Headteacher ruled with an 'iron will'

George Robson qualified as a teacher in 1963 and worked in a variety of schools before setting up his own. These included two approved schools - one for pregnant girls, where he spent a year, and another for boys, where he spent three years.

George Robson qualified as a teacher in 1963 and worked in a variety of schools before setting up his own.

These included two approved schools - one for pregnant girls, where he spent a year, and another for boys, where he spent three years.

Originally from Durham, he moved to Norfolk with his wife, Sheena, also a qualified teacher.

Married since 1962, they have three children.

During his trial he said he had been a consultant for Great Ormond Street Hospital on education matters and chairman of a professional association.

He said he also spoke at the Cambridge Institute for Education.

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He had been in Norfolk for three years when he set up his own school in September 1974, in a rented building in Watton.

It moved to a former rectory at Church Hill, Banham, in 1975, where it became the Old Rectory School.

The pupils were initially going to be girls who were “maladjusted” - the term used at the time - but Robson could not get enough women staff. Instead it became a school for boys and girls with a range of behaviours.

The children were boarders and came from education authorities around the country.

There were nine children initially but numbers grew and the school eventually had about 60.

It took children aged seven to 13, the aim being to return them to their local day school or move them on to senior schools, but in 1979 the age range went up to 16.

Robson told the court that various agencies were involved with and visited the school, from doctors and education officers, to psych-ologists and the local vicar.

About half the children lived in houses around the village and would be looked after by “house parents”.

Youngsters were involved in community life, as members of the Air Training Corps, scout or guide groups and football teams. Some acted as servers in church, others worked locally, for example at Banham Zoo.

Robson and his family lived on the premises until 1977, when they moved about half a mile away from the school.

The school grew and eventually moved to a purpose-built site at Mill Road and was renamed Banham Marshalls College.

After 16 years as headteacher, Robson retired when the college opened in 1992, but continued to be involved as a director.

Robson estimated that about 220 pupils had passed through the Old Rectory and said they tended to be behind in reading, writing and maths because their behaviour at mainstream schools had almost always interrupted their education. But at the Old Rectory some achieved CSEs.

Robson's defence witnesses ranged from local farmers who delivered produce to the school to staff members, including his secretary of 30 years, who said slippering was rare.

Others said it was a happy school and they never saw anything that concerned them, while Sheena Robson, who was a house mother, never saw her husband behaving aggressively to the children.

Robson's defence counsel, John Gibson, highlighted the difference between teaching at the time of the allegations and now. He urged the jury to take into account the “huge sea change” to gain a perspective of how things were at a time when corporal punishment was legal.

He said: “There is plenty of evidence to indicate that George Robson is a man who did well for a lot of people, a number of very difficult children.”

Mr Gibson said his client was a “broken man” and described the allegations as a “load of rubbish” and “pure fantasy”.

t BIG, LOUD AND FORCEFUL WITH ARMY BACKGROUND

David Clarke, 56, initially denied seven offences involving children in his care at Banham Marshalls College between 1995 and 2003.

But he later changed his plea to guilty on four of the counts, with the others ordered to lie on the file.

Clarke, of Mill Road, Banham, was employed as a residential child care officer at the school between 1991 and the time of an investigation by Norfolk police and social services in 2003.

As a member of the care staff, Clarke, who lived on site at the time, was responsible for the children out of normal school hours, such as evenings and weekends.

He had retired from the army after 22 years, during which time his conduct was “exemplary” and he received a commendation in relation to time spent in Northern Ireland.

But he had little or no previous experience of dealing with children with special needs.

“He was ill equipped and used heavy- handed methods to deal with the children in his care,” said Stephen Spence, for the prosecution.

The court heard that Clarke was 40 when he took up the job after reaching the rank of warrant officer second class in the army.

He was described as a forceful character and loud. Because of his size - he weighed about 20 stone - he could appear physically threatening.

“A number of the witnesses acknowledge he could be caring and at times he was fun. One witness says most of the children liked him,” said Mr Spence.

“But there were a number who found him threatening or frightening. The manner in which he treated the children seems to have stemmed from his army background.”

He was said to have had a “military air” about him and the children involved were about 10 years old.

If injuries occurred they were not serious or significant, but the children were put in fear of the defendant, the court was told.

One restraint technique Clarke used was lying on children to subdue them. One incident related to a boy, described as physically small, having his arm twisted behind his back causing him to fall to the ground and Clarke lying on top of him.

Another time, a boy described as mildly autistic and having Asperger's syndrome was misbehaving. Clarke punished him by forcing him to stand outside on a grate in freezing temperatures with bare feet and dressed only in his pyjamas.

In mitigation, Richard Potts said his client felt it was “honest and right” to change his plea to guilty having read witness statements about his conduct.

Clarke lost his job at the school and was subsequently declared bankrupt.

He was sentenced to nine months in jail for each offence, suspended for a year. Judge Paul Downes said it was the heavy-handed nature, rather than deliberately sadistic cruelty of the offences, and the positive work he had done that saved him from going straight into custody.

t FROM TEXTILE FACTORY TO SPECIAL NEEDS

When it came to running his school, George Robson turned it into a family affair.

His brother Anthony Robson, who was known as Tony Thomas, was employed as head of childcare at the Old Rectory School from 1977.

Anthony Robson told the court he had not visited the school before working there and had no related qualifications.

He was working in the north-east of England, as deputy manager in a textile factory, when his brother talked about how one day there would be a position for him at the school.

“I was not happy in my work and saw the prospect of a change in my life as quite exciting,” he told the court.

He started at the school in February 1977, when he was 33, and moved into a flat in the building with his wife and three daughters.

“We were to be family role models… ensure their wellbeing, keep them on the straight and narrow by various methods,” he said.

His main responsibility was to look after the children living in the Old Rectory and was on duty mornings and evenings.

He would also work the odd weekend and accompany pupils on outings, for example to the beach and Thetford Forest.

His own children, who went to the village school, joined in and for many years played with the pupils.

Anthony Robson and his family lived in the flat for about 10 years until his brother built them a house in the car park.

In court he denied slippering or hitting any children, saying he had no memory of a particular incident, but knew slippering was used by his brother.

His own children were allowed to join in with the games played by the pupils and he described one, which the prosecution said encouraged fighting, as “wrestling”.

Anthony Robson would lay some rope in a circle on the ground and children had to try to get part of the other person's body across the rope, which he described as “just a fun game”.

Anthony Robson said he was “gobsmacked” and “devastated” when he found out about the allegations.

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