The elderly founders of a renowned private school lauded by Princess Beatrice are taking legal action against a mother who claimed her daughter was hit with a walking stick.
The £20,000-a-year Maple Hayes Hall school for dyslexic pupils was plunged into crisis after she accused founder and bursar Brenda Brown of violently prodding her child with a walking stick and verbally abusing her.
Mrs Brown, 82, says she only ‘tapped’ the girl ‘to attract her attention’.
She – and her husband Dr Neville Brown, 83, an educational psychologist – are now suing the mother.
A mother accused founder and bursar Brenda Brown (circled) of violently prodding her child with a walking stick and verbally abusing her
They allege she defamed them with malicious online lies and accuse her and her supporters of trying to ‘extort’ £130,000 from the school.
In April 2015, Princess Beatrice visited the school where she talked of her own dyslexia battles, and shook hands with the owners while praising the school’s work. Echoing Ofsted’s rating of the school, she describing the teaching as ‘outstanding’.
But a year later the school in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was rocked by allegations that Mrs Brown had hit the pupil in the dining hall. The mother then allegedly accused Mrs Brown of unlawful assault and battery.
She also claimed other pupils were beaten, treated badly, and were poorly educated.
Her daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was left illiterate, she said.
The Browns said the mother, known as Ms B to protect her daughter’s identity, made her claims on social media and by email and letter.
The elderly founders of renowned private school Maple Hayes Hall lauded by Princess Beatrice are now taking legal action against the mother
They said that as a result, Ofsted staged a surprise inspection, and found the school did not meet pupil ‘safeguarding’ standards. Staffordshire County Council then temporarily stopped funding pupils’ places. Mrs Brown said the stress caused her to have a stroke.
The family-owned school is now recovering, with a glowing new Ofsted report.
After a hearing at the High Court in Birmingham, Judge Edward Pepperall QC ruled that the defamation claim can go to trial. And he urged the school to produce CCTV footage said to have captured the walking stick incident, which happened in February 2016. The judge said Dr and Mrs Brown were the founders and proprietors of the specialist school, which caters for dyslexic children and children with special educational needs aged seven to 17. Their son, Dr Daryl Brown, is the head teacher.
‘They claim an international reputation as a centre of excellence,’ he said.
Judge Pepperall continued: ‘Dr and Mrs Brown claim that Ms B has falsely and maliciously published statements between March and May 2016 that Mrs Brown verbally abused and beat [the girl] with a walking stick.
‘The [Browns’] version of events is that Mrs Brown “gently tapped the child in order to attract the child’s attention”. Ms B says it was not a tap, but a “poke hit” to the child’s back.’
The judge said: ‘Dr and Mrs Brown claim that Ms B, together with third parties including her solicitor, has “conducted a prolonged and sophisticated campaign against them and Maple Hayes amounting to a malicious, cynical, false and defamatory vendetta of harassment and attempted extortion for pecuniary gain and the desire for misplaced revenge”.
‘Further, they claim Ms B has falsely and maliciously published statements that other children were badly treated and beaten at Maple Hayes, the school is unsafe, education is poor, and [her daughter] was left illiterate and badly educated.’
The mother’s solicitor, Robert Gamson, said her intention ‘was simply to get her child’s issue looked at’.
But the judge noted that Mr Gamson might face legal action because he has been ‘named in respect of the alleged targeting of the claimants as supposedly wealthy people, in the deliberate manipulation of the Ofsted process and in wrongly demanding payment of up to £130,000’.
Rejecting a call from the mother for the case against her to be thrown out as trivial, the judge said: ‘Mrs Brown is entitled to seek vindication.’ But he added that the loser would face ‘ruinous’ legal costs ‘in a claim likely to be modest in value’.
A school spokesman said: ‘For more than 30 years the school has been sticking up for children and parents. This time the school has been forced to stick up for itself, taking action in court.’