THREE teenagers have won their appeals against permanent exclusion from Herefordshire's only Roman Catholic high school for possessing cannabis.

An independent appeals panel allowed the three - who cannot be named - a return to Year 10 at St Mary's RC High School, Lugwardine.

But head teacher Clive Lambert said that the decision would not see a change to the school's zero tolerance stance on drugs.

"I'd do exactly the same again. Given the standards at our school and what parents expect there can't be any other way," he said.

The school governors supported Mr Lambert's recommendation to permanently exclude the three after they were caught with cannabis on school grounds.

Three other pupils recommended for long-term exclusion over related matters have also returned to class, without taking their case to a panel.

Last month, the Hereford Times reported the exclusions as arising out of an inquiry involving a small number of pupils, two of whom were alleged to have purchased cannabis and brought it into school to sell or pass on.

Independent appeals panels do not make the reasons for their decisions public and are offered a degree of discretion in how they interpret any difference between possessing drugs to deal or share, said the county's director of education Dr Eddie Oram.

The three-strong panel - usually made up of a serving or recently retired head teacher, a parent unconnected with the school involved and a lay member, such as a magistrate - would also take into account each pupil's specific circumstances and potential to avoid similar problems in future, said Dr Oram.

"Re-instatement is not an exoneration. Young people make mistakes; the panels assess whether or not they should get a second chance," he said.

"In these cases the panel could not see reasons for permanent exclusion."

One of the parents of the teenagers contacted the Hereford Times to say they were 'relieved that common sense had finally prevailed'.