Slee Blackwell shortlisted for “Outstanding Case of the Year”

An abuse claim we recently dealt with has been shortlisted for “Outstanding Case of the Year” in the Personal Injury Awards.


We are delighted to announce that Slee Blackwell Solicitors have been shortlisted in the national Personal Injury Awards in the category “Outstanding Case of the Year”.

The award is for lawyers who have worked on exceptional cases that have resulted in a precedent-setting judgment under challenging circumstances and which have had a demonstrable impact on the wider profession.

The case involved allegations of abuse and was brought on behalf of our client, known as Z for reasons of confidentiality, against Devon County Council and the headmistress of his former primary school.

Liability was strongly denied throughout, and the case went to a five day trial in January 2022 which we won.

It was a complex and difficult claim, and particularly significant in that it succeeded even though no sexual assault occurred.

At the time of trial Z was 24 years of age. Between May 2008 and July 2009 he had attended a very small school in Devon, with fewer than 30 pupils in total. The essence of his case was that almost from the day he started at the school, the headmistress took a “shine” to him, giving him lifts to and from school, providing him with gifts, and far more attention than the other pupils received. Things escalated after he left the school. He said that he was showered with attention, treats and gifts by her, regularly slept over at her parent’s house, and on one occasion shared a bed with her.

The headmistress, while accepting that she became a very close friend of the family, asserted that her interactions with Z were in no way improper.  She denied, in the strongest terms, any allegations of sexual assault.

School records showed that staff raised concerns about her behaviour, especially when photographs of Z were found on her work laptop – including one of him sleeping. Staff reports described “signs of grooming” and that she was acting like “a love sick teenager”. Her explanation was that the school governor was looking to get rid of her. Devon County Council accepted no legal liability for her actions, or any of their employees in failing to act.

The Defendants put Z under a huge amount of pressure to discontinue his case, refusing to enter into any meaningful negotiations. He made a settlement offer of £80,000, but this was rejected. The Defendants would only agree to one informal discussion by telephone in which Devon County Council offered to pay a small amount of Z’s legal fees, but nothing in compensation. Closer to trial they made a ‘nuisance’ offer of £35,000 for legal fees and compensation.

The Defendants alleged fundamental dishonesty on the part of Z, which if proven would have seen him liable for costs and facing a potential prison sentence. His mother was also accused of being the instigator of the claim following a falling out with the headmistress, who had at one stage become the mother’s landlord.

The Defendants looked to discredit Z based upon his history of mental health and recreational drug use. It was argued that this being a “mixed claim” with more than just a Personal Injury element to it, Z would not be covered by Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting for the non-PI element of his claim, leaving him personally liable for legal costs if he lost.

Contrary to Z’s medical experts, the Defendant’s psychiatric and educational evidence stated the he was exposed to a number of  ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ prior to the alleged abuse and that he would have suffered with mental health problems and a disrupted education in any event.

Slee Blackwell supported Z and his family throughout. The Defendants’ tactics were all too familiar to those who deal with abuse compensation claims, but this did not make it any easier for those involved. During the course of the court proceedings Z attempted suicide.

The trial was delayed by over a year because of Covid restrictions, with the hearing finally taking place in January 2022.

Despite maintaining their denial of liability, the headmistress was the only witness the Defendants chose to rely upon. They did not call any other members of staff from the school or the council to support their case at the trial.

They did however put Z to proof, along with his mother and father and a local authority mentor who had seen Z when he was 12.

If the Defendants had hoped that Z and his family would struggle with the rigours of cross examination they were sadly mistaken as each gave evidence clearly and all were believed by the judge, Recorder Treverton Jones QC, who noted that an unusual feature of the case was that the headmistress was not grooming Z or seeking to exploit him for her sexual gratification. Her course was instead carried out in order to satisfy a different need “a need to love and feel loved in a family setting, and to have a close and quasi-maternal role in the life of a boy to whom she had become inappropriately attached.”

In law, the headmistress’ intention was not relevant. There was a sufficient degree of proximity to establish that a legal ‘duty of care’ existed, and it was reasonably foreseeable that her behaviour would cause Z psychiatric harm. Z was known by the headmistress to be a particularly vulnerable boy, and it was foreseeable that the inappropriate nature of the relationship between them would cause him confusion, anguish and upset, and therefore put his mental health at risk. The risk of harm was clearly foreseen by staff members at the school and the headmistress herself. Her behaviour amounted to a breach of the duty not to subject him to risk of harm. It was held by the judge that Z sustained PTSD as a result of the events and his anxiety and depression materially increased as a result of his experiences with the former headmistress.

The judge awarded £25,000 for pain and suffering. Past loss of income was valued at £55,000 and future loss of income and treatment at £87,000. The total award of £167,000 was more than Z’s own Part 36 Offer and consequently he received an additional sum of £105,000.

The Defendants were refused leave to appeal.

Following the trial, Z’s father wrote:

“I want to thank Slee Blackwell for all the hard work and dedication and steadfastness in taking my son’s case… I want to thank Jasmine Moxey-Butler, she was very supportive for the five day trial and explained everything at the end of each day. It has been an extremely painful journey, but finally my son can now put closure on all of the pain and suffering he endured as a child at the hands of his former head mistress.”

James McNally, Partner and Head of Personal Injury at Slee Blackwell Solicitors commented:

“It is a real honour for our personal injury team to be recognised by the award judges in this way. If any case typifies the hard work and dedication that our lawyers regularly demonstrate, as well as the support they offer clients, it is this one. It was unfortunate that the Defendants chose to defend the abuse claim in the manner they did and put an abuse victim through a five day trial. It only added to the stress and pressures he and his family were under, but we have stood by them throughout the claim and they trusted us. I’m pleased to say we got the outcome they deserved. I have little doubt that other firms would have tried to back out or accept lower offers and indeed we had barristers advising us to do just that, but we stood firm. This was one of those real David v Goliath battles where we all felt a wrong needed righting. I know that we will be facing some very stiff competition from the other finalists but the very fact we have been shortlisted reflects what an achievement this is.”

Slee Blackwell’s abuse team operate a confidential national helpline that you can contact on freephone 0333 888 0404 or alternatively by emailing us at [email protected].

Jasmine Moxey-Butler

Jasmine Moxey-Butler

Jasmine is a specialist personal injury lawyer. She is based at our Taunton office where she represents clients nationwide. Jasmine has achieved a number of particularly noteworthy successes and has been able to succeed in cases where other law firms have failed. Her tenacity and expertise brings results and her clients are thoroughly impressed by the service she provides.
Jasmine Moxey-Butler

Jasmine Moxey-Butler

Jasmine is a specialist personal injury lawyer. She is based at our Taunton office where she represents clients nationwide. Jasmine has achieved a number of particularly noteworthy successes and has been able to succeed in cases where other law firms have failed. Her tenacity and expertise brings results and her clients are thoroughly impressed by the service she provides.

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Call the Slee Blackwell helpline on 0333 888 0404