Prison threat for truancy case dad

Parents have been warned of the importance of ensuring their children go to school as a Norwich dad was given a suspended jail term after his children repeatedly played truant.

Father-of-five John Heather, 50, who appeared at Norwich Magistrates' Court yesterday, had pleaded guilty to four charges of failing to send his children to school.

Roger Fox, prosecuting, told the court that Heather, of George Pope Road, had 21 similar convictions going back over 10 years.

He said Heather had four children of compulsory school age: a daughter who goes to Catton Grove Middle School, a son who has just moved from Catton Grove Middle to Sewell Park College and two daughters who go to Sewell Park College.

He told the court that, during part of the last academic year, the youngest daughter had a 56.1pc attendance rate, the son had a 68.3pc attendance rate and the two elder daughters had a 51.2pc attendance rate.

But he said this academic year all four children had made a superb start to the year, with 100pc attendance.

At an earlier hearing, Alistair Taunton, defending, had said Heather was on his own with the children and he found it difficult to look after them and ensure they were at school every day.

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Mr Taunton had said that, at times, it was fair to say the relationship between Heather and the school had broken down.

Caroline Money, chairman of the bench, told Heather yesterday that the four charges were aggravated by the fact that Heather had committed a number of similar offences in the past decade.

Heather was given a four-week jail term suspended for six months and he was ordered to do 80 hours of unpaid work for each of the charges to run concurrently over six months. He was also given a nine-month parenting order and told he must keep all of his appointments with his children's schools and children's services.

After the case, Mr Fox, court officer for children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: 'I think it is a very fair sentence.

'What the magistrates were clear about was that there needed to be a punishment aspect because of the offences and the 21 previous convictions, but they also wanted something which would offer support to Mr Heather to try to prevent further offences and ensure the children carry on with their good attendance this academic year.'

He said the county council had been focusing sharply on school attendance and urged parents of children who failed to go to school regularly to work with the authorities to improve their youngsters' attendance.

And Mr Fox said the priority was to tackle attendance problems early before they escalated; court action was always a last resort.