An exclusive public school on the Isle of Wight may not be immediately associated with dark tales of abuse. However, in 2021, Bembridge School became the focus of ‘Operation Seaside’, an investigation by Hampshire Police, following a surge of allegations by former pupils.
Bembridge School which taught pupils aged 9 to 17, was favoured by many families in the armed forces. It was mainly a boys’ school but began introducing girls in the 1980’s who were greatly outnumbered. It closed its doors in September 1997, transferring the majority of its assets to Ryde School and Upper Chine, another fee-paying school on the Isle of Wight.
It is reported that allegations of rape of a pupil at Bembridge School in 1990’s by two men in positions of authority were made as long ago as 2011. No charges were ever brought against them apparently due to a lack of concrete evidence. It is understood one of them had served a prison sentence in the late 1990’s for sexual assaults. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: ‘in relation to an investigation into an allegation of rape at Bembridge School in the 1990’s a file was not referred to the CPS to consider’.
In 2021, it is understood that scores of former Bembridge School pupils came forward to the police with multiple allegations of assaults – both sexual and physical, which were alleged to have taken place at the school in the 1980’s.
Regrettably, in February this year, Hampshire Constabulary decided to conclude its investigation into alleged abuse at Bembridge School, ‘pending any further information coming to light’. It is thought that a number of the alleged perpetrators have died.
Bembridge School was owned by The Education Trust, a charitable trust extensively dedicated to the life of the 19th century art critic, John Ruskin. John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an artist, environmentalist, and social thinker. His works were present at Bembridge School until they were sold to Lancaster University in 1995.
No criminal proceedings
In the wake of the police announcement that the investigation into Bembridge School was closed earlier this year, former pupils’ disappointment would be understandable. Given that it has not been possible to see perpetrators facing justice in the criminal courts, they are looking at alternative options for redress.
Alternative options for redress?
One of these routes to justice would be an application for compensation to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (‘CICA’). Many applicants find this route to compensation is limited because it is not directed at the wrongdoer - in this case, the School. Instead, the compensation comes from government funds. Also, CICA compensation awards are not generous.
An alternative and more satisfying route may be to pursue the owners of the school for compensation through the civil courts, by way of a civil compensation claim. It would be argued that the Education Trust would be legally responsible for offences committed by their staff on pupils. Civil compensation claim awards can be considerably higher than awards from the CICA – another good reason to consider this route for redress.
I have been contacted by a number of former Bembridge School pupils who are investigating this option for redress. My investigations are ongoing and progress is being made.
Should anyone have any information which they think may be useful in relation to the allegations at Bembridge School, or indeed would like to pursue a compensation claim against the school’s owners in the civil courts, they should not hesitate to contact me.