Burnley doctor’s anger over school prosecution

Dr Thangavel Pandian Chandrasekara and his wife, Dr Surya Chellia (s)
Dr Thangavel Pandian Chandrasekara and his wife, Dr Surya Chellia (s)
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A Burnley doctor who was prosecuted for keeping her child away from school when her husband became seriously ill on holiday, has spoken out about the case.

The doctor said it would have meant her seven-year-old daughter travelling home alone from India.

Instead the family chose to extend their trip and the mother was prosecuted.

Blackburn magistrates heard that the husband, also a doctor, was hospitalised with suspected tuberculosis and was not fit to travel home from the sub-continent for four weeks.

But education chiefs hit Dr Thangavel Pandian Chandrasekara and his wife, Dr Surya Chelliah with fixed penalties because their daughter had missed school.

They thought they had sorted the problem when they produced proof of the original flight booking, which would have got them back the day before school started after the Easter holiday, and evidence of the medical treatment Dr Chandrasekara received.

“We couldn’t believe it when we were summoned to court,” said Dr Chandrasekara, who works at Burnley General Hospital. “I had a meeting with the headmaster and provided him with the proof of what had happened and thought that was the end of it.”

Lancashire County Council education department eventually withdrew the charge against Dr Chandrasekara but proceeded with the case against Dr Chelliah. She pleaded guilty before Blackburn magistrates to failing to ensure Mayure Thangavel attended regularly at Casterton Primary School, Burnley. She was fined £120 with £70 costs.

Speaking after the hearing, Dr Chelliah said she accepted her daughter had not been in school and had pleaded guilty to bring the matter to an end.

“I couldn’t leave my husband seriously ill in a hospital thousands of miles away and sending our daughter home on her own was never an option. I don’t know what I was expected to do,” she said. “Mayure missed four days at school last year when my father-in-law was ill and I think that may have influenced the decision to prosecute us.”

Lorraine Lenoir, prosecuting on behalf of Lancashire County Council, said the school had received a call from Dr Chelliah to say her husband had been taken ill while they were in India and it would be two weeks before they would be back. Further e-mails from Dr Chelliah reported on her husband’s progress and said they would be further delayed.

She said after their return and the issue of a fixed penalty Dr Chandrasekara had gone into school and provided proof that the original flights would have got them home the day before school re-started and proof of his illness.

“The headmaster was satisfied with the evidence but thought arrangements could have been made for Mayure to return earlier,” said Ms Lenoir.

Nick Dearing (defending) said it was clearly not a holiday overstay.

“Medical evidence has been produced to show Dr Chandrasekara was treated in hospital and then in a nursing home,” said Mr Dearing. “Since his return he has received and is still receiving treatment at Royal Blackburn Hospital.”

He said his client accepted she could have returned home leaving her seriously ill husband in hospital in India. “She accepts culpability on the basis that she could have returned home with the child,” said Mr Dearing. “It is something she could have done but clearly not something she would have done.”

Mr Dearing said while they were in India Mayure had been enrolled in a school and on their return she had received private tuition. “Her report shows she quickly caught up and by the end of the summer term she was on target,” said Mr Dearing.