Police are investigating whether the head teacher of a prestigious private school was the victim of a bleach attack in response to the school's merger with a rival local institution.
Jim Keefe, 42, who heads the £9,000-a-year Arnold School in Blackpool required hospital treatment after his attacker threw what is believed to have been bleach at his face.
The private school's merger with King Edward VII and Queen Mary School (KEQMS), an independent co-ed in nearby Lytham St Annes has proved unpopular with parents and pupils alike. Critics of the deal said the Arnold's school trustees were "selling off" the school and would earn £25million in profit, reported the Telegraph.
But the United Church Schools Trust, an education charity which runs Arnold school, firmly denied the accusations, saying they were a "not-for-profit" charity and no individual would financially benefit from the merger.
After the merger was confirmed on Friday, Keefe answered a knock on his door the following Tuesday, while it was still dark. The currently unidentified assailant threw what police suspect was bleach at the head teacher's face and fled.
Keefe was apparently appointed as headmaster of the new merged institution without consulting head of KEQM Robert Karling but the claims were denied in a letter from school officials. Addressed to parents, the letter was intended to "tackle the spreading of rumour and untruth - either maliciously or through misunderstanding". It has also been rumoured redundancies would be made if teachers refused to support the merger.
A spokesman for the No To The Takeover campaign, who have publicly voiced opposition to the merger, has condemned the attack, saying the group was "peaceful".
"The thought of violence being used against anyone is deplorable and can never be justified. We hope that the perpetrator of this despicable act is swiftly brought to justice and that the full weight of the law is applied."
Parents of pupils at both schools raised concerns over the amalgamation, with numerous Facebook campaign groups being set up. The Charity Commission was called in to look at the objections but ruled the Arnold KEQMS school's opening in September 2012 would go ahead.
Lancashire police have issued a statement saying they "believe" the substance thrown at Keefe was bleach but they are still awaiting confirmation. They are investigating whether an angry teacher, parent or pupil was responsible for the attack.
Chief Inspector Sue Cawley said, “We can confirm we are investigating a report of an incident at around 7am this morning on Broadway in Blackpool, where a man had an unknown substance thrown in his face.
“He has received hospital treatment but fortunately has not suffered any significant injuries.
“We are still in the early stages of the investigation and are working to establish the circumstances around what led to the assault.
Keefe is now assisting police with their inquiries after being released from hospital on Tuesday. Arnold school confirmed there were "no updates" on Thursday morning.
A spokesperson for the school said: "An incident took place yesterday morning which the police are investigating. Mr Keefe is back working at home and, as you would expect, normal school life has continued both yesterday and today."
Chair of governors for Arnold School said it would "not be appropriate" for the board to comment any further.
"Please be assured that we have no reason to suspect that this was anything other than an isolated incident. I know that you will join me in sending Mr Keefe and his family our best wishes", she added.
The police have issued a plea for anyone with information which could help assist in their enquiries to phone 08451 25 35 45.
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