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Judges back coroner’s decision not to call pupils at murdered teacher’s inquest

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett ruled the decision in the Ann Maguire case was ‘plainly rational’.

A coroner’s decision not to call evidence from pupils who had contact with the schoolboy killer of teacher Ann Maguire immediately before her murder was “plainly rational”, leading judges have ruled.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Lord Justice Treacy and Lord Justice Hickinbottom announced their reasons on Wednesday for their decision last year to dismiss an appeal by members of her family.

Mrs Maguire’s husband Don and children went to court before the inquest, subsequently heard late last year,  saying they were anxious “all lessons” should be learned from her tragic death.

At a hearing in London in October, which followed an earlier defeat for the family at the High Court, their lawyer told the three Court of Appeal judges they believed the inquest would not provide any “meaningful” public airing of the circumstances of her murder.

Mrs Maguire, 61, was stabbed in the back by 15-year-old Will Cornick as she taught a Spanish class at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds in April 2014.  Cornick was later sentenced to life with a minimum term of 20 years.

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Murdered teacher Ann Maguire

At the High Court the family had urged Mr Justice Holroyde to order the decision taken by assistant West Yorkshire coroner Kevin McLoughlin to be reconsidered.  But the judge dismissed their application for judicial review.

Announcing the Court of Appeal’s reasons for rejecting the family’s challenge brought after the earlier ruling,  Lord Burnett said the issue was whether it was open to the coroner “to decide not to question further, or call as witnesses at the inquest,  approximately nine fellow pupils with whom the assailant had contact that morning”.

He said Mrs Maguire’s husband and other family members “brought judicial review proceedings in which they argued that no reasonable coroner considering this tragic case,  and the scope of the inquest he had determined, could lawfully conclude that he should not call them”.

Lord Burnett said: “The background to the broad issue was that a small number of pupils were aware that William Cornick had a knife on him that morning and he had told some of them of his hatred of Mrs Maguire and desire to kill her.

“Each of the pupils was interviewed by specialist police officers in the immediate  aftermath of the murder … ”

He ruled that there was “in truth very little, if anything, to place in the balance against the potential harm to the interviewed pupils of giving evidence”.

Lord Burnett concluded: “In my judgment, the decision not to call these witnesses was plainly rational.

“The absence of further evidence from them would do nothing to imperil the statutory function of the inquest or of a full, fair and fearless investigation . . . ”

The appeal judges ruled that the High Court judge was right to conclude that it was reasonably open to the coroner not to call the interviewed pupils.

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Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett.

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