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Delayed probe into 2017 death at Butterstone school shows ‘considerable lack of respect’ to student’s family

New School Butterstone
New School Butterstone

A fresh probe is under way into the sudden death of a teenager at the New School Butterstone.

The apparent suicide in February 2017 set in motion a breakdown in the turbulent relationship between senior school staff and Perth and Kinross Council.

Jim Martin CBE, who released the results of his independent inquiry into the school’s closure this week, confirmed that a “significant case review” into the 17-year-old’s death had now started.

But he said the delayed investigation, which began more than three years after the tragedy, “showed a considerable lack of respect” to the student’s family.

Mr Martin’s review found that concerns about child protection – unrelated to the 2017 death – and financial problems had led to the school’s shock closure in November 2018.

With just four days’ notice, all 24 students were forced out of the building and 51 staff lost their jobs.

The school’s head Bill Colley has rejected the findings of the review and said he felt “scapegoated” by others involved in the inquiry.

The suicide came just weeks after a former student took their own life, the inquiry heard.

Mr Martin said: “The aftermath of this event had a considerable impact on all those connected with the school, particularly those staff who had gone to the young person’s assistance.”

He said the pupil – who has not been identified – had been at Butterstone for two years.

“Not long before their suicide, Perth and Kinross Council had written to confirm that they would not support the pupil’s attendance at the school for a third year,” said Mr Martin, stressing that the question of why the young person decided to take their life was not part of his review.

“Now, three-and-a-half years after the young person’s tragic death, I am told the Significant Case Review is now under way.

“In my view, and I acknowledge this is also outwith the terms of the review, this delay shows a considerable lack of respect for the young person’s family, and for those members of the school staff who were directly responsible for trying to assist the pupil and to manage the school in the aftermath of this tragic event.”

He said he was grateful to the teenager’s family for supporting the review.

Significant Case Reviews are carried out by child protection committees and evaluated by the Care Inspectorate.

The aim is to establish the facts surrounding the case and look at what lessons can be learned. The Care Inspectorate has declined to comment.

After the student’s death, Perth and Kinross Council issued a list of demands to the school.

Mr Martin said: “The tone of the letter, while offering condolences, was at best insensitive, took no account of the impact of events on the staff of the school, or the challenges they faced in trying to manage a small school through a traumatic event.”

The review found this had a damaging effect on relationships between the school and the local authority. It led to staff believing council officials were “out to make life as difficult as possible for the school in the hope that it would fail”.

Mr Martin said: “Neither the senior management staff of the school, nor the council officials, come out of this well.

“It appears to me that, over the piece, neither was prepared to accept that the other was acting in good faith.”

A Perth and Kinross Council spokesperson said: “The council can confirm that the Child Protection Committee has systems in place to follow national guidance in relation to the conduct of multi-agency case reviews.

“In this case, the appropriate timing for commencing this work has been kept under regular review. An independent reviewer was appointed in January 2020 and it would not be appropriate to comment further while this work is underway.”