An Australian court has awarded $100, 000 in damages to a couple who were victims of a smear campaign in a school.
The Sydney parents were traumatized to find their two children coming back from school for days on end with stories of harassment.
"MUMMY are you a thief?" the weeping six-year-old-boy asked. When questioned by his mother, he explained that a girl at school had told their scripture teacher he should not be in the class because his parents were thieves.
Then his sister broke down. "Mummy, I've spent the last three days in the girls' toilet at lunchtime because the kids teased me," she said in tears.
A year and a half later their mother cried as she recounted the story to a judge this month.
It was a most serious situation "for a dispute between adults to be used as a punitive weapon in the schoolyard", District Court judge Judith Gibson said when deciding to award the couple $100,000 in damages, Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The judge, who suppressed details of the Sydney family's identity, found that the parents, known as PK and AK, had been defamed when a father at their children's school had gossiped about them to two other parents.
They had "stolen money" and were "not trustworthy", a friend of the K family was told. "They are both snakes. P is a conman."
The man, known as BV, told another woman who used to live in the same street: "Don't trust them. Watch your back. They will take you for all you have got."
Other people heard similar tales "through the grapevine" and told the court they wondered if they were true. "It made me think ... I stopped and thought," one of them said.
The couple had lost friends and their social invitations had dried up, AK told the court.
The family had met BV and his family at school and the husbands had been in business together for about 12 years. They shared an interest in theology, the court heard.
Their children had been close, PK told the court. "My youngest daughter and his youngest daughter were best friends at school and the words that have come back from the children ... I am just shocked."
PK, a company chief executive and father of eight, was considering floating his business on the stock exchange, and was concerned about the impact on his business reputation.
While the damage may appear slight to a casual observer, the slander had had a strong impact on the couple's children, Judge Gibson found. "I cannot recall ever reading any defamation judgments referring to repetition amongst children," she said.
"It must be a very rare occurrence, and, in my view is an appropriate matter for aggravated compensatory damages."
After her children told her about the events at school, AK told them to be nice to BV's daughters because "it's a grown-up issue and it has nothing to do with [you]".