Former teacher at Suffolk school who preyed on boys is jailed for 14 years

John McKno

John McKno - Credit: Archant

A 70-year-old teacher at a former Suffolk school who carried out a 'sustained campaign of sexual abuse' against five boys has been jailed for 14 years.

John McKno 'manipulated and exploited' the boys for his own sexual gratification' at three schools, including the former Kesgrave Hall School near Ipswich, a court has heard.

During yesterday's sentencing hearing at Ipswich Crown Court, there were emotional scenes as three of the victims, who are now in their 40s and 50s, read out statements describing the effect the abuse had on their lives.

At times one of the men spoke directly to McKno, who attended court in a wheelchair, while reading his statement and was applauded by the other victims when he pointed his finger at him and said: 'I hope you die in jail.'

McKno, of Alby Hill, near Aylsham, pleaded guilty earlier this year to nine charges dating back to 1975 and sentence was adjourned until yesterday for a pre-sentence report and medical reports. The offences spanned a period of 14 years and related to five boys aged 12 to 15 who were pupils at the former Kesgrave Hall School in Suffolk, the former Beam College in Great Torrington, Devon and St Michael's College in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire.

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McKno admitted four offences of indecent assault on a male under 16, two offences of gross indecency with a child and three other serious sexual offences.

Jailing McKno for 14 years, Judge David Goodin said his victims had 'lived under the shadow of the terrible consequences of his abuse' for between 30 and 40 years.

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He said McKno, who taught English and was remembered by his victims as being an opera lover, had betrayed the trust imposed in him as a teacher for his 'own ghastly gratification'.

'You were popular and well-liked, qualities that made it all the more easy to exploit your trusted position', said the judge.

He said McKno had groomed the boys with 'honeyed words, tobacco and hard cash' to enable him to do what he wanted to them.

Andrew McGee, prosecuting, described what McKno did to the boys as a 'sustained campaign of sexual abuse directed at young boys in his care'.

He accused McKno of manipulating and exploiting the boys for his own sexual gratification.

Mr McGee said when McKno was arrested he described the allegations as 'drivel, nonsense and total rubbish'.

The court heard that Kesgrave Hall School was an all-male boarding school for maladjusted boys and boys of above average intelligence who didn't fit into mainstream schools.

William Carter, for McKno, said there was no suggestion McKno had committed similar offences in the intervening years and said that after leaving Kesgrave Hall he hadn't worked in education again.

He said McKno had saved the victims of the offences from giving evidence by pleading guilty.

Mr Carter said his client would probably spend his time in prison in the hospital wing because of his poor state of health and asked the court to pass a sentence that would 'allow him a short time before his death at liberty'.

It was left to pupils to take action

Former EDP journalist Adam Aiken, who was a pupil of John McKno, says the teacher was shielded by the culture of the time

I remember John McKno as clear as day, even though I haven't seen him for more than three decades. He was the first teacher I spoke to when I arrived in 1982 at my new boarding school – a choir school in Worcestershire 130 miles away from my home in Lincolnshire.

More than 30 years after I last saw him in the flesh, his face jumped out at me when I read a newspaper report about his court case. I knew it was him even before I saw his name. And I realised that what he'd done all those years ago had affected me, even though I wasn't one of his victims and I hadn't been certain until now exactly what he had been up to. Given how it's made me feel, goodness knows how it's been for his victims.

I was seven when I arrived at St Michael's College, Tenbury – an age when we regard all adults, especially those in positions of trust, as our protectors.

By the time I left the school in 1985, that innocence had been eroded. Chatter among the pupils about McKno's strange behaviour had been rife. We all knew he had his favourites and that some boys were invited to his staff accommodation, although we weren't sure why.

If we, as children, could see a pattern to his behaviour, why couldn't his colleagues? If they could, why was nothing done about it? As it was, it was left to the pupils to take matters into their own hands. Along with one of the live-in dinner ladies, I remember a group of boys getting together one night, after bedtime, and going to the headmaster with their concerns.

I wasn't part of that group so I don't know what was said. But the next day, McKno was seen leaving his accommodation and getting into a taxi, carrying a black bin bag.

That was it. Things went on as normal. It was just 'one of those things'. Only now has the truth come out.

In those days, people talked in euphemisms. You never heard the word 'paedophile'. Instead, the likes of McKno were 'a bit odd' or 'dirty old men'. And it all contributed to the culture that led to a school such as mine dispatching him in a taxi so he could continue his evil ways elsewhere rather than calling the police.

Some people think the past should be left in the past. Others think that anyone who makes these allegations today is jumping on the bandwagon or is in it for the money. I've heard that view expressed by some otherwise intelligent people.

But what would I have done if I'd been a victim? Would I have reported it at the time? As I grew older, would I have addressed what had happened or tried to bury it? I just don't know.

Those whose worlds have never been turned upside down by monsters such as McKno don't know how fortunate they have been.

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