Failure to disclose relationship with sex offender – Headteacher’s dismissal was justified

Headteacher at a maintained primary school, Ms Reilly failed to disclose her relationship with a man who had been convicted of making indecent pictures of children. The Supreme Court considered whether this failure to disclose information was sufficient reason for her dismissal.

In 2009 Ms Reilly was appointed as headteacher. She purchased a house with her friend as an investment and had gone away on holiday with him. In 2010 he was accused and convicted of producing indecent pictures of children. He was forbidden to have unsupervised access to anyone under the age of 18.

Ms Reilly stated that she was not in a romantic relationship with the man and neither did they live together. On discussing with different people about whether to disclose her relationship or not, Ms Reilly concluded that it was not necessary, and did not inform the governors about it.

When the school was made aware of the relationship, and the conviction, they dismissed Ms Reilly. Her dismissal was due to gross misconduct, because she should have been aware that the relationship should have been disclosed. Given that her role was in safeguarding and protecting children, her failure to disclose it led the governing body to decide that dismissal was the only route they could follow.

Ms Reilly claimed that the dismissal was unfair, although the employment tribunal stated that they found it to be a reasonable response from the governing body and the school.

While there were some technicalities with the appeal process, the tribunal found that Ms Reilly was not entitled to any compensation because there was a 90% chance of dismissal if a fair procedure were followed. They also ruled that Ms Reilly had contributed 100% towards her own dismissal.

Further action was then taken by Ms Reilly, who appealed unsuccessfully to the AT, the Court of Appeal, and to the Supreme Court. Her appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court because offenders can present a danger to children directly and indirectly, through those that they encountered.

Ms Reilly’s friend had a recent conviction and there was an indication that he was a danger to children. As a headteacher, Ms Reilly would probably know where the children were, as well as where they were likely to play, and the home circumstances. She was also able to authorise entry into the school.

Based on this, the acquaintance with her friend created a problem and a potential risk to the children. Ms Reilly’s failure to disclose her friendship prevented a frank and open discussion about the issue and how potential the risks to the children could be avoided.

The Supreme Court agreed with the employment tribunal that the decision to dismiss Ms Reilly was correct.

The case highlighted the importance, and the duty of care, for school staff to safeguard the pupils in their care. Considering the decision to dismiss Ms Reilly, the Supreme Court recommended that schools update their policies regarding disclosures of information about who can access pupils.

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