Britain’s leading girls’ school has revealed that some of its former pupils have alleged they suffered “sexual abuse” while in its care.
St Paul’s Girls’ School in West London has written to its alumnae to alert them to the claims, which were prompted by the #metoo campaign to report current and historic cases of assault and harassment in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Two former St Paul’s pupils, known as ‘Paulinas’, have passed on information about their personal experience over a period stretching from the 1970s to 1990s, while others have related allegations set out by friends.
The school says that ‘relevant authorities’ have been informed of the allegations and High Mistress Sarah Fletcher has urged the former pupils to identify to the police the individuals responsible for the abuse.
In her letter, seen by HuffPost UK, Fletcher adds that she has now asked St Paul’s own Local Authority Designated Officer to carry out “an independent safeguarding inspection” to ensure that current pupils are as safe as possible.
The £24,000-a-year fee-paying school, in Hammersmith, West London, regularly tops the national league tables for exam results.
Its alumnae include high achieving women in business, science, the arts and politics.
‘Old Paulinas’ include Tory MP Vicky Ford, journalists Sophie Raworth and Susanna Reid, TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell and actresses Rachel Weisz, Emily Mortimer and Joely Richardson. Novelist and broadcaster Rachel Johnson also attended the school. There is no suggestion any of them have alleged abuse.
According to its website, the school’s “first full-time appointments of men to the academic staff” were made in 1967.
The revelations of abuse follow a project set up by the school’s drama department which invited former pupils to send in their own experiences of harassment.
Director of Drama Isabel Foley had emailed alumnae earlier this month to offer 30-minute, anonymous interviews that would help inform a play to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018.
“Following the spate of recent allegations, resignations and poorly-judged comments emblematic of a problematic culture across all sectors, we are hoping to create a piece of theatre which addresses this issue, to illuminate and educate our society of what must not be tolerated,” Foley had written.
Fletcher said that the St Pauls’ email, “in conjunction with #metoo and the stories about abuse currently in the press, prompted a small number of OPs [Old Paulinas] to get in touch with the school”.
“They have told us of past sexual abuse at St Paul’s. Two wrote from personal experience, others about what they had heard from friends. The allegations relate to a period spanning from the 1970s to 1990s.
“We immediately passed the information onto the relevant authorities, and we remain in close contact with them. I have written to everyone concerned thanking them for coming forward and expressing our absolute condemnation of all such behaviour.
“I have let staff and parents know, and will be talking to our students. The police can only do their job, however, if they have a name. I have, therefore, asked these OPs to consider whether they would feel able to identify the individual(s), so that they can be held to account. I realise this is a big and difficult step to take, and we shall do all we can to support anyone who decides to go to the police”.
Fletcher added:” We can never say “it could never happen here”. We can, however, try our hardest to make sure that we are robust in setting the highest standards in safeguarding that we can.”
St Paul’s Girls is the sister school to St Paul’s School, which is already under investigation after allegations of child abuse stretching back nearly 60 years.
St Paul’s, which lists George Osborne and John Simpson among its own alumni, is the subject of a “serious case review” by Richmond Safeguarding Children Board.
Earlier this year former rowing coach Patrick Marshall became the fifth member of staff to be convicted for abuse since 2013 when he was jailed for 18 years for sexually abusing pupils.