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Teachers Slander Action

Weekly Mail 9th August 1902


On Wednesday at the Nisi Prius Court of the Glamorganshire Assizes (before Mr. Justice Jelf) an action in which £100 damages was claimed for alleged slander was brought by Ernest James Howes, certificated teacher, and headmaster of the National Schools, Llan gunllo, against a labourer and his wife, named James and Fanny Ruff. Mr. S. T. Evans, K.C., M.P., and Mr. Llewellyn Williams (in- instructed by Messrs. Powell and Nairne, of London) were for the plaintiff, whilst Mr. Clem. Edwards (instructed by Messrs. Green and Nixon, of Knighton) appeared for the defendant. Mr. Evans, in opening the case, said that the plaintiff had been the headmaster of the Llangunllo National Church Schools since October 1901. It appeared that the parents thought he was rather too fond of corporal punishment, and, as the result of a complaint to the managers of the school, an inquiry was held by a Government inspector. The result of that inquiry was that the children, with the exception of four, who had been withdrawn from the school, were allowed to return. The serious part of the case was that after the inquiry was held, and when there was no longer a question of whether the children were punished seriously or not, the mother of one of the little children who attended the school made an accusation against the schoolmaster that he taught the little children “vulgar poetry,” and a more serious allegation against an elementary schoolmaster having the training of young children could not be made.

Mrs. Ruff said this to the vicar of the village, and said that on this account the plain-tiff was not a fit person” to teach —he need such bad language,” and “he teaches the children” vulgar poetry. The vicar told this to the plaintiff, and the latter felt he was bound to vindicate his position. This allegation was made to a Miss Kinsey. and there could be no question of privilege in that case. In speaking to counsel for defence, the learned Judge said, “It is a scandalous charge,” and if the plaintiff had taught children vulgar poetry he ought to be scouted out of the place. Mr. Edwards said their contention was that the plaintiff was unfit to teach because of the alleged cruelty. Mr. Evans pointed out that the defendants did not then say the plaintiff was unfit because he taught vulgar poetry. The Rev. John Evans, vicar of Llangunllo, Radnorshire, and corresponding manager of the local national school, gave evidence as to the alleged slanderous statement made by the female defendant.

At the inquiry the female defendant (he alleged) said the plaintiff was not a fit master. Mr. Edwards, after cross-examining the witness at some length, said that if they showed that the plaintiff was unfit to be a schoolmaster because of cruel conduct, it was a comparatively trivial matter as to whether the words alleged to be used were used or not. The learned Judge did not agree. He thought the jury were sure to take the view that if the words uttered were true plaintiff ought to be scouted from society. Julia Kinsey, a servant, also gave evidence to the effect that a similar statement was made to her by the female defendant as to the vicar. Plaintiff was called into the witness-box, and emphatically denied the allegation that he had taught the children vulgar poetry. Cross-examined by Mr. Edwards, witness denied that one month after his appointment he accused the children of wrong behavior.

Mr. Justice Jelf pointed out that counsel for the defence was putting fresh nails into the coffin of the defence of privilege by going on such “a tack.” For the defence, the female defendant, whilst admitting that she made a statement regarding the schoolmaster (which she did not now believe to be true), denied having made a similar statement to the witness Kinsey. “I am perfectly sure I never said anything about ‘vulgar.’

Cross-examined by Mr. Evans, she admitted saying to the witness Kinsey two of the words objected to. The learned Judge suggested that the female defendant should withdraw the statement, express regret, and pay the costs of the action. Mr. Edwards said his clients would not accept his lordship’s suggestion. Mr. Evans, for the plaintiff, said there was evidence of malice in the fact that the defendants had refused to accept his lordship’s suggestions that we allegation should be withdrawn and regrets expressed. The learned Judge pointed out to the jury that the question of corporal punishment sunk into absolute insignificance by the allegation that the schoolmaster taught the children bad language and placed filthy ideas in their heads. That was not proved. The jury awarded the plaintiff £40 damages and costs, and judgment was given accordingly. Mr. Edwards said that they had brought some eleven witnesses down, but the learned Judge said the slander was a most serious one, and he did not think he ought to allow costs to the other side.

National Library of Wales – Newspaper Archives.