Jewish school investigated by police after pupil’s suicide following ‘brutal bullying’

Police are investigating the circumstances behind the tragic death of a 14-year-old girl who took her own life after claims she had been subjected to bullying at the UK’s most prominent Jewish school.

Year 10 pupil Mia Janin, 14, who died in March, became the third student in four years to have taken their own life whilst studying at JFS in Kenton, north west London, the biggest Jewish school in Europe.

At the time of her death, the school issued a statement stressing the dangers posed by social media platforms, with Rachel Fink, the headmistress at the time, saying the issue was “not a problem particular to JFS”.

But it is now understood that Metropolitan Police officers are investigating Mia’s death, following claims made by the family that she had been bullied by other pupils at the school for some time.

Officers have asked to view school records on the mental health of Mia, with her family alleging they had long raised concerns about the way the child was being treated.

Police arrived at the school, which has more than 2,000 pupils, to continue their probe last week. It is understood they spoke to staff and analysed CCTV footage. A source close to the school said it was “fully co-operating” with the ongoing inquiry.

JFS chiefs are believed to have stressed that her death came at a time when children were not at school due to the coronavirus lockdown and that teachers were unable to properly gauge the mental health of the teenager.

School accountability questions raised

The case has raised questions over the extent to which schools can be held accountable for bullying that sometimes takes place on social media, outside of school hours.

Last month, the former chief inspector of Ofsted was brought in as interim head teacher to manage JFS after its previous leader quit in May.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was Ofsted chief from 2012 until 2016, became the fourth head at JFS in the past five years.

An Ofsted inspection of JFS – carried out between 30 April and 5 May and published last month – spelt out government officials’ verdict on the school safeguarding under Ms Fink’s leadership.

The report’s first sentence stated: “Leaders do not ensure all pupils are safe from harm” and outlined “deep-rooted and widespread failings in the school’s safeguarding culture”.

It added: “Leaders do not always inform the appropriate authorities of matters that may have safeguarding implications.”

It continued: “Safeguarding arrangements are disjointed. Leaders have not recognised the link between behaviour and safeguarding. Leaders should be alert to the risk of pupils’ inappropriate behaviour escalating to harmful behaviour.”

It is understood that Sir Michael was specifically brought in to address the safeguarding concerns raised in the report, although it rated the teaching very highly.

A source close to JFS said the school was ‘fully co-operating’ with the ongoing police inquiry

Credit: Archimage/Alamy Stock Photo

After Mia’s death, hundreds signed a petition started by a girl in her year calling on JFS to “prioritise” mental health. The pupil claimed Mia had been “brutally bullied for a long time”.

A JustGiving page set up in memory of Mia, describing her as a “bright soul who touched the hearts of many in her life”, has raised nearly £5,000 for Grief Encounter, a charity which provides counselling for young people who have lost a loved one.

It is normal for police to be called in to investigate when a child has not died of natural causes.

Officers also have a statutory duty to ensure that children are adequately safeguarded from harm under the Children’s Act 1989. Section 46 allows them to remove children or prevent them from being exposed to dangerous environments.

Richard Boulton, chief operating officer at JFS, has previously said: “JFS is painfully and sadly aware of the recent history relating to the tragic deaths of three of its students. However, there is nothing to suggest they are linked in any way.”

Inquests into the first two deaths found no fault with the school.

A spokesman for JFS declined to comment further.

Numbers to call

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “Police are liaising with a school in Brent following the death of one of its pupils. The girl, aged 14, was found deceased at home on Friday, 12 March. The death is being treated as non-suspicious. The Met is assisting with the coroner’s investigation and inquest process.”

You can contact Samaritans by phone on 116 123.

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