Nursery Boss’s Relief at Being Cleared

{mosimage} A nursery owner with more than 40 years of experience has spoken of her relief after she was cleared of assaulting a toddler at the end of a 14-month ordeal. Olive Rack, 56, was falsely accused by council officials of ‘losing her temper’ and dragging the two-year-old girl across the room after the child hit a 3-month-old baby on the head with a toy brick. The nursery owner said she simply followed the example of television’s Supernanny when she disciplined the toddler on a ‘naughty chair’.

But despite the fact she was backed by the toddler’s parents, and without a previous blemish to her record, Mrs Rack was charged with common assault. She was finally cleared yesterday after magistrates heard the married mother-of-three used no physical force or violence. Outside court, Mrs Rack, who has run her Tresco Day Nursery in Kettering, Northamptonshire, for 19 years, said she was ‘pleased to finally be vindicated’. Mrs Rack added: ‘I’m obviously very, very pleased with the result. But now I just want to get back to my home – and back to my work.’

Mrs Rack was supported at court by the toddler’s mother, who told the magistrates the incident had been ‘blown out of all proportion’.

She was reported by two council officials who claimed Mrs Rack had dragged the toddler across the room, before ‘roughly’ placing her in a chair and tapping her on the forehead twice with her finger.

Their report prompted a joint police and social services inquiry – despite the fact the child’s parents didn’t complain.

They still continue to send their daughter, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, to the £130-a-week nursery, and have even increased the hours she spends their since the incident in July last year.

The two-day trial, which started earlier this month, heard how Mrs Rack had firmly led the child by the hand to a ‘naughty chair’, like the ‘naughty step’ advocated by Channel 4’s Supernanny Jo Frost.

Towcester magistrates took just 75 minutes to find Mrs Rack not guilty of assault. The nursery owner faced a maximum six month prison sentence if convicted.

The trial heard how Gillian Whall and Julie Medhurst, Northamptonshire County Council early years advisors, had been visiting the nursery to observe mealtime arrangements when the incident took place.

Mrs Whall told the magistrates the elder girl had hit the baby once with a plastic brick, prompting Mrs Rack to drag her across the room so fast her ‘feet virtually didn’t touch the floor’.

But Mrs Rack walked free after magistrates’ chairman Merrill Mayo said there was ‘no convincing evidence’ that she had poked or tapped the toddler in the forehead.

Mrs Mayo added that the level of physical intervention as ‘appropriate’. Mrs Rack told the court she had dealt with the girl using National Day Nurseries Association guidelines to prevent an injury to the baby – and would do the same again.

She said she ‘firmly’ led the girl by the hand and sat her down.

‘I sat her down and told her to think about what she had done, before moving to check the baby was ok’, Mrs Rack said.

She said the nursery did not have a specific ‘naughty chair’, but simply used the nearest one available.

Mrs Rack accused the two council officials of telling a ‘pack of lies’, and said Mrs Whall had been guilty of condoning violence by immediately stepping in to comfort the toddler after she had been disciplined.

Mrs Rack added: ‘If she knew anything about child development she would have recognised that she was having a common or garden two-year-old tantrum.

‘Gillian Whall might as well have gone up to her and given her another brick and said ‘Go on and hit her again’.’

She said Mrs Whall’s intervention had been ‘totally inappropriate and unprofessional’.

Mrs Rack accused the local authority of waging a vendetta against her since an episode in 1993 when inspectors tried to force her to sack a manager with decades of childcare experience because she did not have the right formal qualifications.

Mrs Rack went on to win a Magistrates’ Court case when she challenged the local authority. The court heard the nursery, which is registered with Ofsted and caters for up to 35 children, was covered by CCTV inside and out.

But the tapes operated on a loop and the incident was recorded over before Mrs Rack was informed of the complaint, five weeks later.

The toddler’s mother later told magistrates she used the ‘Naughty Step’ technique at home and fully supported Mrs Rack’s actions.

She said her daughter had shown no sign of distress sfter the incident.

‘I know my daughter would not set foot in the nursery again if she was scared’, she said.

Asked by defence barrister David Malone if she supported the prosecution, the mother replied: ‘Absolutely not.

‘I believe the incident has been highly exaggerated, blown out of all proportion.’

The nursery takes both privately paid children as well as some partially-funded by the local authority. It is subject to inspections by both Ofsted and the county council and Mrs Rack had never received such a complaint in the past.

Mrs Rack has continued to work at the nursery since the allegations, albeit largely in a behind the scenes capacity.

A spokesman for Channel 4 said Jo Frost would not be making any comment on the case.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said it was the Early Years Advisers’ ‘duty to raise any concerns which may arise through their visits’.