Nuns in the dock after school shuts down

Roger Pearson reports on a group of parents seeking damages from the trustees of a school which closed without warning.

High Court action has been launched in London against two French nuns who are blamed by a group of parents for the closure of a u3,000 a term Gloucestershire school.

The 18 parents, represented by the Swindon-based Townsends, are all said to have had at least one child at St Clotilde's School who had started either a GCSE or an A-level course there in September 1997.

The school, which took boys and girls between the ages of three and 11 and girls up to the age of 18, closed in July 1998.

It was run by trustees, all members of a religious order known as the Congregation des Soeurs de Sainte Clothilde and was carried on as a charitable trust.

The action is against Sister Marie Agnes Coudret, who was sister superior of the community of the congregation of Lechdale, the senior representative of the congregation in England and the senior member of the trustees, and Sister Jeanne-Marie Genevrier, superieure generale of the congregation.

In their claim the parents say that in October 1996 the school's headmistress held a meeting for parents of fifth form girls.

At that meeting she encouraged them to keep their children at the school for sixth-form education.

However, the claim says that before inviting parents to the meeting and in view of the fact the school had suffered and continued to suffer financial difficulties, the headmistress had sought and received the assurance of Sister Coudret that examination courses, once started, would be completed.

It says that as late as January 1998 the school was still giving assurances to parents that, whatever happened, pupils would be able to finish their exams.

The parents claim that it was as a result of the assurances they were given that they kept their children enrolled at the school.

However, they say that in June that year the governing body and staff at the school were informed by the trustees that the school would close at the end of that term.

Now, in what is viewed as a unique legal action, the parents are seeking damages from Sister Coudret for alleged breach of contract, breach of warranty and or negligent misrepresentation.

From Sister Genevrier they are claiming for breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation or for inducing breach of contract.