Halifax teachers accused of child cruelty; trial summing up begins

Teacher Deborah McDonald and teaching assistant Rachael Regan are on trial for child cruelty. Picture Ross Parry
Teacher Deborah McDonald and teaching assistant Rachael Regan are on trial for child cruelty. Picture Ross Parry

A judge has told a jury it must consider whether the teachers accused of Sellotaping a Halifax schoolgirl to a chair knew their actions were wrong at the time.

Judge Neil Davey told the jury it must find primary school teacher Deborah McDonald, 41, and teaching assistant Rachael Regan, 43, guilty or not guilty on three counts of cruelty to a person under 16 including tying her shoes on her with string, taping her to her chair and shutting her in a class storeroom.

The other alleged offences of putting Post-it notes on her thumbs, addressing the child with a nickname, kicking her chair, goading her with a biscuit, putting her doll in a desk drawer and on a projector and tearing the child’s photograph could be part of their deliberations but are no longer charges for criminal consideration.

Judge Davey said: “Regan was the principal offender but McDonald was jointly responsible [for the child]. You must decide if she encouraged Regan and you must be sure McDonald knew what Regan was doing and did nothing to stop it even though she had the power to do so.”

Judge Davey told the jury at Bradford Crown Court that they must be certain the defendants knew, at the time, that their actions would cause “unnecessary suffering” to the child.

The jury must firstly decide if the main perpetrator Regan, of Cousin Lane, Illingworth, Halifax, is guilty of any of the three charges and then consider McDonald’s role in any of the offences, Judge Davey told the jury.

Summing up, Prosecutor Simon Waley said: “The taping of the child to the chair did happen but exactly what happened is partly unclear. Regan told the court the tape was a small single strip which was loosely applied and was so weak it came off when the child wriggled.

“If that were the truth do you really think we would be here? Or do you think [the child] would have gone running out to her mother on that day, or two teaching staff would have come forward with accounts different to Regan’s about what they saw when the child was taped to the chair.”

He told members of the jury that the calendar made by McDonald, of Birks Hall Terrace, Halifax, with nine of the 12 months using pictures of the victim with captions she denies had a sarcastic tone, was “blatant clear ill intention” of her conduct towards the child.

He told the jury: “They had joint responsibility and they realised what they were doing was cruelty.”

“Was she lying, was she vague, was she being manipulative, you will have to ask yourself this question,” Mr Waley told the jurors.

Regan’s defence barrister, Tina Landale, told the jury: “Before the case came to court, Rachael Regan lost her job - she was dismissed. It is one thing to lose your job but quite another to be guilty of a criminal offence.

“This is not a case about discipline and whether we think it’s right to be stern and severe or generous and gentle, you must decide whether Regan acted cruelly in the context of crime - not just inappropriately or foolishly.”

She described Regan’s actions on the day of the Sellotape incident as “light-hearted banter” between the teaching assistant and the “teasing” child.

McDonald’s defence barrister, Steven Crossley, told the court that his defendant “didn’t do anything”.

“Of the three allegations - tying shoes with string, shutting the child in the storeroom and taping her to the chair - McDonald didn’t do anything.”

He said there was no evidence Regan was involved in the alleged shutting of the child in the store cupboard and said the screen used to separate the child from the rest of the class was not a “torture device” but a teaching aid to enable better concentration from the student who was known to lack concentration.

“McDonald did not ‘single out’ the child,” Mr Crossley told the trial which is now into its fifth day (Wednesday).

Both defendants deny that they intentionally embarked upon a pursuit of systematic bullying of the youngster over the first academic term of September 2012 - January 2013.

Judge Davey said: “It is a deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs that the case has taken so long to get to court. The dreadful delay has been felt most by the defendants as they are on trial.”

The summing up is expected to continue tomorrow morning.

(proceeding)