Family & Education

Payout over schoolboys' sex assaults on girl, 6

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The parents of a girl sexually assaulted at the age of six by boys in her school playground have won compensation from the local authority.

The council has not accepted liability but the undisclosed five-figure settlement could set a precedent.

The BBC understands this is the first time the High Court has approved a settlement in a case of sexual assaults involving primary school pupils.

The child's mother says she now has "a broken little girl".

The girl, called Bella to protect her true identity, disclosed the repeated sexual assaults to her mother only when she could no longer sit down because of the discomfort.

In the following days and months, her parents found there was no help available for their daughter, although steps had been taken to support the boys.

Speaking exclusively to BBC News, her mother said: "We had a broken little girl who had been seriously sexually assaulted repeatedly over a number of weeks in school, feeling unsafe in school and she had nothing."

Bella's parents had to pay for her to have the counselling she needed.

Since the assaults, she has had nightmares, become extremely anxious and is afraid of leaving her home.

In their court action, Bella's parents argued the school had failed to prevent the assaults, or to adequately train staff to recognise the warning signs.

A member of staff had seen their daughter with her underwear partly removed, one of the boys standing behind her.

The local authority has not admitted any liability but has paid a five-figure sum, which will be used to help Bella now and in the future.

Her parents have been told she may need further counselling as she goes through puberty and has her first boyfriend.

Bella's mother said pursuing the legal action was partly about creating a precedent but most of all so that Bella had some tangible redress.

"It matters for her I think when she's older. She can make some sense of how she could be so seriously sexually assaulted so many times in a place where she should have been safe."

She hopes it will give her daughter a sense that some action was taken.

"When she finds out that not only were the boys not prosecuted, not punished, but also the people who were responsible for keeping her safe didn't even write an apology to say yes, we know we got it wrong and we're sorry."

The family hopes by talking about the court action they will draw attention to the lack of support for children sexually assaulted by other pupils at school.

Records not recorded consistently

Where an assault is carried out by a child younger than 10 years old, they cannot be held criminally responsible and in the past the police have often been reluctant to record incidents.

Figures for peer-on-peer assaults involving children on school premises are not recorded consistently by the 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Fifteen forces told BBC News they had recorded a total of 593 allegations of sex offences on school premises last year involving under-18-year-olds as both perpetrator and victim.

This included 71 allegations of rape.

Among the allegations, were 203 offences where the victim was under the age of 13.

Just 13 forces could provide specific information about alleged sex assaults by children aged 10 or under. They recorded 54 last year.

Solicitor Andrew Lord, from Leigh Day, says several other families are actively considering legal action.

"In my experience, I've had a dozen families coming forward, a number of those involving primary school age children.

"It's not a problem going away any time soon and it does need more recognition."

Since BBC News first highlighted the scale of sexual assaults, including rape, in England's schools, some things have changed.

The government has updated the guidelines for schools in England on keeping children safe.

For the first time, these include specific reference to peer-on-peer sex abuse.

Ministers also point to £8m of funding for the counselling service Childline over four years, although that covers all issues troubling children.

Rachel Krys, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said Bella's case showed more still needed to be done not just to prevent sexual violence but to respond adequately when it happened.

"Girls have a right to be safe in school and parents rightly expect that policies are in place and staff are trained to recognise when a girl is being sexually assaulted and move quickly to stop it.

"Safeguarding girls from anyone who hurts them, including other children, has to be a priority.

"Schools can't continue to turn a blind eye or minimise the harm done like they did in Bella's case."

The campaign is calling for a national strategy on sexual violence in schools.

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