Teacher accused of bullying told jury pupil was a ‘lovely little girl’

Teacher Deborah McDonald. Picture Ross Parry
Teacher Deborah McDonald. Picture Ross Parry

A Halifax teacher told a jury she has happy memories of the little girl she is co-accused of ‘singling out’ in a five month bullying campaign.

Deborah McDonald, 41, who taught at the primary school for more than a decade, told the court she got on well with the child she is accused of bullying with teaching assistant Rachael Regan, 43, of Cousin Lane, Illingworth, Halifax, - who has admitted Sellotaping a child to her chair.

“She is a lovely little girl - we got on well together; I liked her and she liked me. She made me smile on so many occassions and I have very happy memories of [the child],” McDonald told Bradford Crown Court on the opening day (December 2) of her defence case.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty to the cruelty charges including goading her with a biscuit, tying her shoes to her legs with string, shutting her in a storeroom and Sellotaping her to her chair with the intention of causing unnecessary suffering to the child.

The teacher, who made a calendar with nine of 12 months featuring pictures of the girl with captions including ‘Beauty and the Beast’ under the image of the child with her doll, a picture of the child sucking her thumbs and twiddling her hair with the caption ‘thumbs’, as well as a picture of the child with the caption ‘off with her head’ said the gift was a Christmas gift for four members of staff as a “memory of the term they had enjoyed together”.

McDonald said the pictures and their captions were a collection of quotes that had no sarcastic tone.

In cross examination, Simon Waley asked why so many images were used of one child when there were 32 children in the class.

She said she chose the images on the basis of happy memories.

McDonald told the court she was teaching when Regan taped the child to the chair but said she had over-heard Regan ask the child to sit properly in her chair four to five times before Regan said ‘I will have to start sticking you to your chair’.

She denied having time to intervene before another member of staff walked in on the incident which, she said, lasted a couple of minutes, and said the child was able to continue with her work and no distress was caused to her as a result of the ordeal.

With 13 years of teaching history at the school, McDonald accepted that she was responsible for the children in her classroom.

“There were big issues with her concentration - that became apparent as soon as she came in the class,” McDonald told the court. Very little work from the child resulted in the teacher moving her to a desk on her own after the first term, the court heard.

Defence barrister Steven Crossley asked McDonald about the incident involving the girl being sat separated by a screen from the rest of her peers.

McDonald told the court the special educational needs screen was used in a teaching experiment to see if the device enabled better concentration from the child.

Prosecutor Mr Waley said: “Did the child have special educational needs at this time?” The defendant replied “no”.

She told the court that the child was “not naughty or cheeky”. In Regan’s defence case, yesterday (December 1) she described the girl as a “cheeky little monkey”.

McDonald denied that she and Regan had discussed using the Post-it notes on the child in a bid to stop her sucking her thumbs, prior to it happening. She also denied that Sellotape had been used by Regan to tape the paper to her thumbs. Both defendants say the child’s thumb sucking was an issue.

Asked if she thought the incident caused the child distress or suffering McDonald replied “not at all”.

Known as ‘Miss MacD’ to the children, the defendant said giving the child what she termed a ‘pet name’ was not offensive.

“My classes are like a little family - I used affectionate pet names for many pupils,” she told the court.

On the day of the incident involving Regan tying the child’s pumps to her legs with string, McDonald said the child’s shoes were three sizes too big and were a health and safety issue.

She said the child was made to look like a Roman in the ‘gladiator’ style of criss-crossed string tied to her legs and said she wanted to show everyone what she was wearing.

“She was so proud of her Roman sandals, she wanted to show as many pupils as possible. She went off to show another teacher,” McDonald told the court.

Asked by Mr Crossley what the child’s classmates reaction was, Regan said: “The children weren’t particularly laughing [at the child]. Their first reaction was ‘can we have some sandals too’ - they were jealous they didn’t have any. I told them we would make some at a later date.

“The sandals gave her a big boost to her self esteem - when she was stood up there it was like she was 100 feet tall.”

The court heard McDonald stood the child on a chair for children to see her pumps.

Mr Waley told the court the defendant said in a police interview that the children laughed with the child, not at her.

Earlier this week, a prosecution witness and a teaching assistant at the girl’s school said she saw McDonald kick the chair of the girl who was swinging on it.

“It is dangerous to swing on a chair. I asked her four or five times to stop swinging on it. I was sat at my desk, next to [the child’s], I moved back on my chair, raised my voice and said ‘no’ as I took the back of her chair and pushed it forward so it was back on four legs,” McDonald told the court.

She denied kicking the chair.

The case continues.