Taxpayers face hefty bill

TAXPAYERS face having to pick up a £16,000 bill after Suffolk County Council was fined for breaching health and safety laws when a 12-year-old schoolboy was left with a fractured skull.

TAXPAYERS face having to pick up a £16,000 bill after Suffolk County Council was fined for breaching health and safety laws when a 12-year-old schoolboy was left with a fractured skull.

A court heard yesterday how Adam Butcher, a pupil at All Saints Middle School, Sudbury, was left with serious head injuries when a basketball post – which had not been inspected for five years – fell onto him in the school playground.

St Edmundsbury magistrates were told a survey carried out after the incident discovered 100 out of 346 schools in Suffolk had similar posts, none of which had been subject to county council maintenance schedules.

They then heard the local authority took seven weeks after the accident before discovering whether similar problems existed with any other basketball posts in the county.

After the case the schoolboy's parents, Simon and Jocelyn Butcher, from Great Waldingfield, near Sudbury, said they would now be launching a civil action against the council.

Health and Safety inspector, Andrew Saunders, told magistrates the incident had happened during a lunch break at the school in October 2000 when a group of boys were playing.

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"Someone had thrown a jumper onto the post and the children were shaking it. A boy jumped up onto the ring and as the post fell it struck Adam Butcher on the head, causing serious injury including a fractured skull," he said.

Mr Saunders added the post had snapped just above the ground as a result of wear and tear, which would have been foreseeable if proper checks had taken place.

He said basketball posts had been installed in 1995 by contractors and were cemented into the ground, but neither the school or the council added them to their ground maintenance schedules.

The court heard in the five years before the accident the equipment had never been inspected and was only repaired once in 1998.

Despite opting to control its budget, the school handed back its maintenance budget to the local authority, which made the council responsible for the equipment.

Jason Bartfield, representing the council, entered a guilty plea to breaching health and safety laws on behalf of the authority.

In mitigation he said the accident happened when both the school and the council were getting used to the "modern era" of schools controlling their own budgets. Adding there was a great deal of confusion on who was responsible for ground maintenance.

He also claimed Adam should not have been in the playground as he was due for a detention, which he had not attended.

Chairman of the bench, Ken Turner, said he regarded the incident as a "very serious offence" and fined the county council £10,000, with costs of £5,700.

After the case Adam's parents released a statement through their solicitor, Mark Heselden, and said the claim Adam, now aged 14 and attending another school, should have been on detention was unfounded and had not been evident in records.

"Adam was not involved with the boys playing around the hoop, he was playing football in the same area, but it was a separate game," they added.

"He was hit on the back of the head without any warning. As a result of the accident Adam sustained a fractured skull. He has now made a recovery.

"The £10,000 fine is a reflection of the actions of Suffolk County Council, but the decision is a double edged sword because it is the ratepayer who will be left to pay for this. There is now a civil claim in progress."

Last night the authority said: "Suffolk County Council takes health and safety issues very seriously. As was explained in court, this case was mainly down to a failure of communications while the county council and schools were organising new arrangements for management delegation.

"There was already an existing maintenance programme in place for school equipment, and this has been further strengthened following the lessons we have learned. We regret the incident, and have tightened procedures to try and ensure that it doesn't happen again."

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