidence showed that the claimant [Mrs Hodgkinson] had a history of raising safeguarding concerns and that this had not stopped following her son’s arrest”.
Halifax Primary School’s chair of governors, Roger Fern, said: “The case remains part of the legal process, including the possibility of appeal.
“Therefore to comment further on the details at this stage would not be appropriate.
“All actions taken by the school are focused on ensuring that all young people have a good educational experience in a safe and nurturing environment.”
n What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org