Monday 15 June 2009


A black teacher who was poisoned with whiteboard cleaning fluid by one of her own pupils today lost a fight for £700,000 in damages - and was branded a racist by a top judge.

Shaiira Alexis, 52, had told London's High Court her life would never be the same again after she unwittingly drank from a tampered water bottle.

But yesterday a judge rejected her bid for compensation, and condemned the teacher, who had to be treated at hospital following the incident, for her behaviour in calling the pupil a 'white prostitute'.

Judge Roger ter Haar QC said he did not condone the 'disgraceful behaviour' of the pupil.

But he accused the teacher of 'humiliating' the girl, named only as Faye.

Turning down her bid for compensation, he criticised Miss Alexis, of Bermondsey, South London, for her own behaviour and described her as 'heavy-handed'.

'Not only had she humiliated Faye by using racist language, she had done so in front of the whole class - a class with which she seems have had a difficult relationship in any event,' he said.

'This language was used to an academic under-achiever whose sense of inferiority from under-achievement was likely to have been already increased by Miss Alexis's heavy-handed approach to trying to get the best out of her pupils.'

Miss Alexis, who came to Britain from Grenada in eight years ago, downed the poison in February 2005 after the girl sneaked into her classroom at Brampton Manor School, in Newham, and contaminated her drinking water bottle.

Giving evidence earlier this year she told how within seconds of taking two or three mouthfuls of water she left 'intense burning' in her throat and lips.

After repeatedly vomiting, she was treated at hospital and returned home later that day.

She returned to school but lost her job in August 2006 because of her sickness record.

She had sought compensation from Newham Borough Council to cover lost earnings and pension entitlements, claiming that while the physical effects of the 'poisoning' were relatively short-lived, the psychiatric impact ruined her prospects of promotion to headteacher or at least a departmental head.

Lawyers for Miss Alexis said the school had put pupils and teachers at risk when a teacher entrusted the girl pupil with classroom keys.

But, dismissing her case Judge ter Haar, who had heard evidence from the girl, ruled the council blameless.

He said that, although the girl may not have been a 'model student', there could be no excuse for Ms Alexis calling her a white prostitute as she put on makeup in class.

'I have no doubt that this happened. ..the significance of this cannot be understated,' he said.

'It is clear that, in this multi-racial school, it was rightly quite out of the question for any teacher, or student, to be allowed to act or speak in a racist manner without immediate and unequivocal condemnation.'

He said Faye had never revealed the true extent of her resentment for Miss Alexis and no one had any cause to suspect that she would react by attempting to poison her teacher.

The judge added that although Miss Alexis was an 'intelligent, able, articulate and ambitious' woman, her promotion prospects were not as good as she thought they were.

'It is apparent that, before the incident, she was already experiencing difficulties in her relationships both with other members of staff and with some pupils,' he said.

Before moving to Britain Miss Alexis was PR officer for Grenada's New National Party.

Due to the shortage of teachers in core subjects in London, the London Borough of Newham sponsored her to obtain a working visa.

After arriving at Brampton Manor she enrolled on a Graduate Teachers Programme, wrote a novel and embarked on a Masters Degree course in Education at Cambridge University.

Multi-cultural comprehensive school, Brampton Manor has 1,450 pupils and serves an area affected by widespread social deprivation in East Ham, with some of its pupils suffering serious personality problems.

However, in its latest OFSTED report, the school was praised as a 'good and improving school with some outstanding aspects'.

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Anonymous said...

What kind of indigenous British surname is "ter Haar"?

Andraste said...

"What kind of indigenous British surname is "ter Haar"?"

What is your point?

lormarie said...

Speaking as a teacher, I can understand that some students can get on your last nerve. But calling a child a prostitute is uncalled for, adding the racist element only makes it worse. This does not excuse the student's actions but I bet she was emotionally disturbed.

Anonymous said...

@ Anraste, my point is, with a name like that, isn't that the sort of person we want to see less of in this country?