Kesgrave Hall: what do I hope to achieve?

Picture of Kesgrave Hall, a yellow Georgian mansion surrounded by fields and trees, with cars parked around it.Kesgrave: ‘It was survival of the fittest’, claims ex-pupil of abuse inquiry school - News - Ipswich Star

Last month I gave an interview to a journalist from the Ipswich Star, a local newspaper in Ipswich (which is near where my boarding school, Kesgrave Hall, was), over the phone to a journalist called Colin Adwent, who is the author of the above article. The same day, I spoke over the phone to a detective inspector from the Suffolk police force after being told by Josh Halliday of the Guardian, to whom I had spoken about my experiences there last November (this finally appeared in the paper on 14th December). The Ipswich Star piece gives more detail about what I personally experienced and witnessed, but Adwent asked me one question and my reply to that didn’t make it into the paper, which was: what do I hope to achieve by re-opening the inquiry?

One thing that will not be achieved is criminal charges against anyone; the Suffolk police DI told me that the offences I had described were common assault, which were at the lower end of criminality, could only be tried in a magistrates’ court and it had to be within six months. Some financial compensation would be welcome, but the school no longer exists, the company (Kesgrave Hall School Ltd) was wound up in 1997, and insurance company money would not mean much as it would not come from the people responsible, and it would be no skin off their nose if an insurance company they had paid premiums to years ago had to cough up some money. As for the local education authority (Croydon, in my case), this has already been tried and failed; an old pupil from another special school, Berrow Wood in Worcestershire, attempted to sue their LEAs and failed in 1999. This is wrong; there should be legislation passed such that LEAs have a responsibility to ensure the best interests of those in their care, especially those with special educational needs statements (SEN is always a local authority responsibility; it is not under the academy system).

What I want to come out of it is that lessons are learned so that things like this do not keep happening. I’m glad there are fewer schools like Kesgrave around now, and there is better inspection of those remaining. There are more specialised schools for EBD children and those with autistic spectrum disorders now, and ASDs are more readily diagnosed; it is recognised that the two groups should not mix. It was normal, until the 1970s, to send variously disabled children, including those who were deaf or blind, to boarding schools, often from age 4 right through to school leaving age. It took longer for such schools for children with problems which manifested in behavioural terms to close; a possible reason is that while you cannot blame a child for being blind, it is easier to blame them for what you regard as bad behaviour, even if it stems from a recognised disorder or disability. I want people to realise the damage these places do. As a country we simply have not been able to produce institutional care which is consistently without abuse, whatever the profile of the people receiving the care. This applies to chronically sick adults and elderly people as well as to children with special needs of whatever kind.It must be the responsibility of local schools to teach local children, unless their welfare, or those of other children, are at serious risk, and nobody with a purely educational need or disability who can live with their families should be separated from them.

I also want people to realise the value of rights, because any time people mention rights it excites groans from people who associate the concept with undeserving people trying to get money, and this has gone to such an extreme that repealing the Human Rights Act, which enshrines a set of human rights which is broader than the US Bill of Rights (although weaker in terms of guaranteeing purely political rights), has become a major demand of the British political Right. When the inquiry about abuse at Kesgrave was first opened in 1992, I heard people mutter that “it’s all this children’s rights sh**” and had earlier heard senior staff (particularly Eric Richardson) tell us we had no rights. To have no rights means people can treat you however they like, take your property and dump you like rubbish. Without rights, the majority of laws are entirely redundant. Rights, as explicitly enshrined in law, are usually claimed by those who are vulnerable, unpopular because of their status, people whose rights are inconvenient to someone else, or all three. We also commonly hear the slogan “there are no rights without responsibilities”, which is simply untrue: people often do have rights considerably in excess of their responsibilities, especially children.

The recent spate of interest in historical child abuse has mostly been the result of publicity following the revelations about Jimmy Savile, and we are in danger of focussing on personalities rather than the circumstances that allowed abuse to thrive. It thrived because people were sent away from society to live in closed communities, often in the countryside, often far from their families and friends, to get them out of the way, to save people a bit of extra stress or difficulty, and people looked the other way when they were being abused because to do something about it would have been inconvenient. I want people to know that when they moan about rights, or about integration or political correctness gone mad, they are griping about something that makes their life, or their paid job, a little bit more challenging, but which saves someone an unnecessary separation from their loved ones and their familiar surroundings, and from abuse. Unless we challenge these backsliding complainers, there will be more abuse.

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25 Responses

  1. M Risbrook says:

    One thing that will not be achieved is criminal charges against anyone; the Suffolk police DI told me that the offences I had described were common assault, which were at the lower end of criminality, could only be tried in a magistrates’ court and it had to be within six months.

    Unless there is a gap in my knowledge this is correct. This is why Riaz has investigated whether KHS had broken the law with regards to religion thereby opening the door for the headmaster and the management to be prosecuted, when in reality, the prosecution will be for persistently victimising kids.

  2. M Risbrook says:

    Here’s a question for the owner of the blog. If Mr Smith at KHS had enrolled you on an A Level computing course in Year 8 then would that have been enough to make you want to stay at the school? If you didn’t already know, there is no minimum age to take an A Level and neither do you have to have GCSEs beforehand.

    Riaz told me that one thing that Mr Smith rarely did was bribe kids with rewards or perks. He had the opportunity to bribe a kid who didn’t want to be at the school with something they might have wanted that they probably wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere.

  3. I didn’t stay because I wanted to; I stayed because my parents insisted I stayed, because they claimed there was nowhere else to go. I actually got fast-tracked on GCSEs in year 10 and got a double A in English; the school did not fast-track anyone for A-levels. When I was in year 8 (second year as it was called then - it wasn’t year 8 until I was in the fifth form) the school was an utter cess-pit of bullies - the situation then was far worse than it was at any subsequent time (Riaz only arrived in the last term of that year). Whatever the school offered, if I had been given the chance to leave any time that year, I’d have taken it like a shot. If it had been offered in year 9, it might well have changed my view of the place.

    Kesgrave did not believe in pushing the boat out for pupils, in any case. I suspect that providing A-levels early would have meant kids would not have stayed for sixth form, which would have meant less money for the school. It did not even provide some of the standard lessons particularly competently and had at least two old teachers whose knowledge was years out of date (and the indiscipline in some lessons, physics in particular, was legendary). I never heard of people doing A-levels younger than 18 at KHS; in fact, it kept kids down on a routine basis (I suspect the school survived as long as it did for that reason).

  4. Also, I doubt the school could have competently provided an IT course (or would have been bothered to - I was taking piano lessons up until I went there, and the school conveniently didn’t find me a teacher locally; nobody else had classical musical instrument lessons). The only computers it had at that time were two Amstrad PCW word processing machines (one of which was used only by the secretary), which had B&W monitors and no hard drives. We got PCs only in 1991. The school could have used the services of an adult education college, if they’d have let us, but I only heard any mention of that kind of arrangement in 1993 and that was for mainstream subjects at sixth form. The school was run in a lazy, conservative manner. Arranging outside lessons would have required effort, and out-of-box thinking, neither of which they were capable of.

  5. M Risbrook says:

    got a double A in English

    Are you telling me that you have a grade A English Literature GCSE and an official diagnosis of Asperger syndrome? If so then it could be a world first.

  6. George Carty says:

    Actually, I’m diagnosed as Aspergers anhd have a double A in English too (although I did my English GCSE in year 11). It was a surprise as I was only expecting Bs…

  7. M Risbrook says:

    How can I confirm that you have a grade A English Literature GCSE? How can I confirm that you have an official diagnosis of Asperger syndrome? How can I confirm that your name is George Carty? You could be like Bob from Brockley - neither called Bob nor from Brockley.

  8. M Risbrook says:

    I have just been informed by Riaz that the police are looking into the legality of the KHS policy on church services as part of the inquiry into child abuse allegations. Riaz has a copy of the prospectus that states “On Sundays all boys are accompanied to Church. The Roman Catholics go to their church while the remainder separate (arithmetically not demoninationally!) to support the local Anglican and Baptist Churches” but does not say anything about children who follow other religions or none at all, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have a list of the school rules which demands that the kids have to go to church on Sunday.

  9. Good on him. However, I’m not sure there ever was a rule-book as such, or that this was ever in it. It was standard practice until about 1992 when Eric Richardson changed a lot of the school’s practices because of the Children Act. He would have to prove that it was illegal even before that.

  10. I should add that the police have already told me that the abuse reported at Kesgrave is at “the lower end of criminality” and cannot be prosecuted for this long after the events. The reason is that they weren’t Actual Bodily Harm and weren’t of a serious sexual nature. Being expected to practise another religion, or a religion at all when one has none, is unlikely to be considered as serious enough to prosecute more 20 years after it happened, although it might be possible to bring a civil case, but even that would only be against the insurers, not the school itself, since that no longer exists.

  11. M Risbrook says:

    It is a separate legal issue rather than a child abuse case. As Mr Smith is still around he might have to answer for it.

  12. M Risbrook says:

    I’m interested in the outcome because if the KHS policy on church services was 100% legal then Riaz could have found a loophole in the law considering the school was state funded for kids with SEN. I personally consider it to be a very inappropriate policy for a SEN school not officially affiliated with a particular church.

  13. M Risbrook says:

    Did KHS have a board of governors? I have been discussing matters on a legal forum and other members cannot understand how a school could have existed without governors. Riaz told me that the school had a few directors who were distant figures and parents had no say or involvement with the running of the school.

  14. I never heard of it having one. All I remember were that it had directors (Davies and Kennard were the only names I remember hearing). Kennard did involve himself with some of the older boys when I first arrived and I met him once or twice; Davies was known for being fat and remote (he lived at a place called Stradbrooke), for having an expensive car, and for making only infrequent visits.

  15. M Risbrook says:

    The names of the directors are on the 1st page of the school brochure. There is no mention of any board of governors or PTA. The police now have a scanned copy of the brochure courtesy of Riaz. He might consider uploading a copy on the internet in the future.

  16. M Risbrook says:

    Two former staff from KHS have been arrested. The first is a 65 year old teacher from Pontefract on suspicion of indecent assault and buggery, and the second is a 62 year old care worker from Barnsley on suspicion of indecent assault. Both are now released on police bail until 13th August. Any ideas who these two men are?

  17. The one from Pontefract is probably Alan Stancliffe, who was convicted in 2007 of sexual assaults in the 70s at Kesgrave: He’s the right age now to be the same person. He was arrested over other abuse on this occasion, though. As for the guy from Barnsley, I don’t know as they don’t mention when he was at the school. There was one care worker from Yorkshire but I think he must be older than 62 now. However, he was very “restraint-happy” and I got the impression that he had been fired from another school, but I don’t know the reason. He was there in the last three years or so.

  18. M Risbrook says:

    Alan Stancliffe has now died. Another member of care staff Kenneth Wheatley / Kenneth Scott committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. A 67 year old former languages teacher (no name mentioned) took an overdose of tablets when the police called round his home then died later in the day.

  19. I saw that story about the ex-language teacher a couple of weeks ago. No idea who he was as his name wasn’t in the reports. I’m quite sure it wasn’t our languages teacher as he was one of the few members of staff I never remember being violent to anyone.

  20. M Risbrook says:

    Riaz suspects that he could be Mike Lafford. He has never knowingly met him but has seen him in old photos that were displayed in the school.

  21. M Risbrook says:

    How is the investigation going? Riaz tells me that all of the named people had finished working at KHS years before he started there. The only one he has heard of is Mike Lafford the former languages teacher who lived in Oxfordshire and died from an overdose in November 2014. One of the teachers at KHS briefly mentioned Mike Lafford then pointed him out on old school photos displayed in the hallway. How many of the staff from the time when you and Riaz attended KHS have been probed by the police yet?

  22. You’re right; the person facing charges (of sexual abuse, not physical) is one John McKno worked there for a couple of years, ending in 1987 or so. None of the staff who worked there when I was there are facing any charges, partly because of conflicting reports about their behaviour but also because police do not believe that they could convict given that the defence would raise the “reasonable chastisement” defence and question whether the behaviour might have been legal as it was a private school.

  23. M Risbrook says:

    Riaz says that the jewel in the crown is Michael Geoffrey Smith but back in the early 1990s stated that Smiffy can lie his way out of almost anything so he is probably too slippery to get caught and charged with child abuse. That was why he was exploring the religion angle because he thought that he could nab Smiffy on some unconventional issue.

    A Jehovah’s Witness had a look at the KHS prospectus but claimed that the statement about attending church was probably legal. Something to do with most JW and Jews at the time knew the ‘magic words’ to exempt kids from having to attend church on Sunday, regardless of what was stated in the prospectus, but it’s probably safe to say that a high proportion of atheist, Muslim, and Hindu parents at the time didn’t.

  24. The problem with Smiffy is that he encouraged parents to send their children to his school knowing they would get hurt. He did disguise the facts with flowery language, to the effect that the boys’ mouths would get them into trouble (indicating that he knew that his school was a violent place), but at the end of the day it was the parents who made the decision to put boys there. He didn’t go to anyone’s houses and drag children away. Parents did it because they wanted their children out of the way. They are at least as much to blame as he was.

  25. The problem with Smiffy is that he encouraged parents to send their children to his school knowing they would get hurt. He did disguise the facts with flowery language, to the effect that the boys’ mouths would get them into trouble (indicating that he knew that his school was a violent place), but at the end of the day it was the parents who made the decision to put boys there. He didn’t go to anyone’s houses and drag children away. Parents did it because they wanted their children out of the way. They are at least as much to blame as he was.