‘Betrayed’: Victims of boarding school abuse get tiny slice of compensation
- Credit: Archant
Ex-pupils who were beaten and sexually abused by staff at a boarding school will get only a small slice of the agreed compensation, after a seven-year legal fight ended in frustration.
Pupils at the former St George's School at Wicklewood near Wymondham, which moved to Great Finborough in Suffolk in 1980, suffered horrific beatings and sexual abuse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Headmaster Derek Slade made boys as young as eight strip naked for beatings and then forced them to write essays about the whippings.
He organised 'midnight feasts' at his home in the school grounds where he and friends sexually abused the boys, a court later heard.
Slade was jailed for 21 years in 2010 and died in prison in 2016. Two other teachers were also jailed for abuse in 2012 and 2016.
The firm behind St George's, Anglemoss Ltd, has now agreed to pay a total of £855,000 to 36 ex-pupils.
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But our investigation can today reveal that three quarters of the settlement will go towards paying the costs of the case, where liquidators charged fees of up to £600 a hour.
It leaves the 36 victims with £192,000 – just £5,000 each – which will be paid out over several years.
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Former pupil Charlie Wright said he felt 'betrayed' after the school's ownership was restructured in 2011, without putting aside enough money to pay all of the claims.
'We feel conned, let down, disrespected and what happened to us trivialised,' said former pupil Simon Wilshire.
He said he had never had an apology from St George's owners.
The school has changed its name to Finborough School and is now managed by James Sinclair, the son of the founder of St George's, John Sinclair.
Anglemoss' directors, the Sinclair family, hired solicitors in 2011 to restructure the firm's business and move its assets to two new companies which they also owned.
It then went into liquidation in 2014 as it did not have enough cash to pay the compensation claims which totalled around £1.1m.
The High Court appointed auditors Grant Thornton in 2014 to handle the liquidation and get the money for ex-pupils.
Grant Thornton found that by late 2011 Anglemoss had 'no way' of making more money and had insufficient insurance to cover the claims against it - something they said the directors were aware of 'for some months prior' to removing assets from Anglemoss.
They said the way the assets were transferred from Anglemoss to two new companies was 'inappropriate' in 'timing and/or nature' because of the 'substantial liabilities' Anglemoss had.
In some cases the school's insurance partially covered the claims. But the money Anglemoss agreed to pay individuals in 2013, including five-figure sums, never arrived.
And while Anglemoss did not pay victims agreed compensation from 2013 onwards, the new company running Finborough School built a £2.5m sports centre.
Mr Wilshire added: 'The school and Sinclairs could have done the honourable thing, it would have shown decency and true care for their ex-pupils.'
He said he believed Grant Thornton would get the money, which had been agreed with Anglemoss' solicitors in 2013, by chasing the Sinclairs' new companies.
The auditors issued claims against the new firms, which now own and run the school, as well as against Anglemoss' former directors.
But they responded disputing the claims, before finally agreeing to settle for £855,000 in May.
Both Mr Wright and Mr Wilshire said they felt let down.
To get the compensation from Anglemoss, top-earning Grant Thornton staff last year billed £43,000 for 77 hours - the equivalent of two weeks' work.
And the amount settled with Anglemoss barely covers the costs of the case, meaning the liquidators and lawyers will not be paid the full amount they billed for.
Grant Thornton will get around £250,000 out of the £370,000 they charged. Another £173,000 will go on legal costs, £64,000 on insurance and £90,000 on tax.
Grant Thornton said it settled to avoid a costly trial and had taken a 'substantial reduction' so more money could go to the ex-pupils.
A spokesman for the firm said the settlement was the 'best possible outcome' in the circumstances.
'The liquidators continue to maintain the utmost professional and ethical standards throughout this engagement as they finalise the liquidation process,' they added.
The directors of the companies at Finborough School have been contacted for comment.
•How school's assets were moved
The company behind St George's School, Anglemoss Ltd, which ex-pupils sued, transferred its assets in 2011.
Anglemoss' directors were the school's founder and former principal John Sinclair, his wife Susan, his son James and wife Louise.
James, who is the principal of Finborough School, Louise and Susan all resigned from Anglemoss in 2011, leaving John Sinclair as the sole director.
The company was owned by John and Susan.
According to Anglemoss' accounts little provision was made to pay the ex-pupils compensation, despite the directors being aware of the claims.
By 2012 Anglemoss' assets had been transferred to two new companies belonging to the Sinclairs.
The school's buildings were ultimately transferred to a firm called Forchild Limited, owned by John in 2012 and now owned by Susan Sinclair. John is an officer of the company.
The business of running the school was moved to Finborough School Ltd, owned by James and Louise.
•Timeline of case
1978: St George's School established by John Sinclair near Wymondham. Derek Slade appointed headmaster.
1980: It moves to Great Finborough near Stowmarket
1982: Abuse allegations made by pupils to journalist Roger Cook. Slade denies allegations but leaves
2009: Ex-pupils report Slade's abuse to police.
September 2010: Slade convicted, jailed for 21 years.
Late 2010: Solicitors begin acting for ex-pupils to get compensation
February 2011: Former teacher Alan Williams arrested but takes own life in June while on bail
July 2012: Former maths teacher at school Alan Brigden jailed for five years
March 2014: Court appoints auditors to liquidate company behind school
June 2015: Solicitors issue claims against school's new companies
March 2016: Slade dies at 66
September 2016: Ex-teacher Gerard Singer jailed
July 2018: Ex-pupils told liquidator has settled claims
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