1) Pretend you’re too sick to stand trial
2) Find yourself a gullible judge who’ll go along with it.
A former headmaster accused of sexually abusing five boys at an independent school enjoyed a remarkable return to health within months of a judge ruling that he was too ill to stand trial.
Alleged victims of offences by Colin Cope were stunned when a court ruled in 2009, when he was 78, that he could not receive a fair trial because physical and mental health problems meant that he did not know “what was going on” and would be unable to defend himself.
Eight months later, covertly filmed video footage obtained by The Times shows him telling jokes and reciting poetry while giving a public talk at his local church. He is also seen driving his car, carrying a table and climbing steep stairs while giving paying visitors a guided tour of his 18th-century National Trust home.
The boarding school where Mr Cope taught for 14 years subsequently paid £129,000 to settle a civil action by the five former pupils, now in their fifties. Three, waiving their right to anonymity, voiced outrage that no jury was allowed to hear evidence of the sexual crimes they claim to have suffered in the early 1970s at the junior school of Tettenhall College, Wolverhampton.
Court papers reveal that police officers who first arrested Mr Cope in 2006, during a criminal inquiry that led to him being charged with 11 sexual offences against children aged from 11 to 13, were said to be “deeply concerned” about Judge Robin Onions’ decision to block the prosecution.
In addition to evidence from the five alleged victims, there were witness statements from another four ex-pupils and a former teacher at the school, each claiming to have witnessed inappropriate conduct by Mr Cope towards young boys. He denied any wrongdoing.
There was a striking contrast between Mr Cope’s apparent physical and intellectual prowess, as displayed in the April 2010 video footage, and the evidence of the desperate state of his health presented in court by defence medical experts a few months earlier.