Dismissal Upheld for Teacher Who Grabbed Pupil in Banana Milkshake Throwing Incident

Robert_Cox_Bemrose_School

Robert Cox, 59, was fired after being caught on CCTV pinning the boy’s arms to his sides in March 2011

A teacher who manhandled a student after the teenager hurled a banana milkshake at him along with a torrent of abuse has lost his claim for unfair dismissal.

Robert Cox, 59, was sacked by governors at Bemrose School in Derby after he was caught on CCTV aggressively pinning the 16-year-old’s arms to his sides in March 2011.Mr Cox claimed he’d been unfairly dismissed, but a Nottingham employment tribunal upheld the school’s decision, claiming the teacher’s reaction to the milkshake-throwing was over-the-top.

‘The witness statements from Mr Cox’s colleagues indicated that his behaviour had been inappropriate and excessive,’ the tribunal chairman said. He added that it was ‘reasonable’ for governors to believe he had ‘escalated the situation’.

Headteacher Jo Ward said the school was thrilled the tribunal agreed Mr Cox’s actions amounted to gross misconduct. ‘We had no option but to dismiss him,’ she said. ‘Two different ruling panels of governors at Bemrose School, whose members included parents and trade union members, were unanimous in their belief that Mr Cox’s actions went far beyond restraining the pupil.

‘Mr Cox was observed on CCTV pushing the pupil down into the chair repeatedly with excessive force – enough force to move a large dining room table and chairs several feet.’

But the IT teacher, who claimed he tried to commit suicide after losing his job, said he wanted the decision reviewed and was considering a further appeal.
He said: ‘It was impossible to walk away from a situation where someone was threatening to throw a chair and it would have been negligent to ignore it. There were plenty of witnesses to what happened and for some reason they weren’t called but I want to speak to them.

‘I think this judgment sends out a message to pupils that they can do what they want to get a teacher sacked and this leaves staff in a very vulnerable position.
‘The school has completely ignored the Government’s guidelines, which start with the premise that a teacher should be supported in these circumstances.’

During the unfair dismissal case, the teacher told the tribunal that he had feared the boy was going to throw a chair at him. After he let the teenager go, the pupil did pick up a chair and threw it, although not at Mr Cox. Neither the boy or his parents complained to the school, but the governors decided the man had to go.

At a tribunal hearing in Nottingham last month, Mr Cox said he had now been left ‘unemployable’ and has twice attempted suicide. He also said he feared youngsters’ behaviour was getting ‘out of control’.

Married Mr Cox’s 13-year teaching career has been ended by the episode.
He said during the hearing: ‘It has had a huge impact on me. I can’t get another job now and our financial situation is dire, to say the least.

‘In all other public buildings you see posters saying abusive language and behaviour will not be tolerated. That is not the case at Bemrose. Senior management at Bemrose don’t support staff in general at all.’

Today, Mrs Ward said every teacher employed at her school was trained in techniques aimed at defusing situations of conflict. She said: ‘Mr Cox had every right to feel aggrieved by having milkshake thrown at him but, instead of putting this training into action, defusing the situation and reporting the incident, CCTV footage shows he adopted a confrontational approach prior to the incident and allowed his anger to govern his actions.

‘We are determined to uphold the highest standards of behaviour and in no way condone the pupil’s behaviour towards teaching staff. ‘The pupil involved was excluded for four days and a clear message was sent to other children at the school that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.’

The commotion occurred last March in the school canteen when some boys were ‘acting up’ in front of another teacher. Mr Cox told one of them, a year 11 pupil, to sit down, at which point the teenager launched into a tirade of verbal abuse and then threw his banana milkshake over him.

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