‘Culture of sexual activities’ at Forest Row school to be investigated

A ‘culture of sexual activities’ involving boys and staff existed at a school in Forest Row, it is alleged.

Monday, 21st January 2019, 5:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:17 pm
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been examining how allegations of child sexual abuse have been handled in a range of settings

Allegations of historic offending were made against eight members of staff at Ashdown House, but only one has ever been convicted.

The claims are thought to date back to the 1970s and 80s, an inquiry has heard.

A national inquiry will examine the ‘inadequate and ineffective response’ at the time.

Lead counsel for the inquiry Fiona Scolding QC

Ashdown House is an independent preparatory school that has been under new ownership and management since 2009.

Sussex claims will be part of national child abuse inquiry

Allegations of a ‘culture of sexual activities’ at Ashdown House are to be used as a case study in a wider national inquiry.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been examining serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.

The inquiry consists of several strands, and Sussex has already featured in the investigation into abuse within the Diocese of Chichester in the Church of England.

Ashdown House is to be used as a case study in the investigation into the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in residential schools.

‘Numerous allegations against eight members of staff’

Speaking at a preliminary hearing of the inquiry last week, lead counsel Fiona Scolding QC said: “Various complaints and concerns were raised and, in 2014, the police established Operation Mitre to investigate.

“The allegations which they gathered together suggested a culture of sexual activities with boys and staff involved.

“Despite numerous allegations against eight members of staff, only one member of staff has been convicted to date.

“Martin Haigh admitted sexually assaulting the core participant we know as A27 and one other, and was also found guilty of possession of indecent images and making indecent photographs of children.

“He was tried again in 2017 and found guilty of 11 child sexual offences and a further four offences of making indecent images of children. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.

“A second member of staff, Anthony Barber, received a caution for making indecent images.”

Ms Scolding’s remarks can be read on the inquiry’s website.

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‘Feeder school’ for Eton

A number of well-known individuals have attended Ashdown House, and many consider it to be a feeder school for the famous Eton College.

The school was initially set up for the education of boys, but girls were introduced to the school in 1974.

The children attended generally between the ages of seven and 13, and there were both boarding and day pupils.

Purpose of the inquiry

Ms Scolding said the inquiry will seek to investigate what was known and when.

She said: “The narrative will seek to record what was known at the time and whether any action was taken, and to highlight the inadequate and ineffective response of the then owners, proprietors and senior managers of the school at that time.”

Next steps

There will be two weeks of public hearings in the residential schools inquiry, beginning September 30, 2019.

For confidential support and guidance on issues relating to sexual abuse, contact The Truth Project.

For details visit www.truthproject.org.uk or call 0800 917 1000.