At the time of the accident on 10 May 2007, the Claimant was almost 14 years old and a pupil attending the John Warner School in Hoddesdon. During the lunch time break he was on the school field playing football. The field was secured by a two meter high palisade fence with a triple point head. One of the boys kicked the football which became lodged in vegetation above the fence.  

The Claimant, together with a friend, went to retrieve the football by means of the friend giving the Claimant a foothold so he could reach the ball. As the Claimant reached the ball, he slipped when his friend dropped him. He caught the middle finger of his right hand on the top of the railings. He was taken to hospital where the top end of his finger was amputated.

The Claimant alleged negligence on the basis that the playing field was not adequately supervised and pupils were not visible at all times. He also alleged that the fence was dangerous and the signs in place failed to give adequate warning. The Defendant stated that there were lunch time supervisors and all children were visible in the school field. The purpose of the railings was to secure the children in a safe environment and to prevent trespassers entering the site and it was denied that they constituted a danger.

Decision

Nigel Wilkinson QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, dismissed the claim, finding as follows:

  • On joining the school in 1999, part of the headmaster’s job had been to arrange the construction of a new sports centre and installation of secure perimeter fencing. The fencing and signage was suitable.
  • The Claimant was aware that there were sharp edges at the top of the fence and that he was not to climb because of the spikes. He was also aware that there was a gate near to where the ball became lodged and he could have asked a member of staff to open the gate to retrieve his ball.
  • There were a number of staff in the area and so there was assistance available, had it been sought.
  • There was no want of supervision such as had been found in Palmer v Cornwall County Council [2009]. The school was well run with suitable levels of supervision.  

Comment

Our experience from acting for a number of local authorities indicates that the number of claims being brought in relation to incidents at schools has been increasing. This decision should provide reassurance that, in appropriate cases, claims can be successfully defended.

The facts of this case can be clearly distinguished from those in Palmer. In that case, there was only one supervisor responsible for the supervision of around 300 children, which was found to be clearly negligent.