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Victims of boarding school abuse are still living with consequences

PUBLISHED: 08:07 10 September 2018 | UPDATED: 08:21 10 September 2018

The principal and owner of St George's School John Sinclair denied former headmaster Derek Slade, pictured, was a tyrant. Photo: Archant

The principal and owner of St George's School John Sinclair denied former headmaster Derek Slade, pictured, was a tyrant. Photo: Archant

Archant

Victims said the horror of what they experienced at St George’s School in Norfolk and Suffolk still lives with them 40 years later.

Derek Slade showing his cane at St George's School in the 1980s. Photo: SubmittedDerek Slade showing his cane at St George's School in the 1980s. Photo: Submitted

Derek Slade’s downfall began with a nightmare.

One of the boys he had abused almost 30 years earlier, Mike Parker woke up in the night screaming. Then a 38-year-old man, he had also wet himself.

Mr Parker got up and started writing down what happened to him at the former boarding school in Great Finborough, he told a BBC documentary in 2011.

He contacted other ex-pupils on Facebook and took testimonies to police.

Alan Brigden, former teacher at St George's, was jailed in 2012 for five years. Photo: Suffolk ConstabularyAlan Brigden, former teacher at St George's, was jailed in 2012 for five years. Photo: Suffolk Constabulary

On the strength of that evidence, police arrested Slade in 2010 at his home in Burton-on-Trent.

They found 4,500 obscene photos of children, as well as essays St George’s boys had written 30 years earlier about the beatings.

But to get their abusers behind bars and to earn compensation from the company behind the school, the former pupils had to dredge up things they had long wanted to forget.

Charlie Wright, a policeman from Leicestershire, was one of 36 ex-pupils who lodged claims against Anglemoss Ltd, the firm which ran and owned the school until 2011.

“For years I put it to the back of my mind,” he said.

But for the compensation claim, which has now finally been settled, the 54-year-old had to see a psychiatrist in London to go over a past he had long buried.

“On the first night at St George’s Slade caught us smoking and beat us in his bedroom one by one over a chair, naked from our waists down,” he said. “I thought ‘what is going on?’ I was beaten in the first term 33 times.

“We were bent naked over the back of a chair and we had to say ‘thank you’ to Slade and then write about it afterwards.

Gerard Singer, former teacher at St George's School, was jailed in 2016 for 21 years. Photo: Suffolk PoliceGerard Singer, former teacher at St George's School, was jailed in 2016 for 21 years. Photo: Suffolk Police

“Going back, reading now in my 50s about what happened to me at 13 and 14 I thought ‘how did that happen’?”

Until the legal case he had only told his wife he had been at boarding school and it was very strict. In divorcing from him last year she listed his anger issues down to his school days as one of the reasons for separation.

In April this year former pupil Darren Wright took his own life aged 50 at his hair salon in Attleborough.

The inquest in Norwich last month heard he had never got over the “relentless” abuse he suffered at St George’s.

He had fought drug and alcohol addiction since his early 20s, which his partner said was down to sexual and physical abuse while a pupil.

Simon Wilshire, 53, from Bristol, was one of the first pupils at the school.

“Slade beat us every day as we were the first kids there,” he said. “We were whipped on our naked bottoms and then we were told to show off these marks to the rest of the school.”

He was expelled after just two terms for running through the school grounds at night, but said his life had been deeply affected.It led to a breakdown in his relationship with his parents who were serving at RAF Waddington.

“The amount of people after it all happened who said, ‘you never told us’.

“I told people exactly what happened but they were not hearing it,” Mr Wilshire said.

“For me it was a breakdown in communication with my family. I could tell them the reality but they didn’t believe it.

“You learn not to tell them the truth as a child and instead tell them the reality they want to hear, so you basically live a lie.”

Abuse at St George’s was first exposed in 1982 in a BBC Radio 4 show by journalist Roger Cook. Slade left the school after the exposé, but four years later he was convicted of beating two boys at his new school in Sussex.

Mr Cook then exposed in 2011 how Slade managed to get new jobs at schools in Swaziland and India with the help of a reference from his old school friend Derek Sawyer – a leading Labour politician in Islington at the time. He also used the identity of a dead child to change his name.

In his trial at Ipswich Crown Court in 2010, one of the ex-pupils described Slade’s assaults as “reigns of terror”.

John Sinclair, 71, the school’s founder and former principal, gave evidence in Slade’s trial where he denied the former headteacher was a “tyrant”.

He described him as someone who “didn’t suffer fools gladly”. He also denied staff were too frightened to talk to Slade and would turn a blind eye.

But one pupil said after the conviction: “Derek Slade created a culture of fear and suffering where casual violence and institutionalised brutality was enforced, tolerated and later accepted by everyone, pupils and staff alike.”

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