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'Misadventure' verdict over death of Taunton schoolgirl
4:42pm Wednesday 20th June 2012 in News
THE head master of a school girl who was found hanged has denied she was bullied by her peers.
The body of Fiona Geraghty, 14, was found by her father at home in the village of Nailsbourne, north of the town, on July 14 last year.
Speaking today, on the second day of the inquest, Richard Biggs said he had been unaware of bullying claims until he saw press coverage of Fiona's death yesterday.
Giving evidence at Taunton's Old Municipal Buildings, he said: “She was a strong character. My understanding of the incidents was that they were more a clash of personalities and disagreements, not uncommon in girls of that age.”
Dr Elspeth Geraghty said: “The transfer didn't go as smoothly as hoped as there were issues with the girls in the peer group, particularly one other girl.
“She started vomiting after taunts from other girls about her size.”
But Mr Biggs said he was unaware of any taunting and her peers had categorically denied it.
He said: “I have a school of distraught pupils at the moment, in particular those in Fiona's year group who feel the way they've been characterised is unfair.”
Mr Biggs admitted the school should have flagged up an essay Fiona wrote about dealing with weight issues.
He said: “With hindsight, of course I wish they'd [staff] brought it to my attention but I understand their reasoning.”
He said staff were unaware Fiona had been discharged from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service)- he said the deputy head did not recall Dr E Geraghty telling them -and believed it had been inspired by her own experience and the popular film Black Swan.
Summing up, West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose said the college had acted properly, adding that taunting was commonplace in every school.
He said the “experienced” and “conscientious” mental health nurse Ross Gillanders from CAMHS had failed to spot that Fiona was more troubled than at first thought. He said: “If any good comes of a tragic matter it's an increased awareness of mental health.”
Alison Chisholm, a manager at the Mental Health Trust in Somerset, said there had been a significant increase in the number of children suffering from eating disorders in the county, reflecting a national trend, and they had made changes to the service following Fiona's death.
Mr Rose recorded a verdict of death by misadventure with the medical cause being asphyxia.
He said he could not be sure whether Fiona had intended to take her own life or her actions had been a cry for help.
After the verdict, King's College issued this statement: "Fiona Geraghty was a 3rd form pupil at King’s College Taunton before her death in July 2011 during the summer holidays."
King’s College Headmaster, Richard Biggs, said: “Our thoughts are very much with the Geraghty family at this difficult time. Fiona was a charming, talented and lively girl who lit up our school and she is deeply missed by her many friends here.
"I welcome the Coroner’s statement that there was no evidence of bullying at our school.
"This is a school that takes its responsibilities for pastoral care very seriously.
"In the most recent Independent Schools Inspection Report (ISI) our arrangements for pastoral care was categorised as “excellent”.”
"We work assiduously to create a caring and supportive environment for all our pupils and this tragedy only makes us more determined to do so.
"The ISI inspection report on King’s College pointed to 'a strong sense of community; pupils feel they are well known and supported by their teachers.'
"It added 'relationships among the pupils and staff are excellent.'
"The ISI report also praised the School’s approach to bullying.
"It said: 'Robust systems are in place to prevent bullying and to ensure that pupils are safe. Any incident of unacceptable behaviour are dealt with quickly and constructively.'
Mr Biggs added: “We are never complacent about the care we take to support our pupils.
"We strive to excel in the pastoral care provided at King’s and are continually developing and improving our crucial support systems.”