Caldicott Preparatory School, Farnham Royal, Bucks
Child Sex Abuse
On 30 September 2008 the school was the subject of a feature documentary, Chosen, transmitted on More4 as part of the “True Stories” strand, about the sexual abuse that went on at the school during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The headmaster Peter Wright was active in this, as well as a number of other teachers, targeting boys good at sports and, to a lesser extent, in the choir. In The Guardian published on the same day, a former parent alleged that Lord Justice Scott Baker former Chairman of the Board of Governors, and Simon Doggart the current headmaster, mishandled a case of alleged sexual abuse of their son by a teacher in the early 2000s.
Martin Carson was dismissed for sexual abuse of a pupil in 1972, and went on to teach at the Harrodian School. He was subsequently prosecuted and found guilty of indecent assault and possessing indecent images of children in 2003.
On 4 December 2011, Peter Wright and Hugh Henry, another teacher, were charged with child sex offences alleged to have taken place between 1959 and 1970. For Henry, the charges cover his period at Gayhurst School as well as at Caldicott. They appeared in court in Aylesbury on 21 December 2011.The police are still wanting other witnesses to come forward to help with their enquiries.This is the second time that Peter Wright has been charged for child abuse offences; the first time (in 2003) in a pre-trial abuse of process plea at bar, the judge awarded a stay of proceedings predicated upon the passage of time since the offences were allegedly committed. No stayed criminal case has ever returned to court.
40 years on ex-pupils accuse the head. But a judge says it’s too late
12:01AM GMT 15 Nov 2003
He has ruled that the alleged acts happened so long ago that the accused would not be able to defend himself.
The judgment has been greeted with dismay by the five. They say that because the shame of being abused commonly makes victims reluctant to confront their past until many years later, the ruling is effectively an “abuser’s charter”.
The defendant in the case, which will not now be heard, is Peter Wright, 73, who was head of Caldicott Prep School in Farnham Royal, Bucks, from 1968 until he retired in 1993. Previously a pupil there, he returned as a teacher in 1952 and has lived since his retirement almost directly opposite the school gates.
Caldicott, founded in 1904, has 250 boys aged seven to 13. Most go on to schools such as Eton, Harrow and Marlborough.
According to the judgment delivered at Aylesbury Crown Court on Sept 26, Wright faced 13 counts of indecent assault and three counts of gross indecency with a child. “The offences are said to have been committed between August 1964 and May 1970,” Judge Connor said.
“The allegations are that whilst the defendant was a master and latterly headmaster at a boarding preparatory school, he indecently assaulted five boy pupils at the school and, in addition, in the case of some of them, that he incited them to commit an act of gross indecency with him.
“There are similarities between some of the complaints – a number of the complainants say that they were indecently assaulted when they took early morning tea to the defendant in his bedroom at the school.
“In respect of the other incidents, it is said that the defendant would go to the boys’ dormitory when they were asleep and invite them to his room, where they would be indecently assaulted.
“The alleged victims were aged 11 to 14 at the material time. They are now men in their late 40s or early 50s.”
Wright, described by the judge as a “retired headmaster of good character”, denied all the allegations and “asserted that he had never had any sexual interest in boys”.
The first of the five to complain was Tom Perry, 49, a marketing consultant, who was a pupil at Caldicott from 1963 to 1967. Three years ago he went to see his GP. “I was in an emotionally very brittle state and I broke down,” he says. “It was the first time I’d told anyone I’d been abused.
“You feel so guilt-ridden. You spend your entire life keeping it quiet because you’re so ashamed.”
Five months later, in April 2001, Mr Perry went to the police and filed a complaint. He and the police then tracked down other former pupils. Four alleged they had been abused by Wright. All had been captains of rugby or cricket. They filed their complaints, covering 12 counts, between October 2001 and March this year.
Wright was duly charged. He pleaded not guilty at High Wycombe magistrates’ court and was committed for trial.
His lawyers made an application to “stay the proceedings upon the basis that their continuation would amount to an abuse of process having regard to the delay”.
Judge Connor said: “It appears that the first of the complaints was made by Mr Perry” after problems with his mental health and psychiatric treatment.
Only one of the allegations had a date attributed to it, the judge said. An incident complained of by Mr Perry was said to have taken place at a hotel at which Wright and the boys stayed when they took part in a rugby seven-a-side tournament at Sherborne School in March 1967. Judge Connor said the long delay in bringing the case to court had “clearly made it significantly more difficult” for Wright to put forward his defence.
Wright’s lawyers had claimed that his capacity to remember detail was “diminished by his advancing age and the deteriorating state of his health – he suffered a heart attack six years ago”.
Also, there was “reason to believe the evidence of the complainants, or at least some, has been contaminated as a result of the manner in which the case has been investigated and the leading part played by Mr Perry”.
The judge went on: “Human memory is a frail thing. This case depends almost entirely upon the memory of individuals about events many years ago.”
He was therefore not convinced that “any useful purpose would be served” by allowing the case to go before a jury. At this point I should declare an interest. I taught at Caldicott from January to July 1963 and knew Wright.
Naturally, he must be presumed innocent of all the charges against him. But I believe there was a case to answer and – like the five claimants – regret that the judge decided a jury should not be allowed to hear it.
It is worth adding that Wright also loses, for he will never have a proper opportunity to clear his name.
Scandal of child abuse in prep schools must be addressed, says author Simon Astaire
The scandal of child abuse in the Catholic Church has been exposed, but a similar story in our boarding schools remains untold, hidden behind the cloak of self-interest, denial and deception.I remember my first night at prep school. I lay face up on my coffinlike bed, staring at the grey ceiling, my teddy draped over my shoulder.
The light went off in the dormitory. I turned over, tucked my head into my pillow and tightly closed my eyes. I took a deep gulp of air. Quite suddenly I started to cry, quietly, so the other boys could not hear. It still feels like it was yesterday.
I was in the care of strangers, men that my parents did not know but at an institution that they trusted. Yet it was a school where only the previous term a master had been dismissed for interfering with boys. The matter had been dealt with internally. No parents were told.
After my first novel, Private Privilege was published – the story of a boy struggling to fit into the public school system – I was surprised by the number of emails I received. Many wrote that they had been marked by those years and found it impossible to find a balance later in life.
One in particular struck me, from someone I knew, although not well. he wanted to meet and talk about his abuse at prep school. he had heard from a mutual friend that I had been abused at school (although I had not). We met for a coffee at a restaurant in London. he had not aged well: I hadn’t seen him for 20 years but it looked as if it had been 40.
We were talking about something mundane when, without warning, he dived into an appalling story of how he was systematically groomed and abused by a master at his prep school and had never been able to tell anyone. ‘No one?’ I asked in some disbelief, ‘not even your parents?’ he took a deep breath and his tearful eyes creased.
‘Not a soul,’ he said. I caught a glimpse of the boy I once knew looking at me, trapped inside the man he had become. I have since learnt that this silence is common. When victims are ready to talk, the parents are generally heading to their last years and they don’t want them to suffer the guilt and shame.
He never dared tell his parents that he’d been abused by a master
He spoke of how the master’s attentions had made him feel flattered and special. ‘I was his favourite,’ he said, then quickly apologised. ‘I don’t want my words to sound boastful.’ his confusion and pain were insufferable, and he admitted: ‘I felt complicit in the act. Whatever went on, I still allowed it to happen, I could have reported it but I did nothing.’ he had been just 11 years old.
‘Go to the police,’ I pleaded, but it was too late; the master had died a few years before. I was so affected that we left and I walked home forgetting my car was outside the restaurant.
A black breeze shadowed me the following week. And then by chance I caught a Bafta-winning documentary called The Chosen on TV. Four brave ex-pupils shared their story of abuse at a prep school, Caldicott. It was an extraordinary piece of work that captured the lifelong sentence that is handed down to the victims.
I knew then what I wanted to do in my next book. Mr. Coles is the story of a master who falls in love with one of his pupils, sabotaging his own career and ultimately his sanity.
As I spoke to friends, more and more stories were revealed. I found that victims are often too scared or ashamed to admit how they suffered. The private school community does not help by continuing to deny what they have been responsible for.
Why haven’t some private schools reported known paedophiles on their staff? Do such teachers seek employment there in part because they believe that, if found out, the school is unlikely to bring charges?
Why does there seem to be an embarrassed hush when the crime has been discovered? Is it because the schools have to protect their reputation and brand?
Perhaps schools conclude that it is best to say nothing and just dismiss the fiend, so allowing them to find another job in another school.
I recently asked an ex-headmaster if he knew of any abuse at his school during his time. I didn’t expect him to blithely admit to it but what shocked me was his reaction when I recounted the stories I had heard: a shake of the head as his eyes threatened to burst out of his face. ‘Boys have a vivid imagination,’ he said.
It belittles what I’m writing about to suggest this happens to everyone sent away to boarding school. Of course it does not. Parents scrape their last pennies to have children educated in this rarefied world.
It is comfortable being a member of this elite. The importance of having a public school education still helps. The system has produced our Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor and many other members of the Cabinet.
But it is our responsibility to keep asking questions. Victims are growing older, reaching the age that they may want to discuss openly their past. And for many there has been no resolution. The victims in the Catholic Church began their healing when the perpetrators were exposed and held accountable. It is time for boarding schools to take the similar journey. As someone once said: ‘Fear is what keeps secrets secret.’
Mr Coles, by Simon Astaire, is published by Quartet Books at £18.