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Man from Narborough, near King's Lynn, found guilty of abusing youngsters at school for vulnerable boys

PUBLISHED: 20:21 21 May 2015 | UPDATED: 20:21 21 May 2015

David Hennessy arrives at Maidstone Crown Court where he was found guilty of abusing boys at the now-defunct Swaylands School in Kent. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

David Hennessy arrives at Maidstone Crown Court where he was found guilty of abusing boys at the now-defunct Swaylands School in Kent. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Three men, including one from near King's Lynn, have been found guilty of historical sexual abuse at a school for vulnerable boys over a period of more than 30 years.

The former Swaylands School near Penhurst in Kent. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA WireThe former Swaylands School near Penhurst in Kent. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

David Hennessy, of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, Colwyn Baker and Nigel Putman abused youngsters at the now-defunct Swaylands School in Penshurst, Kent.

As well as the abuse committed by the trio, jurors were told that Baker encouraged other pupils to commit sex acts on other children.

The three men were residential child care officers at Swaylands School, which closed in 1994, but “exploited the pupils in their care”, a senior detective said.

Barnet Council ran the school, which initially was an institution for young people with moderate learning difficulties and later schooled boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Following a 12-week trial, Baker was found guilty of 20 counts, stretching back to 1963, Hennessy was convicted of six counts and Putman was found guilty of two counts, after the trio were originally charged with more than 45 offences, Kent Police said.

At Maidstone Crown Court, prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC told the trial that the atmosphere at the school was one “where abuse was almost the norm”.

One of Baker’s victims became so scared that he often stayed awake at night, sleeping in stairwells to avoid Baker, Mr Bennetts said.

As a result, the boy would often fall asleep in class, causing a dramatic decline in his learning. But Mr Bennetts said the boy ended up being caned by the headmaster as a punishment for dozing off.

Hennessy, 74, of Westfields, Narborough, King’s Lynn, Baker, 71, of Craighouse Avenue, Morningside, Edinburgh, and Putman, 62, of Kings Road, Slough, Berkshire, will be sentenced on May 27.

Jurors were told during that trial that Baker was convicted in 1994 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy aged under 16 and one count of gross indecency.

And it was also disclosed that Hennessy was convicted in December 1993 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy and two sex offences against a pupil.

After the case, Detective Superintendent Paul Fotheringham, of the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate, said: “As residential child care officers Baker, Hennessy and Putman were supposed to look after the boys out of class. Instead, they exploited the pupils in their care and committed horrible acts over a long period of time.

“The first victims in this case came forward in 2011. But it soon became apparent there had been others affected and officers went to great lengths to ensure no stone was left unturned.

“We reviewed old school registers and visited potential victims or witnesses in person across the UK inquiring whether they wished to assist with the investigation.

“After a great deal of work by all parties, the Crown Prosecution Service agreed to charge these three men with 48 counts of sexual abuse on 24 children, though our officers spoke to many more ex-pupils as part of our very thorough investigation.

“Officers heard how some children who tried to resist the offenders’ abuse would be beaten or refused food. At other times, classmates of uncooperative victims were denied leisure activities to make the victim unpopular and feel guilty.

“Despite the weight of this corroborative evidence the three men refused to admit to their crimes. Instead they forced their victims to appear at court and recount the abuse they had suffered all those years ago.

“We had 65 ex-pupils make allegations, and with the victims and CPS we have put forward the strongest case to the court. All the victims were involved in the process and have been kept fully up to date. This is justice for all of them and I’d personally like to thank all those who have helped bring this case to a conclusion.”

Following the conclusion of the trial, Barnet Council said it was sorry for the abuse suffered by the victims. And it said there was a “continuing need to learn lessons from the past” to keep children safe.

In a statement, the local authority said the verdicts “underline the importance of making sure that historic child abuse allegations are properly investigated and prosecutions brought, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

“Everyone at this council is truly sorry that young boys suffered in this way. Thankfully this model of a council running distant boarding schools for vulnerable children has long gone. Barnet today has two residential children’s homes, both within the borough.”

Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at Leigh Day, who is representing survivors of abuse at the school, said: “These men picked on the most vulnerable of children.

“These were emotionally damaged boys with behavioural difficulties; many of them coming from already from troubled backgrounds, or with special educational needs.

“Removed from their homes and communities in London and sent away to Swaylands where they should have received care and attention. Instead the defendants cruelly abused them.

“We must question the checks that were put in place to ensure that they were appropriate people to be trusted with the care of children and their supervision arrangements.

“This is yet another case which highlights the need for a mandatory reporting duty where child abuse or neglect is suspected; this will be an important step towards preventing future cases of abuse in regulated activities including schools like this.

“These defendants created an environment where sexual activity between children had become normalised through fear.

“The decisions of these men to plead not guilty and put those they abused through the distress of a trial should be reflected in the sentencing.”

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