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Child abuse ‘flourished and unchecked for decades’ at Moray schools Gordonstoun and Aberlour House, says inquiry

By Lewis McBlane

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CHILDREN at Moray’s Gordonstoun and Aberlour House schools faced rape, sexual assault, grooming and abuse from six teachers over decades, according to a judge-led inquiry.

The Inquiry published its findings about Gordonstoun and Aberlour House.
The Inquiry published its findings about Gordonstoun and Aberlour House.

In a report released today, Lady Smith, Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, (Wednesday, June 19) said children at both schools were at risk of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse - which repeatedly occurred.

Poor leadership resulted in a “dreadfully abusive and, in some houses, extremely violent culture”, with “a code of silence amongst the pupils was normalised”.

Responding, Gordonstoun’s current principal apologised to pupils who suffered abuse, and said that Lady Smith’s statement recognised improvements at the school from the 1990s onwards.

Lady Smith said: “I have no difficulty in finding that children were abused at Gordonstoun and Aberlour in a variety of ways over a long period of time.

“It was assumed the declaration of good intentions by founder Kurt Hahn was enough to ensure the school could be entrusted to provided appropriate residential care.

“At Gordonstoun, the assumption proved to be ill-founded, largely due to poor leadership.

“It was only after 1990 and the appointment of a headmaster who understood the importance of pastoral care that abuse eventually began to be addressed and a measure of trust was restored.

“A dreadfully abusive and, in some houses, extremely violent culture was allowed to take root. Abuse was also perpetrated by staff. The evidence of abuse was clear from the accounts of many applicants.

“Similarly, at Aberlour, the 1960s to 1990s were marked by a similar culture of assumption and naivety, exacerbated by the long and unchallenged leadership.

“There was a significant failure of governance with no interest in child protection or pastoral care until the 1990s.”

Lady Smith’s findings describe physics teacher Andrew Keir as “a predatory paedophile”.

The report adds: “Under the guise of being friendly and caring, he groomed boys with a view to satisfying his sexual desires. His behaviour was known about by the boys. The school was also aware but failed to act.

“Had Gordonstoun acted when it should have done, children would not have been abused by him in 1990 or 1991.”

Six other teachers are also identified as having sexually abused children between the 1960s and 1990s.

The abuse included the repeated rape of a boy by an exchange teacher; the indecent assault of boys by two teachers; indecent assaults on girls by a male teacher (later jailed in England for similar abuse) and indecent touching of girls by the school chaplain.

Also detailed were voyeuristic practices by a housemaster, involving a number of male pupils.

While the voyeurism was reported, the report adds, the school’s response went no further than removing the housemaster from his house.

Despite repeated complaints from a parent resulting in his resignation, he was not dismissed.

The report also revealed that racism was widespread at the school, and sexual abuse involving pupils “seems to have been frequent”.

It identifies failures to prioritise child protection; a lack of effective child protection systems; staff lacking skills and training; poor recruitment policies; insufficient oversight of pupils and teachers; and governance failures as all having contributed to the abuse.

In relation to Gordonstoun’s preparatory school Aberlour House, Lady Smith found that “a high proportion of staff sexually abused children”.

John Conroy, an English teacher at Aberlour in the 1970s, abused at least four boys.

The schools’ response to discovering the abuse was “woeful”, the report said. Conroy was sacked, but matters were not reported to the police and other staff were not told about the offences.

The report adds: “That approach to the discovery of abuse was repeated. Three other members of staff left Aberlour after inappropriate behaviour.”

However, Lady Smith also praised the actions of the current Gordonstoun administration in relation to her findings.

The report said: “Gordonstoun offered a genuine apology for the abuse experienced by children entrusted into its care and acknowledged its moral responsibility for those at Aberlour prior to 1999.”

Lady Smith said: “There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where abuse was allowed to be normalised for decades. It seems clear, however, that for the last 30 years or so, some good leaders have sought to recover the position.

“The risk of children being abused will, however, always be present. I recognise that Gordonstoun has now made real efforts to be aware of the risk of abuse, to protect against it, and, if abuse occurs, to respond appropriately, but the school must never become complacent.

“I am very grateful to all who engaged with the Inquiry, whether former pupils, former and current staff, or others. Their willingness to cooperate, assist, and contribute accounts of their experiences at Gordonstoun was welcome and invaluable in enabling me to make these findings.”

In an open letter to the Gordonstoun community, Principal Lisa Kerr, writing jointly with Chair of Governors, David White, apologised to all those who suffered at the school.

She said: “Today’s report is upsetting, and it is shocking to read of the abuse that children in the past experienced and the enduring impact on their lives 30, 40 or even 50 years later.

“We respect and thank those who have spoken up about their experiences and those who gave evidence to the Inquiry.

“The lack of care and the abuse they experienced, which the Inquiry identifies as being mainly in ‘the period from the 1970s to the early 1990s’ reflects that, as Lady Smith states: ‘There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where the vision and ethos that formed the basis of Kurt Hahn‘s founding of the school was allowed to wither’.

“Those who were abused deserved better, and we are sorry they were so badly let down.

“Since reports of historic abuse came to our attention in 2013, we have taken a proactive approach, addressing matters openly and offering whatever support possible.

“We have reached out repeatedly to our alumni expressing our sadness and concern, offering our support and encouraging anyone affected to contact the police and, once it was set up, the Inquiry.

“Lady Smith acknowledges Gordonstoun’s ‘recognition of the need to avoid putting its head in the sand, to acknowledge the reality of past abuse, and to respond’.

“The Chair of Governors and I attended each day of the Inquiry hearings into Gordonstoun and were humbled and distressed by the testimony of survivors.

“The report also highlights all that has been done at Gordonstoun since 1990 which has led to recent inspections describing the school’s pastoral care as ‘outstanding’ and ‘sector leading’.

“We know how important it can be for survivors to know how things have changed, and Lady Smith describes the ‘good and effective school leadership’ since 1990 as ‘committed, enlightened and child focused’.

“We agree with Lady Smith, however, that we must never be complacent; instead, we are always seeking to learn and improve.

“This is no more than the children in our care today deserve, and it is the least we can do to honour those survivors whose testimony led to today’s important report.”

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