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Stowmarket’s Oakwood School child cruelty pair change pleas to guilty

Ipswich Crown Court ANL-140617-141524001
Ipswich Crown Court ANL-140617-141524001

Two former staff members at Stowmarket’s Oakwood School have changed their pleas on child cruelty charges to guilty.

Gerald West, the deputy head at the boarding school, and Michael Watts, who worked as a child care officer, had spent the past six weeks on trial at Ipswich Crown Court after pleading not guilty.

But today, West, 71, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham, and Watts, 59, of Netley Abbey, Southampton, each pleaded guilty to two offences of cruelty to a child aged under 16.

The prosecution said that no further evidence would be offered in respect of eight similar charges against West and five against Watts.

The pair are due to be sentenced on Friday (May 22).

During the trial the jury had heard allegations of beatings and force feeding of food which staff knew would make pupils sick.

Former pupils alleged that they had been hit and kicked, struck with bats, dragged by the hair and repeatedly slapped.

Former pupils also claimed that when they tried to write to their parents to complain, the letters were torn up by staff.

The allegations related to a period spanning from 1974 until 1999 and were said to have involved about 20 boys.

Oakwood School, which is now closed, had catered for boys aged between eight and 16 with educational and behavioural problems.

Also being sentenced on Friday will be Eric D’Smith, 75, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, the former head teacher at Oakwood, who was found guilty last month of four offences of indecent assault and three of indecency with a child.

Details of his trial and the subsequent verdicts could not be reported at the time because of an order restricting publicity while the trial of the other four former Oakwood staff members was taking place.

Two other former members of staff, Stephen Player, 61, of Spratton, Northamptonshire, and Graham Hallett, 66, of Lancaster, who were also on trial facing similar allegations, were told by Judge Rupert Overbury that the case against them was being halted.

Appearing for the prosecution, Jacqueline Carey said no further evidence was being offered against either Player or Hallett.

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