A new school term and academic year is a timely reminder of the ongoing need to be vigilant on safeguarding matters.
Media coverage of safeguarding failures in schools are salutary reminders of what can go wrong when a blind eye is turned, or when policies and procedures are not complied with.
A case study
Listening to the radio whilst driving on a long-distance haul our client Mr R heard Radio 4’s ‘In Dark Corners’ and the horrifying yet corroborative account of others who like him had suffered at the hands of a former headmaster of England’s most prestigious school, Eton College.
Like many who suffered childhood sexual abuse Mr R, an old Etonian himself, thought he was the only one. The shame and guilt he suffered for decades about a single dark incident whilst a pupil at Eton inhibited him from uttering so much as a word about it, until prompted by others speaking out.
Mr R was profoundly vulnerable, having been a passenger in a car accident driven by a close family relative, in which that relative had died. He had suffered serious injury himself, spending weeks in intensive care. This was the backdrop to his abuse at Eton College.
Mr R aged 15, recalls being sent to the headmaster’s study for some minor misdemeanour. Upon entering, the headmaster Anthony Chenevix-Trench ordered him to remove his trousers and underwear and to get into ‘flogging stocks’ stationed in the headmaster’s office. These were a medieval wooden structure that one knelt in and placed neck and wrists into grooves to be secured. Chevenix-Trench spent several minutes choosing the appropriate implement to use on our client from his sizable collection, evidently savouring the experience, including the effect this delay was having on his victim. Mr R then endured ten strokes with a cane on his naked buttocks.
Afterwards, Chevenix-Trench knelt and fondled Mr R’s naked buttocks, moving his hand up towards Mr R’s inner thighs, towards his genitals. Mr R shot up from the stocks and Chevenix-Trench then dismissed him from his study.
This beating caused open wounds and bruising to our Mr R’s buttocks, which took some days to heal.
Mr R was struck by the sadistic nature of the headmaster’s conduct, and that his punishment had turned into an overt, sexual act from which Chevenix-Trench had clearly taken much pleasure.
Chenevix-Trench left Eton College in 1969 to take up a similar post at Fettes, the Scottish public school. It is understood he was dismissed from Eton following numerous complaints about his behaviour towards pupils.
Chevenix-Trench died in 1979 aged 60, having never been prosecuted for his crimes.
A claim for justice
Mr R, stunned after having heard the Dark Corners Radio 4 programme, contacted Emmott Snell who he identified by internet research had acted for another Chevenix-Trench victim. A civil compensation claim was initiated against Eton College.
To a significant degree, the out of court settlement has enabled Mr R to put that dark experience behind him.
Of Emmott Snell’s representation, Mr R stated that he was ‘fully satisfied’, and that ‘from start to early conclusion (his) case was handled with sensitivity, professionalism and exceptional care’.
While events leading to Mr R’s compensation claim may be considered ‘historic’, there is no room for complacency in the safeguarding of children within the school setting, whether public or state schools. Ongoing vigilance is a must. And the case for ‘mandatory reporting’ must continue to be debated at every level of public life. This would bring into law the requirement that staff working in certain settings such as schools must report suspected and known child sexual activity.
Arguably, had such law been in place at the time of Mr R’s (and many others’) abuse, it could have been prevented.