Borders teacher given unpaid work order for assault on vulnerable pupils

Angry parents have hit out after a teacher who assaulted five vulnerable pupils was sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid work.

By Court Reporter
Saturday, 10th July 2021, 12:52 pm
Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Sixty-year-old Linda McCall was found guilty in May of the assaults on the special needs children aged between five and seven between August 2016 and October 2017.

Scottish Borders Council – who have announced an independent inquiry into their handling of the case – had initially cleared McCall of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation but the parents persisted with their complaints resulting in legal action.

She was convicted of the assaults following a trial at Selkirk Sheriff Court in May and sentence had been deferred for background reports.

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At Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Thursday, Sheriff Roderick Flinn said some physical handling of children with special needs was necessary.

But he told McCall: "Your conduct went beyond what was necessary or appropriate in the classroom situation."

Sheriff Flinn said that at the start of McCall's career with special needs children colleagues had described her as a "breath of fresh air" but added: "Things went wrong."

However, he took into account the level of force in the five assaults was not extreme.

The sheriff also considered McCall's 38 years of teaching, that she had now retired and she was a first offender by imposing a Community Pay Back order involving 150 hours unpaid work as an alternative to a custodial sentence for the five assaults and admonished her on a sixth charge of threatening or abusive behaviour.

Parents who attended court criticised the sentence afterwards.

Speaking outside the court one mother said: "I am totally gutted. My wee lassie does not seem to matter to the court.

"We believe first of all the council tried to cover this up when it first came up and now we have this inadequate sentence.

Her husband added: "It said in court she had had this hanging over her for four years but so have we. She should have got four years in the jail. It is a disgrace."

Marina Urie of Thompsons Solicitors, who represent the families of the children, said they were pursuing a civil claim against McCall's employers at the time, Scottish Borders Council.

She said: "I think members of the public will be aghast that an adult in a position of trust who assaulted vulnerable children can receive a sentence such as this.

"I have now served legal papers on Scottish Borders Council in terms of the civil cases.

"We will be pursuing them vigorously to secure justice for the parents and the children.

"The children were clearly failed by their teacher but they were also failed by Scottish Borders Council."

Advocate Gavin Anderson, representing McCall of Earlston, Berwickshire, pointed out that there was no evidence in any of the charges of injury to the children, whether physical or psychololgical.

He said that colleagues had described the offences as "totally out of character."

Mr Anderson continued: "It is clear in my submission that but for this matter before your lordship, she has enjoyed a very successful and valuable teaching career over decades.

"She has now retired from the teaching profession and has no plans to return to teaching."

He pointed out the case had been hanging over his client for the past four years when concerns were first raised and that had been a burden for her.

He said she had been suffering from stress and anxiety as a result of the proceedings and had been in contact with her GP.

But Mr Anderson said it had been a consolation to McCall that she had been "deluged with messages of support from people whom she worked with" and from people in the community.

Sheriff Flinn said that the Community Pay Back Order of 150 hours unpaid work should be completed within 12 months.

He said the breach of Section 38 was at the lower end of the spectrum of threatening or abusive behaviour and admonished her on that charge.

Last month Scottish Borders Council new chief executive Netta Meadows announced Andrew Webster QC would head an independent inquiry into the local authority's handling of the case.

A spokesperson for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Scotland said: "The tragedy of this case is compounded by the fact that McCall's victims had special educational needs which meant they were largely unable to verbalise the abuse they had experienced.

"Abuse can have a profound and long-lasting effect on children and it is so important that those involved in the case receive all the support they need to help them recover.

"Anyone who is concerned about the well-being of a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 8005000 or email [email protected]"