The prevalence of sexual abuse in music settings is not insignificant. Whether it be in one to one instrument or singing lessons, or in the context of choirs, churches, theatre schools, or music colleges.
The intensity of the musical endeavour involving regular physical contact in the form of regular practices, working in close proximity to others, and a common goal provides ample opportunity for grooming.
A few years ago the spotlight was on the well regarded Chetham School of Music, Manchester when a number of former teachers faced allegations of sexual abuse by former students. In some cases, this led to prosecutions and convictions.
In this country, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, a statutory investigation into abuse at institutions of all kinds, is currently investigating music schools, and the report is due some time this year.
In church contexts, the media regularly reports convictions of organists, bell ringers, and choir masters, all of whom have breached their positions of trust by committing sexual acts on children in the course of exercising their role in the church.
There can be no doubt that music tuition on a one to one basis lends itself perfectly to opportunists who have an unhealthy interest in children.
We recently represented X who suffered sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his Andrew Wilson, choir master/choir director.
Background to X’s case
When he was about 11 years old, X was scouted by Andrew Wilson to join the church choir, where Andrew Wilson was the choir director. Andrew Wilson used the opportunity of close contact with X to groom him, and his parents.
Grooming is often the precursor to serious sexual abuse. It is also one of the common features of the most serious and protracted sexual abuse. The perpetrator goes to great lengths to gain the trust and confidence of the victim and their family, such that they are able to manipulate them, blackmail and brainwash them into believing that either the abuse is tolerable, indeed acceptable, or that they have no power or authority to resist it. Traditionally grooming takes place by way of gifts, special days out, and special attention on the part of the perpetrator. It can often begin with the perpetrator grooming the child’s parents – charming them, helping them out practically, or just being plain friendly, with apparently well meaning and helpful interest in their child.
X initially attended weekly choir rehearsals at the church, with the choir master Andrew Wilson who would also play the organ in Sunday services. Andrew Wilson treated him favourably, often giving him solos and singling him out for praise. He became Wilson’s ‘protégé’, and at Wilson’s suggestion X produced a CD. Wilson accompanied X on a tour to Europe to promote and sell the CD, during which he sexually assaulted X.
Wilson would often pick X up from school to take him to his music lessons without X’s parents’ knowledge or permission. This was reported to X’s parents by one of the music services who provided his lessons, who in turn conveyed their concerns to the vicar of the church. In response, the Vicar initiated “an independent investigation” and asked Wilson to refrain from contacting X or his family. Nonetheless Wilson’s contact with X continued.
The Police Investigation
In 2016, Sussex Police got into contact with X after finding his contact details at Wilson’s home address. Wilson’s home was searched after another victim reported him for sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Wilson during the 1980’s. Following a criminal trial at Lewes Crown Court, Andrew Wilson was convicted of 20 counts of indecent assaults in relation to three victims, including our client. Wilson received a 12-year prison sentence in February 2019.
The Civil Claim
Having achieved justice in the criminal court X also decided to pursue justice in the civil courts, by initiating a a civil compensation claim against the church. X argued that the church was legally responsible for crimes committed by Wilson, who at the time of the abuse was working for the church as choir master. Following investigations and representations, the church’s insurers accepted the church was legally responsible for Wilson’s actions, and did not raise the time limit argument.
During the course of his claim X met with a Consultant psychiatrist who prepared a report dealing with the effects of the abuse by Wilson on X. The expert concluded that as a result of Wilson’s actions and involvement in his criminal trial X had developed an Adjustment disorder with feelings of anxiety, low mood and intrusive thoughts. The expert recommended therapy to assist him with this.
After negotiations, X was offered a substantial five-figure sum by way of an out-of-court settlement by the church.
Whilst no amount of money can make up for the harm suffered by X or the effect it has had on his life, it is hoped the settlement may help him find some closure and provide important recognition for the lifelong injury he has suffered.
Sadly, the above case is not isolated and highlights the importance of safeguarding in music settings including institutions and private lessons. The safety and well being of all children should always be a priority. The implementation of adequate and effective safeguarding policies should prevent or reduce the risk of children suffering maltreatment including sexual abuse.
If you have suffered sexual abuse and would like to discuss a possible compensation claim, please contact a member of Emmott Snell Solicitors on 01234 360140 who are here to help.
Emmott Snell Solicitors understand we are all living in uncertain times and would like to reassure you that we are carrying on business as usual and able to speak to you via email, telephone, SKYPE or Zoom.
Stay safe and well.