Hertfordshire County Council pays £1500 after complaint child assaulted in taxi journey to school

The complaint and the investigation are outlined in a report that has just been published by the Ombudsman

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 10:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 10:58 am

Hertfordshire County Council has agreed to pay £1500 to a parent, who complained that her disabled child had been assaulted in a taxi on the way to school.

The child had been travelling to school in the taxi – provided as part of the county council’s home to school transport service – with two other children with disabilities, when the assault by one of the other children is said to have occurred.

And the child’s mother complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that this was as a result of the council’s failure to properly safeguard her child.

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Hertfordshire County Council pays £1500 after complaint child assaulted in taxi journey to school

In particular, she said that it was the failure of the personal assistant to sit in the back seat of the taxi that had put her child at risk.

Officials from Hertfordshire County Council had initially suggested that it did not believe it could be established ‘with absolute certainty’ that the injuries – which included a broken tooth – had occurred on the taxi journey.

But – following the investigation – the Ombudsman ruled that it was more likely than not that the injuries did occur on the way to school.

The Ombudsman’s report concludes that the county council DID put the child at risk of harm on home to school transport.

And as a result the council has agreed to pay the child’s mother £1,500.

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Meanwhile the council has also agreed to establish a means for transport providers to report incidents or accidents as part of the home to school transport provision.

The complaint and the investigation are outlined in a report that has just been published by the Ombudsman.

According to the report the incident occurred during a journey to school in September 2019.

The child’s mother had told the Ombudsman that on the day the complaint referred to, the personal assistant had reported to her that her child and another child had been ‘proper going for it’.

And she had said that on the same day the school had notified her that the child had injuries – including a broken front tooth.

She said she had been told that the school’s site manager had witnessed an ‘altercation’ between the two children in the taxi that morning – and that the school believed the injuries had occurred during this alteration.

When the child’s mum complained to the county council, says the Ombudsman’s report, she was told that as the personal assistant was not sitting in the back of the taxi, the altercation had not been witnessed.

And, it says, the council said they did “not believe it can be established with absolute certainty that these injuries occurred during the taxi journey on the morning.”

However the county council did, says the report, confirm that the taxi company had failed in its contractual obligation – which requires a personal assistant to sit in the back and any incidents or accidents during the journey to be reported.

And, it says, they said they would issue a contract warning to the taxi company.

Following the investigation the Ombudsman found that the failure of the personal assistant to sit in the back of the taxi was ‘fault’.

The report points to previous incidents reported to the child’s mother, the altercation witnessed by the school’s site manager and the photographs of the child’s injuries.

And it finds that ‘on balance’ it seems more likely than not that the injuries were sustained on the journey to school.

Had the personal assistant been sat in the back, as required, the report says this could have been prevented.

Commenting on the findings of the Ombudsman's investigation, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said working practices had been reviewed as a result.

“Hertfordshire County Council takes the Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and recognises and apologises for the upset caused to the family concerned,” said the county council spokesperson.

“Where the Ombudsman finds we have been at fault, we work hard to understand why it happened, how we can put it right and how we can prevent it happening again.

“The departments involved have reviewed their working practices as a result.”