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Leading article

Harassment of school principal by parent is disturbing

The fact that a parent subjected a Co Down school principal to a 14 month campaign of harassment is absolutely appalling.

Julie Thomas, head teacher at Clandeboye Primary School in Bangor, has spoken of the dreadful aggression, verbal abuse and other disturbing behaviour displayed by Gerard Knight.

The 38-year-old, a father of two, contested a charge of harassment but was convicted at Ards Magistrates' Court where he was given a four month prison sentence suspended for three years.

This man was fortunate to escape an immediate custodial term for the sustained campaign he conducted against Ms Thomas.

Not only did he harangue the principal and take pictures of her which he posted on social media along with false allegations, he also turned up outside her house.

All of this led to Ms Thomas taking security measures at her family home while colleagues at the school feared for her safety, such was the belligerence of this man.

It is profoundly disturbing that a school principal, someone who performs an important role on behalf of the public in educating and safeguarding children, should be confronted by such intolerable behaviour in the course of her job.

Unfortunately, we are seeing increasing levels of anger, threats and even violence in our society directed at people delivering vital services including hospital staff, paramedics and firefighters.

It is a serious problem which leaves staff feeling frightened, traumatised and stressed.

In Ms Thomas's case, Gerard Knight's bad behaviour was not a one-off incident but lasted over a year and involved verbal intimidation as well as using social media, which again is something we are seeing more and more of from obsessive and resentful individuals.

It is crucial that schools do their level best to protect staff and send out the message that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.

Police and the courts also have a responsibility to take a robust approach to anyone engaged in the harassment of public servants or anyone else.

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