BBC News, June 9, 1999

Smacking teacher given warning

UK--The accused spoke to the media outside the court

The teacher convicted of assaulting his daughter by spanking her in a dentist's surgery has been admonished.

The case sparked a national debate about parents' rights to discipline their children.

The man, who cannot be named to protect his eight-year-old daughter's identity, was found guilty at Hamilton Sheriff Court in May.

The admonition amounts to a warning about his conduct.

The man left court and vowed never again to hit his daughter in the way which landed him in court. His wife emerged from the court building with their youngest child in a pushchair and spoke of her relief at the outcome.

She said: "I just wish they could have done this at the beginning without putting our daughter through the trauma. She was so upset from the whole thing."

Tino Ferri, national executive member in Scotland for the NASUWT union, said he was relieved at the sheriff's decision.

"It is now unlikely that the General Teaching Council will cancel his registration. I am quite relieved that this is a father of 48 with three children who is not going to have his livelihood affected.

"Parents must have the right to chastise their children, obviously not to within an inch of their lives, and use the discretion they have always used."

Peter Newell, spokesman for the Children are Unbeatable alliance of 220 charities, said: "Basically we feel the legal position is unfair on parents and is confusing for them. They don't know where they stand."

The trial heard the girl had suffered from toothache for two days and was taken for treatment on Christmas Eve last year.

She became hysterical when told she would need an injection so a tooth could be removed. Her father pulled down her trousers and spanked her bare bottom six or seven times.

Witnesses reported him to social workers and he was charged with assault.

Excessive force

At present, the law allows parents to punish their children with "reasonable chastisement". In this case, the sheriff decided the man had used excessive force.

The man, who is 48, was ordered to stay away from his family home for two weeks over Christmas.

He was suspended from his 21,000-a-year teaching post and has been working in the library of a school in Lanarkshire.

The General Teaching Council, the professional teaching body in Scotland, said no decision on the future of the teacher could be made until a report had been received from the Scottish Criminal Records Office.

The case has been referred to the Children's Panel to decide whether the man's children should be placed under a supervision order.

After he was found guilty, the man described social workers as "evil".

"What has happened to me should be a big warning to other parents, so just be careful how you are seen," he said.

"My daughter and I are so happy together and we are so close to each other and I have the best wife.

"I am a concerned father and I think I am a very good father."

The case led to calls from pressure groups for parents to be given better guidance.

Children First and Children's Rights said children should be given the same protection as adults against assault, as a first step to changing the culture of smacking.

The accused's solicitor-advocate, Joe Beltrami, wants a change in the law to clarify the "reasonable chastisement" measure.

He said it was unclear and confusing for parents and the law was drifting into farce.

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