Feversham School Abuse Victims May Finally Get Justice As Police Launch Appeal

Posted: 27/04/2012 08:31 Updated: 27/04/2012 09:05

Feversham School

Victims who suffered "decades of abuse" at a special needs school are being urged to come forward by police who have set up a new inquiry team to investigate the attacks.

The news comes after years of pressure from members of the public for a full public inquiry to establish how vulnerable children at the residential Newcastle school were allowed to be sexually abused by their carers.

Members of staff at Feversham School in Walbottle blew the whistle on the two child abusers in 1987 and one victim told his mother but the warnings went unheeded and the paedophiles were allowed to return. They remained at the school, caring for the children, until its closure in 1996.

The two men were eventually jailed for preying on pupils at Feversham - Kevin Brown in 2011 and John Leslie Duncan in 2001 - but there has never been an investigation.

While the renewed interest into the abuse does not mean an inquiry will be launched, Ian Merry, one of the whistleblowers, says it is a step in the right direction. A phone number will also be made available to allow victims to come forward and receive the necessary support.

Merry worked at the school and lived on-site from 1983 until October 1987, when he was told by the school's governors he was "talking rubbish" about the abuse.

"I had noticed an alarming decline in the general standards at the school," he told The Huffington Post UK. "Some children were stripped naked and put in their rooms. Three men regularly took children out on trips for no good reason."

The first two men to be convicted were Brown and Duncan; the third committed suicide while he was under police investigation.

The school, whose custodian trustee as mental health charity Mind, commissioned an internal investigation into the claims made by Merry and then deputy head David Allnutt. However investigators Tink Palmer and Judge John Rogers QC ruled there was no foul play at the school.

Brown, who had been suspended by David Allnutt, was reinstated by the board of governors and Allnutt was forced to resign.

Merry, who followed Allnutt in handing in his resignation, said he will "never forgive himself" for leaving the children at the hands of their abusive carers.

"Those men had an endless supply of children coming through the doors."

Although Merry says he does not lay the blame with Palmer or Rogers, he says the governing body, who were members of the local community and appointed by Mind, failed to act.

"I wrote a letter to the governors and the CEO of Mind, Chris Hegginbotham. I wanted someone to endorse what I was saying. But the police were never involved, even though I named the men who were responsible for the abuse."

Merry added he is determined to do "anything in my limited powers to get an inquiry into what went wrong".

Some of the children at the school were in the care of the local authority's social services, while most, if not all, of the children were placed at the school by what is now Newcastle City Council.

After Brown's trial, a mother of one victim said her son was sent to Feversham because he was "hyper".

"[The council] forced me to let him go because it as the only way he could get an education," she told local paper The Chronicle.

"The boys Brown did this to have been to hell and back. Families have been ripped apart. It’s absolutely horrific.

"After the case, my son apologised to me for what we had to hear. I said to him: ‘Don’t you dare apologise for this. None of this is your fault’.”

Mothers of the victims are demanding an official inquiry, saying the issue had been "kept quiet for far too long".

"We are stronger together and we will fight for justice for those whose lives were destroyed by the evil so-called carers at that school."

The campaign has been backed by shadow minister for children and young families Catherine McKinnell, although the Newcastle North MP would not comment on the latest developments.

Lord Carlile, who conducted the independent inquiry into decades of sexual abuse at St Benedict's School in Ealing, has also offered his support.

"I would certainly support the principle of some kind of inquiry," he told Merry in an email shown to HuffPost UK. "I am content for you to refer to my general support."

A spokesperson for Mind told HuffPost the charity was offering its full support and cooperation to the police.

Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer said: "We are deeply shocked and saddened by the abuse that took place at Feversham School and offer our sincere condolences and sympathy to those affected by these terrible events."

"Mind was the custodian trustee of the property from which the school was run and was not involved with the day to day running of the school. Mind is no longer involved with any residential educational establishments.

"Mind has provided all the assistance it could in connection with the Police investigation that commenced in 2008 and will continue to provide all necessary assistance to this new inquiry team."

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