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School 'failed to stop bullies'

AT ODDS: Justine Kelly, the mother of Alex Wildman, and Pastor Gary Dronfield outside the Ballina Courthouse yesterday.
AT ODDS: Justine Kelly, the mother of Alex Wildman, and Pastor Gary Dronfield outside the Ballina Courthouse yesterday. Jacklyn Wagner

ALEX WILDMAN'S school principal and deputy admitted days after the bullied teenager committed suicide he might still be alive if the school had handled his case differently, his mother said yesterday.

On the emotional second day of an inquest into the 14-year-old's death and the circumstances leading to the fateful night in July 2008, Justine Kelly said Kadina High School's then principal Stephen Lowndes and deputy Bradd Farrell had visited her home in Goonellabah.

“They came in the afternoon and we were speaking out the back,” she told the inquest.

“I said to them, had they handled things differently would Alex still be alive? They agreed.”

Mrs Kelly also said Mr Farrell had earlier discouraged her, against her instincts, from reporting a punching assault on her son on school grounds less than two days before Alex took his own life.

“He said to us if you contact the police the matter will escalate, which left us feeling as though we had to look for alternative solutions,” she said.

Mr Farrell had also rejected the idea of mediation between the students, their parents and the school, Mrs Kelly told the inquest.

She detailed two incidents - one where Alex was shoulder-charged and another in which he was punched in the nose and threatened - that occurred outside school grounds in the weeks before he died.

The court yesterday saw footage, taken from Alex's mobile phone, of violent punches being thrown by one young person at another's head in what appears to be school grounds.

Although the people in the video have not been officially identified, Mrs Kelly said she had viewed the footage closely and believed the victim - who did not retaliate - was her son and that the incident was filmed less than two days before he died.

She said she had informed Kadina High when she enrolled Alex at the beginning of 2008 that he had experienced bullying at other schools in Sydney, including an incident at Ingleburn High School where a knife was held to his stomach, and that a gang of some 50 students was 'after him'.

“I gave him (deputy principal Bradd Farrell) a rundown of Alex's history at Ingleburn and what had taken place there - the bullying that had taken place there,” she told the inquest at Ballina.

The school has told police Alex did not 'come under notice' until the day of the assault prior to his suicide.

Mrs Kelly wept as she described her son as a loving, caring boy who did not want to worry his mum.

A former Kadina High student, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he had taken Alex to school authorities for advice and support after his friend confided in him he was being bullied.

But under cross examination the student could not recall precisely when he had done this and with whom he spoke.

Another former student told the inquest she had left Kadina High a month after starting there because she was being bullied.

But the education department, whose legal counsel has yet to cross-examine Mrs Kelly, has thrown the mental health of Alex's family into question.

“There's either a bullying problem that follows Alex … through a range of high schools, but as another alternative perhaps there's hypersensitivity within the family that they label as bullying,” Donna Ward said.

Ms Ward raised Alex's stepfather, Bill Kelly's nervous breakdown and his mother's anti-depressant medication during yesterday's proceedings.

The inquest, before Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson, continues today.

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'Bullies killed my son': inquest hears


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