Child abuse inquiry hears impact of beatings in school

Former boarding school student tells how beatings ‘still disturb me’ decades later

Tes Reporter

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry hears of the impact of beatings in school

Former students of a private boarding school have recalled teachers taking “delight” in caning children and how one boy was beaten so severely that his wrist was broken.

One ex-student of Morrison’s Academy in Crieff, Perthshire, told how he was tormented by a more senior student, who threatened to brand him with a red-hot poker and stubbed out a cigarette on his bare skin.

Another, now aged in his seventies, said beatings from an “extremely violent” teacher “still disturb me” more than half a century later.

The evidence, most of which was given anonymously, came during the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, which is examining alleged abuse in Scottish boarding schools.

The experiences of former students of Morrison’s Academy, established in 1860 and a boarding school until 2007, were examined at the inquiry today.

Alasdair Liddle, who joined Morrison’s in 1950, described having his tooth knocked out after he was forced into a boxing match with another new student.

He told how he was plagued by an older student, and house captain, who “heated a poker in the stove until it was red hot then approached me menacingly until the poker was inches from my nose”.

In a statement read to the inquiry by staff, he went on: “He removed one of his slippers and took out the insole and said ‘eat that or I will brand you’.

“With this red-hot poker inches from my face, I tossed this disgusting object into my mouth.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: Teachers 'took delight in punishing children'

“He also stubbed out a cigarette on my bare leg under my kilt. I had an excruciating scar afterwards for a long time.

“My saddest memory was the total absence of help from the prefects. I assume they were terrified of the house captain, too.”

Another former student, given the pseudonym Robert, now in his seventies, said in a statement that “some teachers took delight in punishing children”, and that he had his wrists cut after being lashed with a belt.

He told how, when he was around 12 or 13, a boy in his class had his wrist broken in a caning by a French teacher, who was thereafter banned from using belts for punishment.

Robert added: “He was not allowed to use the belt after that so he had a habit of picking boys up by the hair and kicking their shins.

“He was an extremely violent teacher who used a thick Perspex ruler…the beatings I took from that man still disturb me.”

Another boy at the school in the 1950s and 1960s told how one of his housemasters was a former colonial policeman and “not the best choice for childcare”.

In a statement read to the inquiry, he went on: “In the 1950s there was a primary school teacher with a reputation for inappropriate behaviour, who would ask pupils to stay behind after class.

“One had to be smart to avoid his wandering hands. Those were the days when children telling adults was unheard of.

“Worryingly, the teacher also became a cub master. Quite suddenly, he failed to return after a Christmas holiday.

“Word got out the school had found out about his proclivities.”

He said he did not see any evidence of sexual abuse taking place.

Another former pupil, given the pseudonym Wallace, now 85, told how a girl got married aged 18 to a teacher at the school who was around two decades her senior, and who she had “become involved with when she was still at school”.

Last month, Gareth Warren, rector at Morrison’s Academy, apologised to all former pupils who suffered abuse “whether that be physical, emotional or sexual”.

He said: “I am fully aware of the damage that abuse inflicts on children and young adults and the lasting harm and debilitating effect it can have and the fear it creates on a day-to-day basis.

“As a school, we view the inquiry as important to give a voice to those who suffered abuse but also as an opportunity to learn from.

“It is very difficult and challenging to hear of our failings, and to understand the pain it caused.”

Yesterday, the inquiry heard that a teacher at Scotland’s oldest boarding school was given a job reference that did not disclose that he had been issued with a final warning for using “inappropriate language” and “touching students to a degree they did not like”.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, taught at Loretto School in Musselburgh, East Lothian, and was put on a final written warning in 2007 which said “we cannot possibly have a repeat of this behaviour”, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry heard on Wednesday.

A former senior staff member, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told the inquiry: “I felt he was someone I needed to keep an eye on.

“His teaching had been observed and we were satisfied this was someone who had made a mistake in the classroom and had learned from it.”

The hearing was told a job reference was provided for the man that did not alert any potential employers to his record of behaviour.

The senior staff member, given the pseudonym Jack, went on: “In this instance, we had a member of staff who behaved in a particular way and showed a very poor judgment…he used very inappropriate language in front of some students.”

Inquiry chair Lady Smith interjected: “And was touching them to a degree they did not like…Surely the norm should be to tell the school asking for a reference what’s on record so far as the teacher’s disciplinary record is concerned? Particularly if it involved behaviour toward children.

“If you tell the prospective employers about it, surely that puts them in a position to explore it with the candidate at interview…the interests of children must come first, not the interests of teachers.”

The former senior staff member added: “A reference mentioning his final written warning is essentially the end of his teaching career elsewhere.

“In my experience, the reality would be [that] by saying this I would be saying this person should not be working here.

“I witnessed nothing during my time when he was on staff to give me cause for concern.”

He added that references are now written on template forms, which ask about previous disciplinary issues and require them to be disclosed so that they cannot be left out.

He added: “That’s certainly the case now. I would not write a sort of general essay about a teacher. I expect it to be a form.”

Graham Hawley, the current Loretto headmaster, said the school was “right behind the inquiry’s recommendations to be as bold as possible”.

He called for an “aviation model of transparency” in schools regarding safeguarding concerns, saying that, in general, the airline industry shared information freely relating to disasters and faults.

Anyone else coming forward with allegations of abuse will be fully supported, he said.

Peter McCutcheon, chairman of the Loretto board of governors, reiterated the school’s “heartfelt and unreserved” apologies to victims of abuse.

He told the inquiry: “A failure to listen was woven throughout much of the evidence as well as a failure to look and a failure to see.

“That has had severe consequences to my regret.

“Nobody should have suffered the abuse you suffered.

“My promise to survivors is I will continue to drive safeguarding forward in the most optimal manner I can.”

The inquiry continues.

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