The city of Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, reversed its stance Tuesday and said bullying was behind the suicide last year of a junior high school student.
"At this point, the city is (prepared) to admit a causal link between the bullying and the suicide," an attorney of the municipal government told the Otsu District Court at the second session of the lawsuit filed by the parents of the 13-year-old victim against the city and the alleged bullies, a case that put the boy's school under the national spotlight.
"We intend to proceed with negotiations for an amicable settlement," the lawyer said.
Otsu initially argued it wasn't negligent because it could not determine if the boy, who jumped off a condominium building Oct. 11, was bullied by schoolmates. Media reports, however, alleged that the bullies made the boy "practice" killing himself, and that his homeroom teacher was aware of the abuse but took no action.
Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi reversed his stance and admitted bullying caused the suicide, after a school survey revealed that several students had reported that the bullies had made the boy practice killing himself.
"I want to apologize deeply to the boy and his bereaved family," Koshi said Tuesday at City Hall.
In the court, the city asked that the next session be postponed until an investigation by an external panel of experts, to be set up soon, is completed.
The municipal government said the panel would need about four months to reach its conclusion. The court set the next session for Sept. 18 after the plaintiffs objected.
A senior education ministry official in charge of trying to curb school bullying and two other officials, who were dispatched to Otsu on July 10 at the mayor's request, will assist the city in selecting members of the investigative panel.
"We apologize for the trouble we've caused to the victim's family and to the victim himself, who had to choose death as he stood on the brink of despair because probes by the school and the municipal board of education (into the bullying) were insufficient," a lawyer representing the city said after Tuesday's court session.
In a comment issued later through a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, the boy's 47-year-old father said: "There are a lot of students seeking help as we speak. I want (teachers) to detect signs of bullying."
In the suit, which was filed in February, the victim's parents argued that teachers failed to properly respond despite knowing their son was being bullied. The couple are seeking about ¥77 million in damages from the city and the alleged bullies.
The incident grabbed national attention after reports alleged the boy was forced to go through the motions of killing himself.
Last week, police took the rare move of searching both the school and the Otsu board of education.
They also plan to interview hundreds of students and parents during the summer break before deciding, possibly by the end of August, whether to build a criminal case, according to investigative sources.