This is to notify anyone with information that there is now an ongoing Metropolitan police investigation into allegations of child abuse by former pupils at St James’ and St Vedast’s schools run by The School of Economic Science.
The investigation broadly concerns allegations during the 1970s and 1980s.
If you have information that may help then please email DC Katy Lee, of the Met’s Child Abuse Investigation Team, on Katy.firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m very grateful to N for contacting me and all the former pupils of St Vedast who have posted their own experiences on the School of Economic Science forum for raising a topic which I had been hitherto ignorant of. More information and personal testimony can be found here. Sadly, N’s testimony is by no means unique.
By N, a former pupil of St James
The School of Economic Science is a registered charity whose headquarters are now at Mandeville Place, London. You may have read one of their posters on the underground or read an advert or article in a newspaper, you may even have been leafleted by them in your own home. Like most you may not have heard of them at all. They offer courses in philosophy and economics with the promise of “making your life happier…” if you join. Originally set up in the 1930’s by Leon MacLaren (The pinstripe guru) with the support of his father Andrew MacLaren MP (they claim) to study the economist Henry George and to later hold courses in philosophy based on the Hindu, Advaita Vedante, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky with inspiration from Beatles guru the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced MacLaren to Transcendental Meditation, producing a heady philosophical cocktail unrecognisable to most graduates in philosophy. In the 1970’s they opened their doors to children to be educated in their day schools St Vedast and St James. They claim to be a spiritual organisation although accusations of being a cult have plagued them since their conception. Both my parents were members of the SES and my brother and myself attended their school, St James, from the age of four although I also attended their nursery school, my mother was an employee. I wouldn’t blame them for the breakup of my parents marriage but they certainly contributed to it such was the way of this secretive organisation that delved deep into the most private of their members affairs showing the control they have over them. You may be baffled when they needlessly obfuscate with philosophical jargon when any criticism is levelled at them and which they then pompously disregard.
St James was a uniquely different school in many ways, I had a friend at another school, Latymer, for comparison. We were taught Sanskrit from a young age and all subjects contained a sprinkling of their philosophy. Later we were introduced to meditation. Television and pop music was at one point banned. I do have some good memories although they are mostly clouded by my experience at the school of the harsh regime instilled upon us.
I myself lasted ten years from the mid seventies. Our surroundings were cold and sterile as were the teachers. Blind obedience was expected which didn’t make me popular. Questioning the word of a teacher was of course insolence, even if you happened to be correct. My first experience of being hit would have been by my form teacher, Clement Salaman, which would leave marks across the back of both legs behind the knee, often bursting a blood vessel and leaving bruising. I was lucky enough not to have had my trousers and pants torn down and spanked but I saw it regularly. Even though corporal punishment was reserved for the headmaster, Nicholas Debenham, who used a cane, I was hit with rulers, board rulers, the slipper and cricket bats amongst other things by any teacher who wished to usually according to their mood or location and what was available, I was also picked up by my hair, shouted at and humiliated, regularly. I was hit so hard on occasions I flew across the room.
Caning was common place when you reached around age eight and one person I knew had the back of his leg split open, bleeding. I remember being caned three times. The first was for the theft of two smurfs from the teachers cupboard and for lying. I received three strokes which left welts across my behind, I think I was eight. When my mother heard she asked to see and with tears in her eyes she told me it would never happen again. The second time I was caned it was for dropping a comb in class and therefore upset it. I received one stroke. The third time I was caned I received three strokes where I had done nothing at all, I managed not to cry until I got to the toilet where I locked myself in until I found my composure. Once I was sent to collect the headmasters bible for a class, I was astonished to see he had a selection of canes in his cupboard next to an army officers hat, the cane used on me was carefully reinforced with selotape. I have always been uncomfortable with this and figured he must have wanted me to see these judging by the look on his face when I returned. After the third time I was asked by a female teacher if she could see and needless to say we were all uncomfortable being viewed by the headmaster, amongst others, regularly in the showers. I was once held after school by my form teacher to do circuit training where afterwards a private viewing was achieved while I was told to wash my genitals. If you weren’t being beaten you were witnessing it or hearing about it as word spread about who had recently been caned which amounted to a climate of fear. To say the least it was a very abusive atmosphere.
The caning reached the press and there was an investigation along with the publication of the book ‘Secret Cult’ but there was ultimately no change. When I was punched my abusive father, who also once punched me, attended the school to visit the Headmaster. During a physics lesson we were made to practice singing as we had failed to impress the somewhat psychotic teacher, David Lacey, in assembly that morning. If we didn’t sing on cue we were made to do fifty squats and of course we didn’t sing on time. After two hundred and fifty squats I became dizzy which happened to me occasionally and sat down. I was then picked up by the teacher’s left hand and punched with the inside of his clenched right fist across the left side of my mouth splitting the gum inside on my tooth and then sent out until I apologised for my bad behaviour. I did not for months, which is why my father attended. I was disappointed when on the way home he told that I was to apologise and that I would end up in the gutter if I wasn’t careful which I had already been told by my teachers. I eventually summoned the courage to make the apology, although it went against every grain in my body, which I did between clenched teeth and more tears. I was then told to say that it would never happen again by the man who had a mad sadistic grin and look in his eye. My work suffered and I became, “lazy” I was often late and was regularly absent. I was always on report and finally the report card stated on the top, “Caned if absent or late”. Every teacher had to comment and sign the card which I had to present to the headmaster at the end of each week. Finally after around ten years I’d had enough although my brother managed to get through his A levels. I’d become immune to their form of discipline it was out of control, unfair and criminal. I openly confronted teachers and their accusations one of which I called a liar. My last recollection of an effort to make me conform was when the Headmaster sent me out of assembly for not singing loud enough, I had just recovered from tonsillitis. He repeatedly shouted at me to sing louder. In the end I just looked at him in a quizzical way and when I saw him afterwards red as a beetroot strutting up and down in front of me in his cloak he threatened me and said if I ever looked at him again like that he would beat me like never before. I think the look I gave him spoke for itself, I was unmoved and nor was I scared anymore. I had already decided that I wouldn’t allow this to happen again and I think he saw that. I left the school very shortly after that. I attended a local school briefly where I was found to be clinically depressed and cut myself and was referred to a psychiatric hospital for children to be an inpatient however the funding fell through.
I entered into my adult life with the beginnings of a relationship with alcohol and cannabis which rightly or wrongly made me feel better giving me the opportunity to smile. I have worked as a sound engineer and chef, once on yachts and I achieved this with no qualifications. Unfortunately mental health issues have plagued me since I left that place. I wake sometimes sweating, where the bad dream seems to continue even though I am awake and I suffer considerable depression. I have seen numerous psychiatrists whose medication is too uncomfortable to use and I am prescribed diazepam for the bad times. I only became aware that I was considered to have Bipolar Type 2 and Post Traumatic Stress disorder, and that they believed the cause was as a result of the “abuse” I suffered as a child, when I was assessed by a mental health team when I became homeless after a bout of this depression. I was asked if I was sexually abused and have always been careful to say that I was not except that we were stared at in the showers, I wasn’t touched. I managed to get myself out of the hostel I was in which was filled with unfortunate drug addicts and alcoholics and into a housing association where I lived for around seven years.
It was there that my mother once called me to apologise and that all that I had said was true and that she had read other such stories, (which are far more eloquent than I could ever be, online which confirmed my claims. “What were we doing” she said as we both cried, “Good to have you back”I told her. She told me that she had now left the SES and that there was going to be an Inquiry which fuelled a glimmer of hope but also took me back to the bad memories. My contribution to the Inquiry was a brief hand written scrawl, I found it very difficult to achieve even that and it can be difficult to express yourself under these circumstances. I was clear to say that we were beaten for the same reason that they viewed us in the showers, they enjoyed it. There has been some investigation by different departments and the Inquiry concluded that we had been treated harshly and sometimes criminally and the caning was found to be legal. The viewing of us in the showers was ignored.
The inquiry was conducted after the retirement of the headmaster under the new one David Boddy, one time PR man to Thatcher and the conservative party. We were belittled before, as I was in the press by head of their legal dept Leslie Blake, a barrister, and Boddy, and after by the SES. No resolution or practical conclusion has ever been achieved, far from it. David Boddy manipulated and used the Inquiry to promote his school and in stunning disregard for us has named a room after the man that caned and leered at us in the shower, Debenham. He has used the Inquiry as a shining example of how they produced a procedure that other schools may use when found in similar situation, but it didn’t work and the sad truth is we were beaten by a sadistic pervert that had a penchant for watching boys in the shower and under these circumstances I do not imagine that his behaviour would be found to be lawful. It certainly has never been investigated properly and I think it should. I don’t care whether they are a cult or not but they certainly behave like one.