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Byline: Mike Hornby and Sam Lister

A MOTHER has become the first in the North West to be jailed for failing to ensure her child goes to school.

It comes as 35 parents in Liverpool face the threat of imprisonment next month for failing to stop their children from playing truant.

Single parent Karen Simmonds, of Downham Place, Blacon, Chester, was jailed under the Government's tough new anti-truancy laws. Former barmaid Simmonds, 34, was sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment, following repeated court warnings about the attendance of her nine-year-old son.

Neighbours claimed she was frightened to send the boy, who is an only child, to school because of persistent bullying. Since entering reception class,her son's attendance had varied from 50-60pc.

Last night,education chiefs welcomed the tough new line, though parenting groups have condemned the ``harsh'' sentencing tariff which splits up families.

She was also given a further week's custody for breach of the terms of a two-year con-ditional discharge imposed last September.

Simmonds had again appeared in the dock in January where she was given a three-month sentence, deferred to give her the chance to improve her son's school attendance record.

But it failed to improve and the court was told that there had been little co-operation with the authorities and that her child had spent only two full weeks in class since last September.

Magistrates said a custodial sentence was the only answer to Simmonds' continual failure to ensure her child's attendance at school.

Speaking after the hearing, Cynthia Roe, the county council's senior education welfare officer said: ``Taking parents to court is a last resort.

``But there is eventually little option if a parent con- sis tently ignores all the help, advice and warnings they are given.''

Nationally, Knowsley had the highest rate of unauthorised absence in 2001 with 3.4pc,compared with Halton 2.0pc,Liverpool 1.9pc,Cheshire 0.9pc,Sefton 0.8pcand Wirral 0.6pc.

Last night, Simmonds' stunned neighbour, Pamela Davies, said: ``Karen is a quiet person,always very polite.

``This is terrible news. They were very close and doted on each other. What is going to happen to her son now? He was always polite and well dressed, a lovely lad.''

Mrs Davies said the boy suffered from severe bullying by local youngsters.

She added: ``Karen is not a bad mum, she is a frightened mum - too scared to send her son to school and with no idea of where to turn.''

Liverpool's principal pupil attendance and education welfare officer Ron Collinson, who is leading the city's fight against truancy, last night said he expected some parents to be jailed this summer.

``It's not a step we take lightly but it is a real threat. The possibility of jail is something which concentrates the mind.''

Opinion - Page 10
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 30, 2003
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