Gislingham man accused of ten offences of child cruelty on trial

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A man from Gislingham has gone on trial accused of ten offences of child cruelty when he worked as deputy head of a boarding school in Suffolk.

Gerald West, 70, of Martins Meadow, is one of four former members of the teaching staff at the now-closed Oakwood School in Stowmarket who face similar charges.

As the trial opened this week at Ipswich Crown Court Jacqueline Carey, prosecuting, alleged that West had bent back a boy’s wrist so hard that it broke.

Another boy suffered a fractured skull when he was pushed against a wall by one of the teachers but hospital staff were told the boy had tripped accidentally, claimed Miss Carey.

West and the other three defendants were arrested following a lengthy police investigation into allegations made by pupils who were at Oakwood School between 1974 and 1997.

The trial, which is expected to last for eight weeks, heard further allegations that a boy who could not swim was pushed into a swimming pool, another who had undergone surgery for a brain tumour had his head banged against a wall while one boy climbed from a window to escape an attack by a teacher.

The jury heard that Oakwood School had catered for boys aged between eight and 16 with educational and behavioural problems.

She said: “They were naughty young boys. Because of their problems they were also vulnerable.”

Addressing the jury, Miss Carey said: “The violence meted out to them was all an too prevalent part of life at Oakwood. You may consider that there was an abusive regime that existed.”

Miss Carey said pupils had been unable to make allegations about ill treatment at the time because letters written to parents were censored by teachers or torn up if they contained complaints.

Although some physical punishment was allowed until it was banned by parliamentin 1987, what took place at Oakwood went beyond what could be considered to be reasonable, said Miss Carey.

She told the court: “It was wholly unwarranted, wholly unjustified and outside the boundaries of punishment.”

The trial involves allegations made by 20 former Oakwood pupils who will be giving evidence.

Accused in addition to West are Stephen Player, 61,of Manor Road, Spratton, Northamptonshire; Michael Watts, 59, of Sellwood Road, Netley Abbey, Southampton and Graham Hallett, 65, of Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster.

Between them the four ex-teachers face a total of 24 charges of cruelty to a person aged under 16 to which all have pleaded not guilty.

The court heard that each of the men denied any form of physical assault on a pupil at Oakwood although they said that, on occasions, it was necessary to restrain boys for the safety of others.

The trial continues.