The Times, 20th January 2014
by Andrew Norfolk
Teachers at 130 independent schools have been implicated in sex crimes against hundreds of children, an analysis by The Times reveals today. Experts warn of a looming scandal over the abuse of boys in boarding schools during the past half century.
The list features dozens of Britain’s leading public schools well as 20 elite prep schools that regularly send children to Eton College. Included are 64 mainstream private-sector establishments, most of them boarding schools, where at least one male teacher has been convicted of sexually abusing boys, and a further 30 at which a member of staff was sentenced for possessing child abuse mages.
Analysis of past crimes, scandals and police investigations at 130 schools reveals a significant surge in criminal prosecutions since 2012, often for offences that happened many years ago. Should the pattern continue, it is likely to damage schools’ reputations and finances. With annual boarding fees averaging £27,000, many are increasingly reliant on income from the 25,400 foreign pupils who occupy more than a third of boarding school beds.
Across the UK, about 6.5 per cent of schoolchildren are educated in the independent sector. Fifty of the 253 independent schools that make up the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), Britain’s private-sector elite, have been connected with child abuse.
One specialist linked the significant growth in complaints to an increasing national awareness of the lasting damage caused by such crimes. Britain’s middle classes had belatedly decided that it is “socially respectable” to discuss childhood abuse, it was claimed while the head of a victims’ campaign group suggested that traditional male “stiff upper lip” attempts to shrug aside sexual trauma were increasingly viewed as outdated.
In the past 20 years, one or more men who taught at 62 independent schools, including Haberdashers’ Aske’s, Ampleforth, Wellington College, King Edward’s School Birmingham and The Oratory School, Reading, have been convicted of sex crimes – from indecent assault to gross indecency and buggery – against 277 male pupils.
Prosecutions involving 18 of those 62 schools came to court in the past two years. Former teachers from a further four independent schools have been charged and are awaiting trial.
Eton, Marlborough, Millfield, Oundle and Tonbridge are among 30 other schools where a male teacher has been convicted of possessing child abuse images. Downside School, Somerset, features in both categories.
Another 36 private-sector schools have been linked to child abuse. They include as yet unresolved prosecutions, civil actions for damages following an alleged abuser’s death, teachers convicted of abusing boys unconnected to their school, and police investigations that led to arrests but no charges.
In this category are Harrow, Sedbergh and Durham schools, all raided in the late 1990s during a nationwide investigation into an alleged paedophile network of teachers at six leading public schools. A teacher at each school was questioned and material including photographs, videos, letters and computer equipment was seized. No one was prosecuted due to lack of evidence.
In several cases that led to convictions, it later emerged that independent schools sought to protect their reputation by covering up potential scandals, allowing teachers to move to other schools where their crimes continued.
In a few cases, schools where teachers abused boys cannot be named, even years later, because court orders prohibit their identification. They include two leading London public schools.
Keir Starmer, QC, until last year the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the list would strengthen the case for a mandatory requirement that schools to report all suspected abuse. The move is being resisted by the Government.
Mr Starmer said: “During the past 18 months we spread the message that those who report such crimes will be listened to by police and prosecutors. I sense that people today feel they will be taken more seriously.”
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said the organisation has received “many dozens” of calls from former public schoolboys “who have finally acknowledged what happened to them and want to do something about it”.
“There’s a particular vulnerability in boys’ boarding schools. Boys find it more difficult than girls to talk about their feelings. They’re brainwashed into believing that boys don’t cry. A barrier goes up but finally, in some cases 10 or 20 years after they left school, it seems to be coming down.”
Richard Scorer, a partner at Pannone Solicitors, which specialises in child abuse cases and currently represents former pupils of “at least 20” independent schools, said the Jimmy Savile scandal “has made talking about childhood abuse more socially respectable. That’s particularly true for the middle classes.”
The Independent Schools Council (ISC), whose 1,223 schools, including HMC schools, educate 80 per cent of Britain’s private-sector pupils, said the “abuse of trust by a small number of predatory individuals” in its schools was “a matter of the very deepest regret”. A spokesman said: “While these cases are largely historic, this does not in any way lessen the anguish felt by the innocent victims.”