PM's wife to battle for Suffolk mum

SUFFOLK mum Linda Sheppard is to take Suffolk County Council to the Court of Human Rights - and Prime Minister's wife Cherie Booth QC will be fighting her corner.

By Jessica Nicholls

SUFFOLK mum Linda Sheppard is to take Suffolk County Council to the Court of Human Rights - and Prime Minister's wife Cherie Booth QC will be fighting her corner.

Mrs Sheppard is accusing the Local Education Authority of being in breach of its duty to provide education for her son Zaque, who suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning disabilities.

If successful the ruling could set a precedent for other families across the country.

Ms Booth is a leading human rights barrister who specialises in education issues, among a number of other subjects. Last year she publicly criticised her husband's government for being half-hearted about children's rights and failing to live up to its obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child.

Throughout Zaque's school life Mrs Sheppard, from Kirton, claims she has had a number of battles with the LEA to try and get the right education for her son. Several have been reported in the Evening Star.

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At the end of last year, a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities tribunal found in Mrs Sheppard's favour to send Zaque to a residential special school.

Despite recommendations from health and educational experts that Zaque would not be able to function in a mainstream high school even with a special needs support unit, the LEA decided a Suffolk mainstream high school, with a special needs unit was appropriate for the 12-year-old.

But Mrs Sheppard refused to send Zaque there, fearing for the implications to his physical and mental health if he were to attend and he has not been to school since July 2003.

The tribunal ruled that Zaque should have home tutoring until a residential school was chosen but Mrs Sheppard claims the number of hours tutoring has not been honoured by the LEA.

Zaque also needs speech and language therapy which she claims has also not been provided.

Mrs Sheppard said she realised that her fight would be expensive to the tax payer.

She gets legal aid for any action she takes but she said: "If the LEA had provided what was necessary in the first place, I would never have had to go this far."

Zaque does now have a placement for a school in Surrey but the fight has left him without education for nearly a year.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council, said: "We have received a letter regarding the possibility of legal proceedings, which we have responded to.

"We believed that we could have met Mrs Sheppard's son's needs in local provision, but as a result of the SEN tribunal's decision we have been working with Mrs Sheppard to find a different school placement for her son, which he will be starting at the end of this month."

n. Can you identify with the battle Mrs Sheppard has faced? What do you think? Write to us at Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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