It has been clear through many private forums and discussions that the hearings at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on 1-2 October 2019 into Chetham’s School of Music (see this page for links to the videos and transcripts) have generated many powerful reactions and also wider thoughts on reflections on the school and individuals’ time there. I feel it is important that these be preserved, and so am posting here a series of sections of text sent to me, all presented anonymously (unless people request otherwise), to which I will keep adding more as I receive them. The only editing done will be for legal reasons or to preserve anonymity. I am not personally going to express a view publicly until after the end of the hearings, other than to point out that while John Vallins claimed in the hearings that I was at Chetham’s for 4 years, I was actually there for 8, from 1978 (in Junior A) to 1986 (upper sixth), and also a story related to me by my mother, which I am sharing with her permission.
There had been a time when one of the PE teachers (I think) had been taunting some boys including me by bending their fingers back (for obvious reasons, definitely not something you should do to instrumentalists, though I think this teacher disliked musicians, thinking all the boys to be gay and not ‘hard’ enough). I told my parents about this, and they mentioned it when they came to meet John Vallins next, who was very down on me at the time. He said in response ‘Mrs Pace, I didn’t hear you say that’ [Corrected from earlier wording], and suddenly his behaviour towards them and me changed quite considerably, much more positive (I went on to get the best A-Levels anyone had yet got at the school, with 6 Grade As, and a place at Oxford, also later studying at the Juilliard School as a Fulbright Scholar). Make of that story what you will.
I am numbering the testimonies AL1 (Alumnus 1), etc, and will continue to add to them. Anyone who has any thoughts they would like to be posted (which can be as short as a sentence, or much more extended) should e-mail them to me at ian AT ianpace DOT com. I can attest that I know who every individual is who has supplied testimony, and when they attended the school, but would not disclose any of this information without their express permission.
WARNING: some may find some of the material below distressing or triggering.
I found the collective amnesia and abdication of responsibility displayed by Vallins, Hullah and Moreland at the inquiry as utterly repulsive and cowardly as I found the testimonies of those who spoke of abuse to be both horrific and awe-inspiringly courageous. Vallins in particular made my blood boil as I was able, by dint of having been there at the time (1975 to 1981) although a child, to contrast his account with the reality of life as a boarder. It is a matter of deep regret that the history books cannot be rewritten to show that he and others never existed. May the Chet’s of today flourish and prosper under sound governance whilst at the same time being aware not only of its proud past, but also of its obligations to those who saw its darker side. May those who suffered find peace, and may those who wish to do so but have hitherto remained silent find the courage to speak out and expose these animals for what they were and possibly still are. May Vallins, Hullah, Moreland and any staff whose voices have not yet been heard devoid themselves of whatever misplaced sense of loyalty or plain arrogance has thus far held them back and – dare one say it? – tell the truth.
The lady who interjected 5 hours 47 minutes into the Inquiry, and who was asked to leave the room, said it all. Whilst giving evidence at the Inquiry, John Vallins displayed an arrogance that was deeply shocking. He showed scant remorse for failing to protect vulnerable children in his care. It was disingenuous of him to suggest that the music and academic departments were separate entities and that he had no knowledge of, or control over, what was happening in certain parts of the school. He was Headteacher, with responsibility for the whole school. If he did not know about the abuse, he was incompetent. If he did, then he turned a blind eye to it. Although there were humble, kind and compassionate members of staff, I hold John Vallins responsible for an abject failure to provide a safe and happy place in which to learn.
My dear friend A1 [anonymised name as used in the IICSA hearings] was giving live evidence , who I’ve been in contact with for a few years now and have had the pleasure of a few visits to my house… the subject of Chets was always at the forefront of our conversations – which after 30 years is alarming at how fast time has passed , along with regret that during these years, the torment of the school still lives with us.
[After a phone call from Operation Kiso] I froze – I remember it clearly, I burnt my wrist taking the croissant out the oven – I was alarmed to think that the past wasn’t in the past … and I refused to comment…. It’s disturbing to think that the Chetham’s mess has been carried with us for so long.
I was terribly disappointed to find that my friend A1 had several minutes missing , that were removed to protect her anonymity , which is of course understandable , but at the same time distressing to know that these comments were all about [houseparent]’s appalling behaviour.
When A1 returned from America , we were all called into the ‘common room’, as it was known then, by [houseparent], to be told that A1 is returning and no one must ask her any questions or ask her why, and that we had to pretend everything was normal. Everyone knew anyway ! We all knew they had to get naked … so I’ll never understand why Vallins said he had no idea at the time. . In my knowledge, we all know rumours spread fast in any industry … so to hear him admit this , was rather alarming. The head after him – what a disaster. Terribly dismissive on all matters regarding Brewer. I could have hit him. Retirement a typo for Resigning ??? – none of my iMacs could have done that ! !
The main thing at the time for me , is the tremendous strain [houseparent] and Vallins put my parents through – the impact of their behaviour leaves deep scars. I went to [houseparent], and asked her if she was aware that [redacted] was shagging most of his students. She accused me of being a Liar, and explained that this is Libel and I should be worried and will suffer for the consequence of my actions.
My parents were called up the school immediately, which was a 6 hour round trip for them, where they met with Vallins, [redacted] and [redacted]. The torment this caused my family is unforgiving. They were told that this could be a Libel case, and therefore my parents were worried sick – they could lose everything, including the house , if this were to be a sue-able case which [houseparent] threatened it would be.
How can you do that to someone?
I cannot tell you how much impact this has had on our lives. Nor can I understand why [houseparent] can’t be called into this investigation. I feel so terribly angry at her and ended up subsequently with major depression, a lot of medication, and an alcohol dependency.
They were only ever concerned about the school’s status – and never once considered the vulnerability of, and long term damage to the child.
In Loco Parentis ? ? ? LIARS.
Overall, I thought the questioning at the inquiry was well done, though I would have liked it to have been made clearer that the abuse referred to by different perpetrators was only a fraction of the abuse experienced by students at Chetham’s. Vallins came across initially as a genteel old man, who was shocked at findings. This impression quickly departed. The head of a school is ultimately the one responsible for the safety and welfare of all within the school. It is their duty to be aware of what is going on throughout their school. What became evident is that there was simply little, if any, main staff responsibility for what went on in Palatine House. Children and teachers alike were completely unsupervised, creating an easy environment for perpetrators to commit their crimes. Even in the Junior School (7-11) there was little if any supervision at break times, leaving young vulnerable children free to roam the corridors and rooms of Palatine House unchecked. No child, of any age, should walk in fear as to when the next assault might take place.
That there was little if any formal training in safeguarding available at that time is totally irrelevant. This is about common sense caring. Making sure children and young people are safe.
Chetham’s was anything but safe in the 1970s (and beyond) and far too many of us carry scars from our time there.
School for me when I entered in 1981 for my sixth form appeared a wonderfully free arena. I enjoyed my music making tremendously and the freedom I had to meet boyfriends, go to pubs, get drunk and sneak out for whole nights at times whilst at school. Luckily I was a very sensible person who didn’t get into any trouble but looking back as an adult, I am horrified that I had these chances. The pastoral care was lax – I survived.I heard all about Fran Shorney and Brewer even though I arrived in the September of the July she left. I learnt all about Malcolm Layfield and his behaviour with girls in my year and above. It was so open I cannot believe that teachers and Vallins did not know. I went on the Venezuelan Chamber Choir Trip In 1983 where alcohol was available on several occasions – to excess. Mrs Brewer engaged in kissing one of the sixth formers in front of many of us and a party was held in the Hilton Hotel where a sixth form boy was pulled up from hanging over the 17th floor balcony under the influence of booze by other boys while Brewer and other staff were inside and unaware. Pastoral care???
I also have close knowledge of abuse (which started in school) on a summer tour where [name redacted] was in cahoots with Brewer on a Chet’s Summer tour to take a girl away from the rest of the group. This tour was organised by Chet’s and not on a Free Weekend when Vallins could wash his hands of responsibility. ‘Not knowing’ about this is not an excuse. Those involved have been affected for the rest of their lives.
I think the very least the new regime can do is write a full letter of apology on behalf of the school and the way it’s predecessors acted. It should for the current pupils outline any proposals and why they are so important, much in the same way Germany and Japan did with its youth following the war. They should all be aware. A guidance counsellor should also be set up should the same problems ever occur again. The pupils must know there is someone they can go to almost independent from the school, who will take any accusation seriously. A final one may be for the school to have a former pupil to go and speak to the pupils once a year about what went on and what they should and shouldn’t do. Also pointing out how easy it is to be groomed or worse. The overall message to all at the school is even if you just hear about something which is not right, regardless who you think is right or wrong, report it. I just think that a lot of those things would have helped those who needed it and also been of use to people like me. Had the attitude at school that it was girls trying to further their careers by sleeping their way to the top. Only on leaving did I realise how wrong I had it. This was further reinforced at [music college] where I met others messed up by the same things at different institutions. There were also those from Chet’s who quit music after finding out the same teacher from Chet’s would be teaching them at [music college] too.
With Chethams in the news again I thought again about my conflicting feelings about the place. It has taken 2 decades to build up self esteem after being there for ten years, and I know that if I had not gone there I would have had no career in music and I would not have met all the wonderful friends, who are still supportive and lovely after many years, friends for life.
I was one of the lucky ones, though, I was not exposed to the worst crimes there.
I have always remembered this though..
‘there are kids out on the streets of Manchester who have more talent in their little finger than you have in the whole of your body’
Did I make this up? Was it said? It is of course true.
I entered Chet’s at 11 as a happy child who was considered to be bright at primary school. By the time I was 12, I was so depressed that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like a complete failure, especially academically. This has stayed with me my whole life.
I came out of my 2nd study piano lessons crying every week for 4 years. The teacher used words that I did not understand and then used to yell and call me hopeless and useless.
In my end of year assessment when I was 14, the assessor told me I had no musicality. I’ve found it very difficult to perform to anybody since.
I feel like Chet’s failed to prepare me for an ordinary life outside music. It took me a long time to adjust after leaving music college.
I started at Chets around 1960 as a six or seven year old. I left in 1969 at the end of the first year of the school becoming a music school and becoming co-ed. I had recently been orphaned but prior to that had lived in a very loving environment. The shock of being at Chets and my abject unhappiness there affects me to this day. I know that the hard environment there added hugely to my state of mind and deep unhappiness.
When I arrived and for all but the final year, corporal punishment was meted out not by the staff, but by prefects. Effectively by seventeen year olds.
Many of these prefects were inarguably sadists ( I could name them even now ) who prided themselves on how much pain they could inflict on young children. Those children could be guilty of nothing more than wanting to go to the toilet after lights out in the dormitory. This would involve knowing that you were going to be ‘slippered’ in the morning and having to therefore spend the night in fear and dread, followed by attending the study block for punishment in the morning.
The ‘slippering’ involved not a slipper but a size twelve plimsoll. The child being assaulted would then have to bend down with an audience of a number of six form sadists whilst the hero administering the ‘ slippering’ would often take a run up in order to inflict as much pain as possible three or six times. The pain was dreadful, causing you to even feel sick.
The audience of sadists thought that this was hilarious.
I often wonder how they, as adults, would react to their own children being assaulted in this way
This punishment was carried out on a trial without jury basis. In other words, sixth formers could decide who would be slippered without any redress or need of explanation or real justification.
Some kids even wore their ability to take slipperings with some sort of warped pride. That in itself paints a picture of a very strange place indeed.
All the staff, and the governor (Harry Vickers ) knew all about this brutality. Some, I know were sickened by it, but I only ever remember a decent PE teacher named Eric Stevens ever trying to do anything about it but being ignored. He was prompted by seeing horrific bruising on young children during swimming lessons.
To me, it is little wonder that an environment where physical assault was actually encouraged, would lead to a culture where sexual assault would also be tolerated by those in positions of trust and authority.
Many of the staff who were in charge during the era that I describe above were still at the school when the sexual assault began to take place. I actually know that they swept it under the carpet for the sake of the school and there own private world.
Also, on reflection, the lack of pastoral or emotional care during my time there now looks astounding. To run a school on a military basis plus condoned violence reflects on the type of people ( or person ) whose influence was overpowering in the extreme.
Is it really any wonder that the previous regime morphed into the disgusting and damaging one that followed?
Finally, I should say that during all my years at the school, I saw no evidence or heard anything about any sexual assault taking place. Of course, this does not mean that it was not happening.
One male teacher did take an unhealthy interest in me and orchestrated an uncomfortable extra- curricular outing with me which to my alarm was allowed by my family ( innocent souls ). But, although I knew his likely motivation, nothing actually happened despite his offer of cider. Back then, I would have been quite capable of flattening him anyway !
I met privately over coffee a few years ago with a retired formerly very senior member of Chets staff. That person had been in post throughout what seems to have been the worst of the abuse issues.
Whilst I cannot remember the precise wording of our conversation, I do remember gaining the strong impression that he and those others at the very top were aware of what was happening and had brushed the issue under the carpet.
There seemed to be an environment where the managers of the school had put the reputation of the school and their positions within the school ahead of justice and the well-being of its pupils.
Perhaps an environment of collective self-importance ?
The scale of the abuse has been way beyond anything I realised. What I HAVE realised is that so many of us little people were at the mercy of big egos whose main agenda was the glorification of themselves with no real awareness of the consequences… I teach in SUCH a different way to how I was “drilled” – hopefully in a climate of care and positivity as opposed to fear and negativity… But I consider myself as a survivor!! I’m well, happy and have an extraordinarily rich musical life…
My male personal tutor told me when I was 15 and feeling upset about a disagreement with my dad. ‘you don’t need your family now, you have us… When you go home you don’t need to talk to them, don’t you have a pet you can hang out with? just stay in your room.’
I know these were the words, I can’t forget them… So horribly controlling and potentially worse. Luckily I realised this was not normal behaviour. But I remember years later doing compulsory child protection training and being in tears after reading the grooming section…. I still wish, in some ways, I could approach him and challenge him about it.
I’ve suffered from asthma since I was two. I can remember [gym teacher] scaring the life out of me when she would tell us nearly every lesson how we were all suffering from sheer ignorance and would end up in wheelchairs by the time we are 30 because we were so all unfit. I remember [another gym teacher] as well yelling at me to carry on running in the PE hall even when I begged to stop. That resulted in me having an asthma attack and staying in hospital. Sooo many teachers back then were cruel. House staff telling us we’re not academics, even though we did well in academic exams. I remember being told by a member of the boarding staff at the sixth form leavers party I probably won’t have passed my German A level as I’m not academic. I got a grade A in that subject for the A level exam. I remember house staff telling other students they weren’t academics yet they went to Oxford and Cambridge. What was it at that place with all the confidence bashing?! There are so many horror stories, way worse than I’ve mentioned just now that happened in the 8 years I was there. I was very glad to leave that school and I’ve not wanted to ever consider sending my child to a boarding school because of it. That and the fact there has never been any need for my children to be boarders anyway.
I still remember the science teachers making kids stand on desks in lessons as punishment. Then wiping the chalk board markers over kids faces and telling them if they see them walking around school without the chalk they will be in trouble. These kids would then walk into lunch with it on their faces; nothing was said! Totally illegal to do that as teachers were not allowed to physically abuse kids at that time. I was hit over the head countless times by [teacher] in Junior A for things like forgetting my glasses. Again, she wasn’t allowed to do that but she got away with it plus her abuse of other kids in her class; emptying boys bags in front of the whole class and mocking them. [Instrumental teacher] (I think [another instrumental teacher] before that) who would tell me I was a useless bassoonist. Then when I won the BBC TV Young musician of the year woodwind section, she came up to me in the bathroom and said ‘Well I’m shocked! You must have improved!’ I remember amazing teachers like Mr and Mrs Hatfield, Mrs Peak, Mr Little and some others. But there were far too many bullies. I too was taught violin by Mr Ling. He scared the crap out of me so I gave up the violin because of him. Just as well. Maybe I would have ended up one of his victims. [House parent] who made little juniors hold pillows at arms length for ages as punishment for talking after lights out. Often we were talking as we were just little kids or felt homesick. Yes we had great opportunities there, but they came at a huge emotional cost to many of us. I gave up the bassoon and never played it again the day I left the RAM. I felt burnt out and didn’t want a life that Chet’s had made me feel I would lead. A life of constant pressure. I have good and bad memories of Chet’s. But it is true. What happens when you’re a kid has a big impact as to the person you become as an adult.
As a day student, much of this passed me by, but as a young 14 year old I knew my good friend was emotionally destroyed by a ‘relationship’ with Layfield. If you weren’t there, I imagine its hard to believe that, to many of us, this behaviour was ‘normal’. At least it was all normalized. I remember envying those girls in the ‘in’ groups, wishing I could be as good as them. I do also have another memory which never really made sense, or at least I used to find rather funny, until the Brewer trial. My teacher was away for a week and during that time, Brewer had me in his office, asking me to try a viola on for size. Weird experience, he was too close, etc. etc.. (every woman reading this knows what I mean). It was too big for me and I was a violin snob so I just didn’t want to continue and left his office. I told my teacher when he got back. My lesson was at the foot of the stairs. He stormed out (this was not a guy who stormed. Instead he was exceedingly zen and calm at all times), went through two fire doors and into Brewers office and I heard him yell ‘Keep your hands off my student’. At the time, I thought it was about the viola. They all knew.
I was at Chet’s 1987-91. Looking back, I feel sad for the vulnerable girl I was, that loved ( and still do) music. I held my teacher in such high esteem..if he said jump, I jumped. At 15 I was given an opportunity to study piano with Bakst and I remember feeling so excited. That was soon to change. A naive, country girl – I couldn’t understand why I felt so uncomfortable during my lessons. Surely, he couldn’t be touching my private parts whilst I was trying to play..it must be my imagination I thought. However, I soon stopped the lessons through feeling scared. My house parent questioned me why I stopped lessons with Bakst and after he asked the question, ‘has he done something’ I reluctantly told him about the way he touched me. I remember my house parent shaking his head and saying, ‘not again’. I was told by a member of staff that it would ruin the career of the very talented male students who were taught by Bakst if it was reported. Naturally, I could not have lived with myself if I was deemed responsible for this. I wondered why Bakst didn’t have any female students back then except one Chinese girl I think. Some piano teachers at Chets were old pupils of Bakst and they referred their talented students to Bakst. If my house parent knew what was going on, surely the other staff knew?! This ‘blind eye’ was endemic in the piano department. We were children and no one cared enough.. shame on all of them. By 17, I had been groomed by my first piano teacher, prior to Bakst, and had regular trips to his house where intimacy occurred. Still 17, I had a nervous breakdown..2 suicide attempts and was unable to complete my last yr at school. I taught myself my A levels and locked myself away in my tiny bedroom for months. I loathed myself. I couldn’t be the ultra slim student that my teacher wanted me to be ..he continuously made remarks about my weight. I developed a serious eating disorder and this subsequently destroyed years of my life and any career prospects. BUT, I survived! Whenever I think back to those darkest days, I break down. I was a kind, loving, trusting girl. It broke me.
Although my experience is one of deep sadness, I feel it is now time for Chetham’s to grow into the best school it can be. I have witnessed changes and I have seen how happy the children are. With the right, strong leadership, Chetham’s can be an amazing experience for so many children. Friends who have recently worked at Chets and current pupils I know there, feel it is now a happy and safe environment and this is all I could wish for the future. Knowing this, has helped me deal with my past.
I was 14 when I was groomed and sexually abused by Ling during my time studying at at Chethams. Ling gave us letters to take home about the courses at his house, they were like the typical school trip letter with a slip to fill in at the bottom and information on how much the course cost and date. They were printed out. There were often other letters from school about tours and trips. This was just like one of those.
From my parents point of view, this was a letter from Chethams because it came from the school and from one of the teachers who worked there.
Chetham’s responded to my civil case by disputing whether I’d even attended the school during that year and asking me to provide proof. This is the only communication I’ve had from them, no apologies or letters or emails or in fact ANY acknowledgement of what happened.
Since op Kiso started seven years ago I’ve been looking towards being able to formally address the abuses of trust that I suffered whilst a student at Chethams in a legal manner.
This still hasn’t hasn’t been possible and I couldn’t be more disappointed that victims voices have been silenced and that there has been no apology or acknowledgement from the school.
I hope that the inquiry has taken into account the devastating and destabilising effect childhood sexual abuse has at such a critical point in life. I’d also point out that a boarding school setting makes it even more isolating when all the power resides with the teachers who were also the abusers and family support is a very long way away
Unfortunately I have few positive feelings about my time there. I, also was not exposed to the worst crimes but the emotional abuse that was inflicted on us has left us with demons and scars that last a lifetime. We were commoditised as children and love and praise was determined/ conditional on our a ability to perform on cue. I did not take up a career in music but that toxic environment shaped the early years of my adult life.
I have made it public that I was abused from 1971-1977. I was shocked to the core, when I turned on the News last Tuesday teatime and heard the names Brewer and Ling being mentioned. I knew nothing about this inquiry and would very much have liked to have been present. Why were we not informed?
I was the first girl to report sexual abuse in 1971 and would have appreciated that being recognised. I felt that my existence hadn’t mattered and this has really affected me very badly this last week.
It was only after my mother telling me the day after my father died, that I had been the biggest disappointment in their lives, was I then able to tell her about the abuse and the reason for me returning to [place of abode]. My father died, never knowing.
If only Chet’s had thrown Professor Bakst out of the school in 1971 and not 1991/2, how many other poor girls could have been saved.
The RNCM also knew that Bakst was abusing. Clifton Helliwell (Head of Keyboard) invited Bakst’s students to his office and offered us a different teacher, if we so wished.
My life path changed for good, thanks to Professor Bakst… why isn’t he getting the same mentioning as Brewer and Ling? I am seething about this.
Bakst abused not only sexually and mentally (when I tried to stop him, he would sulk and sit and read his Polish newspaper during my ‘lesson’) but also physically. On one occasion he insisted I repeat a certain part of Rachmaninoff’s G minor Prelude over and over and over. I told him several times that my right hand was paining… he wouldn’t allow me to stop. It resulted in me seeing 2 specialists and not being able to use my right hand for a year! I still have problems with it, to this day.
Reading this has made me realise FOR THE FIRST TIME that many of the repeating anxieties in my life (no talent, wrong appearance, not thin enough, etc.) stem from the way that various staff members at Chet’s got into my head and have never left. [String teacher] told me I wasn’t pretty enough to be a cellist. [Houseparent] often criticised my weight. I was told by Mike Brewer that I would have to requisition to keep my place had I not been in Fast Set Music…. Somehow all these years I have believed all these things, and believed that they only applied to me and that everyone else was entitled to be at Chet’s, just not me. To read of such wonderful musicians that I look up to and respect receiving similar comments has surprised me to my core and made be reassess just how much insidious damage was done to me and to many other pupils. And that is before you even come to the sexual abuse and the generally toxic culture that made us believe that this was the reality of life in the music business.
I was at Chets from 1986-1991. I was one of the “lucky” ones; I was a woodwind first study and the wind tutors seemed to have mainly been able to behave appropriately and professionally.
However, I wanted to write and say how let down and angry I feel towards all the staff at the school at the time, but especially the houseparents and headteacher. We all knew that something wrong was going on – most of us didn’t know the whole story, but rumours abounded about playing naked and “dares” (or punishments) at the house gatherings at Ling’s house. Yet in our young impressionable minds, somehow, despite the fact that we were aware our friends and peers were being abused, the reactions around us and the fact that the people who were in loco parentis – who we also knew were aware and did NOTHING to stop it or to prevent it happening again, meant that we accepted it as normal, and worse, something to be envied. Ling’s Strings, were – in our minds – a group of special chosen ones. They had the cool teacher that drove around in the sports car and leather trousers, they got to go offsite to gatherings that were secret and grown up. We envied them. How utterly messed up and wrong is that?
I feel a massive sense of guilt towards my friends. That we didn’t speak up on their behalf more, that we left them feeling isolated and vulnerable to more abuse because there was no guidance from the adults looking after us that these vile men were doing anything wrong.
I am aware of at least one close friend approaching [houseparent] detailing an unthinkable situation of abuse and her response was to minimise and dismiss. That left this vulnerable teenager in unbelievable turmoil.
There was no morality amongst the staff – the reputation of the school was the only thing that mattered. Threats about libel, threats about ruining people’s careers, dismissals of horrendous situations with phrases like “silly girls, making everything so dramatic” abounded. There was no-one to go to for advice and guidance.
So I want to say to all the staff there in that very long period where Brewer, Ling, Bakst, Layfield et al abused at will and without remorse, if you were there and you knew and you didn’t speak up, SHAME ON YOU. SHAME ON YOU ALL. You all knew, we know you knew. How do you live with yourselves?
My mum was very concerned about one of my incredibly vulnerable friends, and tried to intercede with Vallins on her behalf. She was dismissed and her offers of help were rejected – she was made to feel like an interfering busybody. She, along with another parent, petitioned the school to try and set up some kind of parent consultation group to enable the parents to have more input to what was going on in the school – this was not allowed.
She was told by a wind tutor that there were bad things going on and that they would never send their own kids there. My parents agonised over whether to withdraw, but as none of us were encouraged to talk to our parents, they presumed that if something was wrong we would tell them. Yet we perpetrated the veil of secrecy and silence, because we knew that’s what we had to do to protect the school.
My own story is minimal compared to most – I was lucky. [Houseparent] was a monster behind her smiley exterior. She encouraged so many of us to be worried about our weight and appearance – often telling me I was too chubby and needed to lose weight. She made many hurtful comments in public and private about it. At the time I weighed 9.5 stone and was 5ft 4. She wasn’t approachable, everything was dismissed as we were being silly and needed to get over it. She once told me I was a monster and would never amount to anything in “decent society” because I borrowed an unsuitable video off one of the boys and showed it in the common room. Yet, we were left unsupervised long enough to show a whole film. We were rarely checked on until it was time for lights out. The assistant houseparent was having a relationship with the head of strings, and so wasn’t approachable either, although she was kinder.
My experience of Brewer was twisted. He didn’t like me and used to play mind games with me. He withheld coveted positions in the orchestra deliberately and taunted me about it. My very worst time was when I was in Upper Sixth and he summoned me for a private chat in his office at night. When I went in he was wearing those tiny shorts he often wore that left nothing to the imagination. He sat behind his desk and regarded me with amusement; I was clearly nervous as I didn’t know what he wanted. He wrote something on a piece of paper and then put it in the top drawer of his desk, locked it and laid the key on the desk. Then he stood up, put one foot on a chair, so his genitals were exposed, and said to me “I know what you’re going to be”. I had no idea what was going on or what he meant. He gestured to the drawer “that piece of paper says what will happen after you leave school. Do you want to know what it says?” I didn’t know what to do, and stood there frozen. He regarded me with contempt, put his leg down, and shooed me away, saying “you can go”. I escaped. I didn’t tell anyone; what was the point and who should I tell?
When I left I went to one of the most prestigious universities in the UK to read music. Despite this, I was seen as a failure by the music department and the fact I’d rejected a place at the RAM to go down a more academic route was seen as a disappointment.
I want the staff of the time, those that are alive, to know about our stories, and for them to acknowledge how wrong their decisions were and to apologise without reservation. [Comments about veracity of testimony of former head teachers in the inquiry] Claire Moreland claimed that a letter was sent to the alumni informing them of the police investigation – but nearly 200 people have responded to say that they’ve never received any such letter.
If the present head is serious about helping the alumni affected, he should be seeking out those members of staff and asking them to write public letters of acknowledgement and apology. I think it’s outrageous that none of them have been called to account for themselves during these proceedings, especially the [houseparents mentioned in evidence to inquiry]. It’s even more appalling that members of their family have held prominent positions of authority at Chets until very recently.
After two years at Chetham’s my parents had seen enough and took me out.This was in ’76. My dad (a teacher himself) told me later that he had been to see Vallins and told him-based solely on their experience of my treatment there- that in his opinion there were serious problems with how the school was being run, both in the music AND in boarding and academic. He said that he may as well have been talking to himself. Not interested.
I attended Chet’s as a boarder `70-`73.
I remember the physical abuse meted out to younger boys by the 6th form boys.
There was `slipper` treatment, where the 6th form boys stood in rows down either side of their narrow corridor of the 6th form rooms and the child had to run down the corridor between them as they hit the child with slippers. This wasn’t too bad. The worst was the `pillow` treatment. The child was held by arms and feet and dropped on their back onto a pillow on the floor.
Generally, they were not supposed to punish girls, but my friend and I were once locked in a cupboard in the 6th form block and incense sticks were lit through the key-hole until we were coughing so much, and screaming, that the head boy at the time [name redacted] let us out. I have always been a severe asthmatic but they thought it hilarious. [Head boy] refused to take part in any abuse.
I also remember being so hungry that one night, myself and 2 other girls crept into the kitchens and stole all the stale bread. (Naughty but desperate!) We developed quite a taste for it!
My personal sadness was that I had a boyfriend in the school. There was no sex education so we were both very naive. I fell pregnant at 15 yrs old, had a termination and we were both promptly expelled. I suppose back in those days they didn’t know how to handle the situation. At the time, Mrs Littler (house mother) supported me in every way she possibly could. My hopes of becoming a concert pianist died. My teachers, Anthony Goldstone, Pat Shackleton and Fanny Waterman all encouraged me not to give up, but my heart and soul died too. I became a nurse and taught in my spare time.
I hold no animosity whatsoever towards Chet’s. In fact, I have a pupil there now, and another on the way next year.
I only learned of other horrors at an alumni meet a few years ago. [X] told me her story and scorned the hypocrisy relating to my being expelled. [Y] was a few years younger than me. I used to put her to bed and read bedtime stories. She told me that my departure led her to depression, and another friend told me she subsequently developed an eating disorder as she couldn’t believe how badly my predicament was handled. [Y] had other awful tales to tell but it is not my place to relate them.
I was not sexually abused at Chet’s. However, my 1st instrumental teacher told me I was ‘rubbish’ and would not allow me to play in the senior orchestra. After hearing me play about a year later, Brewer told me I was ‘nowhere near as bad as my teacher had told him’. He allowed me in the orch. After that I played in everything (not a common instrument). I had a very difficult time in the 6th form and left with an eating disorder and a habit of self harm. I did not go on to music college, due to my illness, but always felt a total failure.
Addendum: Reading the other testimonies I just recollected an occasion where we were all dressed up in the summer. It was some kind of open day I think. I was wearing a ‘gypsy’ style dress, tight around the bust and lacy. I can vividly remember Brewer leering at my chest and saying what a lovely dress it was. The other member of staff did likewise and said ‘ it’s what’s underneath that counts’ I was 14 at most. Bastards!!! After I left Chets (ill with an eating disorder), I was groomed and raped. No connection I know but just one more fucked up ex Chets pupil…
It has been difficult to watch Mr Vallins, Mr Hullah and Mrs Moreland all apparently not knowing anything about anything. No authentic compassion was visible from any of them either.
Memories of Chetham’s:
String section rehearsals on a Saturday: being asked to play passages by myself because the conductor thought I couldn’t play it. He was right. Incredible shame in front of peers.
Science classes: I was so frightened of one teacher’s sarcastic cruelty. He could tell when you didn’t know something, and would choose you on purpose to explain it, so that you were shamed in front of the whole class. Because I was so nervous I couldn’t concentrate, and had to rely on copying another student’s answers whenever I could.
In another science class, the teacher became angry because people kept saying “What? when we were learning about watts. He called a boy up to the front of the class and punched him in the face.
Maths: a teacher saw me writing in my text book in pencil, he crept up behind my desk and put his arm across my shoulders and pushed me down onto the desk until I was crushed. My chest was very painful and had bruising afterwards.
Another teacher threw a very fat text book at me because I was talking in class. It missed.
Boarding house life: Being patted on the bottom by the housemaster as I was speaking on the public phone in our girls house.
Being put off alcohol forever when I was 13 and new at the school, when I went into the communal toilets and several drunk students were throwing up in there!!
Nurses: only advice available: take 2 paracetamols.
Mr Brewer: he stared at my breasts whenever he spoke to me, and licked his lips. His lips were always cracked and dry, with horrible white deposits at each side.
The friends I made.
Being in the orchestra when Christopher Adey came to be a guest conductor.
During my School years at Chets I felt abandoned to a place where the staff took very little notice of me. The House Parents barely seemed to register who I was, and I felt uninspired by my violin teacher, so I coasted, doing the minimum I could get away with academically and musically. Having started the school lauded by Brewer as a ‘star talent’, my violin playing was falling behind and so consequently I was called into his office. He proceeded to belittle and humiliate me instead of offering solutions.
After several meetings he concluded I should either leave the school in perceived disgrace, or be transferred to a new teacher who would turn me around. So without any choice I started lessons with Ling.
This was, of course, a disaster.
In my final year I tried to fight back and I threatened to report him. (It had suddenly become clear it wasn’t just me he was ‘picking on’). In response he vowed he would make sure I never played the violin professionally, would ruin my reputation, and would absolutely bar me from getting a place at any music college. We came to a hideous truce where he agreed he would leave me alone if I stayed silent, and I was to pretend to still be continuing my weekly lessons.
I spent that last year facing my music college auditions with no violin teacher (they couldn’t understand why I hadn’t prepared the set scales etc having come from Chets), whilst he still got paid, and continuously bullied and undermined me, in order to keep me toeing his line.
I was by this time withdrawn, painfully thin, often tearful and deeply stressed. My friends tried their hardest to shield me but none of the staff seemed to even notice. In fact my house parent described me to my room-mate as a misery who needed to pull herself together. I wondered why she never once thought to ask me what was wrong, but on reflection I suspect she either knew outright or had, at the very least, heard the rumours, that were rife, of what was going on on the string corridor.
After leaving Chets I buried everything that had happened.
I had barely heard of child abuse and certainly didn’t realise the term might apply in my case. To be clear, Ling manipulated, threatened and isolated me. It was never once consenting – he made my skin crawl. But the atmosphere that pervaded the string department; cello teachers ‘dating’ pupils, violin pupils being ‘girlfriends’, teachers generally sleazing over us girls, making crude comments and unwanted advances, had normalised what I had suffered. Horrifyingly I thought I had just been more unlucky than most, and that it was our lot to be treated as sexual game.
In light of reading the reports from the inquiry, and especially Vallins’ testimony I would like to add some final thoughts.
It was absolutely common knowledge at Chets during my time there, and subsequently, that there were ‘relationships’ happening between staff members and the children. This included the Head of Music and many of the string staff. Ling was known for being the most blatant; taking girls out for drinks, keeping them late in practice rooms, taking them off site in his car etc.
If we all knew, and Vallins had his ‘ear to the ground’ as he claimed, and yes he lived on site, how, at the very least, did he not suspect there was inappropriate behaviour going on? Why did he not question and investigate the rumours, as ultimately it was his job to know the goings-on of the school?
The answer is – because he absolutely did know. A close friend reported the abuse to him shortly after I left. She was squashed by him and [houseparent], and a cover-up ensued.
Appallingly it was during these miserable years that Vallins received his OBE.
I was at Chets from 1973 to ‘81. I entered as a fat 10 year old in Junior A and I well remember the bullying and fear liberally meted out by Boss. He even removed the bedroom doors in Palatine as a punishment for some girls talking after lights out- completely unacceptable on every level! I also remember being called fat in front of the class by Brian Gee and the humiliation of being put on a diet and having to eat crispbread and tinned tomatoes whist everyone else around me ate the normal food. I remember being horribly homesick and having no pastoral care from any member of staff to help me to deal with that.
Academic teaching varied hugely in standard and whilst there were some really inspirational teachers there, having a board duster chucked at one’s head in maths or being called an imbecile was seen as a joke, which it clearly was not. I even set fire to the sleeve of my blouse in chemistry once but there was very little reaction from the teacher and I believe that the Geography teacher either left or was sacked weeks before our Geography O level, meaning that the majority of my class failed the exam.
As I got older, my status as a fat, average pianist protected me from some of the worst abuses from the teaching staff, as I was largely just ignored, although I do remember feeling very hurt that I was deemed almost irrelevant in terms of the hierarchy so prevalent in Chets society. The sexual liberties allowed during weekend tv times in the 6th form centre were legendary and yet I look back now in horror as to how little parental supervision and care we received then. I was in Millgate House looking after the juniors and one of my room mates frequently had sex in our room during the day with her boyfriend with no awareness from the house staff. As I entered the 6th form, I lost a lot of weight and eventually ended up becoming anorexic, which no one on the staff could cope with. I had my first sexual relationship with another 6th form boy and we had a key to an abandoned classroom which we used for sex, which had been given to us by a leaver and which we subsequently passed to another 6th former when we left. I was put on the Pill by the school doc, with no questions about my medical history, despite the fact that my mother had died young of a heart attack due to being on the Pill. My dramatic weight loss was questioned by him, but it was easy to lie my way out of it and I had no follow up or any ongoing care or monitoring of my weight. My piano teacher changed too during this time and my new one was emotionally abusive and demanding and acted inappropriately in her lessons. I’m pretty sure that she was an ex pupil of Bakst. I was terrified of her and although I became a much better pianist, it came at a huge price. Around this time, I also found out from a 6th form friend about the sexual relationship she was in with a member of staff, which, as far as I know, she still hasn’t disclosed publicly and may never do so. By this time, it was public knowledge that there were a group of girls, mainly string players, who were involved in sexual relationships with Brewer et al. This was almost seen as a joke and the girls perceived as flaky slappers, which is more a comment on how groomed we all were in accepting such behaviour than the girls themselves. Alcohol featured regularly and the 6th form boys brewed their own beer and cider. It was commonplace to leave school to drink illicitly at several city centre pubs, the Mitre being the most popular one. I can remember drinking there before I reached the age of 18, with staff members present and ignoring us. I also remember the pop up brothels on Long Millgate, the prostitutes’ clients fighting in the street and the Yorkshire Ripper… all of which made leaving school in the evenings a profoundly unsafe experience. Competition amongst pupils in terms of lunchtime concert appearances and orchestral seating was seen as ordinary and yet now, can be viewed as being undermining and abusive. When I was awarded a place at all of the four music colleges I applied to, I can’t remember a single Well Done coming from anyone! As an adult, I married another ex-Chets pupil who eventually became emotionally very unwell and my marriage to him broke down. This was partly a result of him having had a short lived affair on tour with another ex-Chets pupil who was herself a victim of Layfield and who had, in my belief, grown up with the consequential emotional vulnerabilities which allowed her to engage in such a way towards a married man. So her experience affected my husband and myself so many years later.
I left my dad on his own to go to Chets for 8 years and although it undoubtedly gave me social and musical opportunities I would not have had otherwise, it was not a good place to be. After the RCM, I got a post grad place at the RAM but I never went. I was seriously ill with an eating disorder at College and despite being a prize winner there , I could never slough off the legacy of Chets and the way it made me feel like a complete and utter failure. Instead, I gave up playing for almost a decade and only really returned to it by training to be a music therapist. I’m now a piano teacher but as a single mother, have never been able to have the time to give to a performing career; lack of confidence and the shadows of the reasons my marriage broke down in terms of my ex-husband’s mental health issues have prevented it. I have had a string of failed relationships, all fuelled by the profound lack of parental guidance I received at Chets where none of us were raised with an adequate sense of Self. Egos were either inflated or decimated and most of us were emotionally chaotic and unsafe and have grown up to carry unhappy legacies of our time there.
Chet’s alumnus 1982-1990.
Chet’s was a fiercely competitive environment where prizes defined you: being chosen to play in a masterclass, winning the concerto competition, where you sat in orchestra, scholarships to music colleges etc. Ling’s pupils were outstanding, winning internal and external competitions, leading the school orchestras etc. What we now realise is that they were coerced into accepting their abuse by him because they believed that that is what it took to promote their status.
It makes me feel sick that my friends suffered this abuse behind closed doors; my closest friend never spoke to me about what she endured, it was a secret. This secrecy has wrecked lives and it is now time for a redressing.
I also suffered abuse from Bakst. Most lessons he would put his hand at the top of my thigh when I played. At the time I didn’t consider this abuse, although I knew that it shouldn’t be happening.
When the Head of Keyboard asked me about Bakst’s behaviour during my lessons, I denied that anything untoward had ever happened as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
This is the first time that I’m talking about this incident. I suspect that I’m not the only one with untold Chet’s memories.
From the school: I would like counselling available for all Chet’s alumni from that period – no questions asked, just foot the bill. Also, Vallins to be stripped of his OBE and the Vallins building renamed.
In one of the boy’s dormitories, there was a cupboard/wardrobe, on which was written ‘X’s house’ (‘X’ was the name, extremely demeaning, give to one boy by many bullies and many others). What some of the bullies would do was force him into this, so he would be forced into a half-bent-over position, the width practically no greater than his one, so he wouldn’t be able to move, and leave him there for hours, calling and crying. They took great pleasure from this, and other boys found it terribly amusing. Other boys (this boy was a target for many) used to literally ride this boy like a horse around the pool table area in the Millgate building, laughing and cheering while he was crying.
There was the boy who wanted to prove his status over another (both would have been about 16-17 at the time) by delivering him the most pathologically awful hit in the face, so that he lost several teeth, swallowing one of them. Talk of this spread through the house, and the appropriate status was gained.
There was the group of older boys who set on one younger boy who was placed in boy’s house. Amongst the things they did was put sellotape over his mouth and hold his nose so he thought he was going to asphyxiate, or fill his mouth with washing-up liquid, and make him near-choke on it so it come up out of his nose. This as well as kicking him and punching him all over – a whole group of older boys setting on one defenceless boy like this. It was seen as a type of rite of passage, and the test was that he wouldn’t tell the housemaster. There’s more – it is only through talking through these sorts of events in therapy that I have been able to understand that this was not normal behaviour in a school.
And then there was the fact that every single boy in Boy’s House called the house master ‘Prole’. An alternative name was ‘Harry’, also seen as a name which would mock his working-class origins.
All sorts can happen in a brutalised environment. I’m not blaming the boys (they were children) so much as the environment which made this all possible.
I will tell just one story of my own. This concerns the teacher in junior school who made a point of singling out everyone else in the class for praise for what they had done, then holding me up alone in front of them all with that poisonous hatred behind her eyes just to ridicule me in comparison with everyone else. Now I also know that this same teacher, at school camp, actually slept with a sixth-form boy.
This school was a cesspit. It is a disgrace that John Vallins was ever let anywhere near a school, and he should feel nothing but shame and guilt for the rest of his days.
I was one of the lucky ones. I always felt that Chet’s was my home and the staff and pupils my family. I had never had a close relationship with my family and Chet’s became a sort of foster family for me. I was never aware of the terrible things that were going on but there were a lot of rumours about Brewer and Ling. I am devastated by everything that has come to light and my heart goes out to every child who was affected and those adults who continue to be. For anyone who was in a similar position to me, we are feeling a huge sense of loss at the moment. All those happy memories, what was lying beneath? What was true? Who was genuine? All those close relationships we developed with the teachers ([list of some names]), were they a lie? It is so terribly sad and I am absolutely devastated. To all those children who I grew up with – you were the most special, wonderful family to grow up with and none of you are to blame.
Just to add: I would like the school to find all past teachers and find out what they knew. They owe it to us.
It’s only after reading some of the impact statements from my fellow Chetham’s students in and around the 1980’s that the rather dysfunctional pattern of my life has become clearer.
I went to Chetham’s excited about the opportunities to be in a musical environment and develop my full potential. I left with shattered self-confidence and disillusioned not just with music, but with life.
In a nutshell,, I was taught by Bakst. Although I didn’t suffer sexual abuse as badly as some of the girls I knew who were taught by him, he bullied and intimidated me. This culminated in me walking out of a lesson – from which there was no way back as ‘nobody walked out of Bakst’s lessons’. I then took a step back and was taught by my first teacher at Chetham’s, losing all sense of direction.
In the sixth form after this had happened, I was close to leaving Chethams for the local grammar school back home. But I stayed. I seem to remember my parents talking to John Vallins, who encouraged me to stay
I’d never really understood why I dropped out of my first year of university straight after leaving Chets – and I tried to run away to France (but didn’t quite succeed due to a ferry strike at the time!!). I was desperately unhappy but thought it was just ‘me’.
I then went on to another university to do a languages degree and became obsessed with sport because the particular sport I pursued made me feel ‘strong’ and ‘respected’ for what I could do and achieve. I barely studied as I was constantly training, but somehow managed to get a decent degree despite failing a year and having to repeat it.
I couldn’t face the university careers service when I graduated – the sheer thought of any ‘structure’ being imposed on me in the form of a proper job and authority from above scared me rigid. Hence, I ended up working for 6 years in a cycle shop. A waste of my various talents, in my opinion.
I haven’t really played the piano since leaving Chetham’s. In fact, the piano my parents bought me when I started Chetham’s is in my garage.
Fast-forward to 2010 and I finally found the opportunity to become self-employed thanks to the rise of the Internet and entrepreneurial activities.
I am starting to look at my past, especially my teens, twenties and thirties, in a totally different light….
I remember also being bullied by the female junior school teacher with hatred in her eyes. At least I can’t imagine it being anyone else. Is there any reason we shouldn’t name her? She was called [X]. Perhaps her name can be redacted if needed. She is long dead I believe. She was in my experience a very opinionated, forceful, bitter person, very wrapped up in herself and without the maturity required of a teacher. She openly declared frequently that she hated girls and wished they had never been allowed in to the school. Her tenure dated back to before they were.
As with other teachers, ex pupils had mixed experience of her and some thought and still think she was marvellous. It is important to realise that abusers don’t abuse everyone and can present as quite charming to others. Nor do bullies bully everyone. They pick on people who seem vulnerable or who annoy or discomfort them for whatever reason. Teachers ought to be able and willing to rise above these feelings, be the adult and treat their pupils reasonably equally and decently, even in the face of provocation. She didn’t and in an environment where bullying was quite normal, she was a law unto herself. Perhaps, being conditioned into this environment, those who weren’t the targets also overlooked that others were. We all accepted our lot and that of others as normal. Playing favourites and targets is also of course a great way to gain the collusion of the class and make the bullying more painful for the target.
She had those she hated and those who were her favourites. She also had her figure of fun boy in my time who she liked to ridicule and dismiss in a seemingly affectionate but demeaning way. She made him the class joke. I believe, having heard since, that he was also badly bullied by other boys. No doubt her behaviour towards him fed into this if not causing it. She took a dislike to me, and I think a couple of my friends. She launched an ongoing bullying campaign against me that lasted the entirety of my time within her reach, which I think was two years due to lack of teachers. It was usually verbal although she hit me across the head once. She would ridicule my appearance daily as a matter of course in front of the class and would take any other opportunity going to try to undermine or humiliate me. I tried to ignore, resist or fight back in minor ways, but at age nine and ten being subject to a concerted daily hate campaign by an adult in front of my peers was hard to deal with. It made my life at school a misery and profoundly affected my self-esteem. I know I wasn’t the only one.
I didn’t know about her allegedly sleeping with a sixth former at camp, though I do remember her openly singing the praises of and fawning over a man who used to go to camp. He was no longer involved with the school. He might have been an ex pupil or ex teacher I’m not sure. She would often talk about herself and her opinions at length in class, so telling us how marvellous this man was and how much she was looking forward to seeing him at camp was par for the course. As I attended camp, I saw her flirting with him and we all assumed there was an affair or would be if it was up to her.
One disgusting practice that hasn’t yet been discussed was the ‘staking out’ ritual at school camp, where a group of adults or older large pupils would grab someone, overpower them and tie them spread-eagled to the ground with tent pegs. People would then gather around them to taunt them, laugh at them, poke them, throw things over them (I remember cold water and pig-swill being favourites). This was all treated as a marvellous joke and was expected to be laughed off by the victim. This was pretty much the approach to all public assaults and bullying, like the beatings with a huge plimsoll meted out by a games teacher ([Y], still alive) amongst others and perhaps his ‘red hand gang’, which boys from the late seventies/early eighties might throw more light on. I also know of at least one occasion when several junior school girls were assaulted by a female games teacher with a plimsoll. Like with corporal punishment it was usually the boys who were victims of staking out but not always.
One day at school camp a group of men, including the one that [X] had a thing for, grabbed me, dragged me somewhere and started trying to tie me down. I was told this was under instruction from [X]. They actually looked a bit sheepish like they knew they were doing something wrong and that even in a world where ‘staking pupils out’ for japes was normalised, they realised that this was crossing a line (big adult men, small girl, obvious, open animosity from the person instructing them to do it, obviously not a joke on either side). [X] came to survey what was happening and to openly gloat. I fought the men and didn’t give up until I managed to get away. I ran away and was gone for the rest of the day. I don’t remember any search parties being sent for me. I remember sitting on top of a hill with another friend who had run away to the same place, looking down at a view of several people being staked out. It looked like a crucifixion scene. We didn’t want to go back. I also remember a very large boy/man being staked out and quietly going along with it saying that he had health problems (asthma being one) and had to be careful. He was clearly struggling physically and afraid while they carried on regardless.
Another junior school teacher in the late seventies was Brian Gee, again remembered fondly by many, but not all. He once made a lengthy public speech to the whole junior school about what a despicable person the child was who had been stealing money from coat pickets in the cloakroom. He finished off by revealing the identity of the child. She was there. Was this an appropriate way to deal with the situation?
Funnily enough, in informal chat amongst alumni, the person who most viciously defended these teachers and attacked anyone who said anything against them, is someone who I remember as the chief bully in the junior school. He was the biggest boy and used to beat up the others at break times. He is now apparently in a senior position in education. I am not blaming him, certainly not the child that he was. It was the culture of the place from the teachers down. There was a lot of ‘fighting’ amongst the boys, certainly at junior school. That seemed to be what boys did at the time, and maybe it is, but from what ex pupils have said subsequently I think many boys were being physically bullied and assaulted and it wasn’t all in good fun. It wasn’t stopped by the teachers and in some cases it was modelled.
Some of us knew or subsequently worked out that the violence, bullying and abuse was wrong and some didn’t and haven’t. Some don’t want to think about it at all. Whilst there was a lot of useful discussion and support in alumni discussions and chat after Fran’s death there were also those who were very protective of the school and hostile to critics or abuse victims. Discussion could degenerate to a very low and abusive level as if we were going back in time and some shocking defence of predators and undermining of victims took place. Some of the defenders of the schools and abusers were still involved with the school as parents or teachers or were still friends and colleagues of sexual abuse perpetrators. So the toxic legacy and pain for unacknowledged victims goes on.
From the music side, some of my school friends were routinely bullied by instrumental teachers. Some of these people were seemingly quite disturbed and volatile, if not out and out sadistic or physically and sexually abusive, and were not suited to teaching. I didn’t know about the sexual abuse until recent years, but there was much undermining, criticism and whittling away at the children’s self esteem. I had plenty of this from my first piano teacher, [Z], who may have been mentioned earlier and was a pupil of Bakst. She would shout and verbally abuse and write heavy scrawled notes in my practice book with underlined capitals and lots of exclamation marks. The general drift was that I was not good enough and must try harder. She might storm out. She also advised her pupils to skip meals so they could practice more. She entered me into a competition once, which I hated and which terrified me. The result of going through it all was to be in the doghouse because I had played a wrong note. Apparently, according to [X], it was a matter of common courtesy to manage not to do that. So I was the lowest of the low. I was an eight-year-old child.
Another piano teacher of a friend ripped up her music threw it on the floor and jumped up and down on it when she was unhappy with her progress. In each case our parents eventually got our teachers changed, but there was no question of the teachers being challenged on their behaviour or stopped from doing it to the next poor kid.
I wasn’t the most conscientious, endlessly practising pupil, mainly because I was really unwillingly conscripted into this rarefied environment and this classical music ‘career’. I know some did have a real vocation and others probably bought wholesale into the ambitions of those around them. Even then, I’m not sure that a school like that is the appropriate vehicle for such an interest. It certainly seems inappropriate for children of such a tender age, even if all the abuse could be eradicated, which I doubt. Many who did have passion and dedication had it sucked out of them by their experience there, or had so many negative issues tacked on to it.
Whatever interest I had in music was certainly eclipsed by the verbal abuse, pressure, oppressive atmosphere, unwanted responsibilities and stress. I was told I had a gift that I had a duty to serve, and in a very specific, prescribed way. I didn’t want to dedicate my young life from age eight to a classical music ‘career’. I wanted to lead the normal life of a kid. I didn’t want to spend my free time sitting in a room on my own in front of a piano practising pieces I didn’t like for hours. I wanted to be out playing with my friends.
If I hadn’t practised as much as my first teacher wanted I would sometimes stand outside the door of the room where my lesson was to take place. Although I knew it would only incur her wrath further, I could stand there for ten minutes or more getting later and later for my lesson feeling unable to face going in.
Even when I got nicer teachers, the fact remained that I was being forced, as a child, to devote my whole life and being to something I didn’t want to do. All the pressure to unwillingly practice, perform, take exams, enter competitions, etc, just made me into a very stressed kid. Nobody ever seemed to pick this up, though it must have been clear to anyone with any emotional intelligence, something that was and I believe still is, sadly lacking in these places.
A subsequent relatively nicer piano teacher I had turned out to marry a choir master and music teacher who could be entertaining and was liked by some, but could also be quite a bully. That was [AA]. He once found himself accidentally giving me a compliment by bemoaning my recent absence and saying I was useful in the choir. Realising what he had done he quickly qualified this by insisting ‘not good, but useful’. This was a shame because the choir, and even performing with the choir in public, was the one musical thing I enjoyed there, and I might even have pursued and enjoyed singing as a second instrument if I had not been convinced of my inadequacy. Singing is something that I did do many years later and I know now that I do have a good voice. Of course [AA] delivered this put down in front of the rest of the choir and, whether he really thought it or not, it is hard to know what positive outcome he could have wanted to achieve by saying it and doing it in that way.
Once [AA] had married my teacher he took to telling me off, again in front of the rest of the class, if I was deemed not to have been practising enough. This destroyed any feeling of trust and safety I had with her. For reasons I can’t remember I changed to a third and final teacher who was nice, and even tried to find music I liked, but I think the damage had been done by then and there were so many other reasons to be stressed and unhappy at the school, so this didn’t salvage things for me there and I continued to lobby to leave.
It never seemed to be an issue what the kids did or didn’t want to do or what our interests in music were. We were there to get with the programme and be sacrificed at the alter of the almighty music, as selected by those in charge, the plaudits and reputation of the teachers and school and presumably keeping the revenue coming in the gravy train running.
I remember finding Michael Brewer creepy and immediately guessing his name when my husband told me a Chet’s teacher had been convicted of child abuse. I had some contact with him and he led my audition, but I didn’t have a lot of contact with him. I managed to leave in the early stages of puberty so I was probably not on his radar. I don’t remember Fran but she was there when I was, a couple of years above me. What happened to her was so tragic and now that Brewer and his wife are long out of prison, her husband and kids still live with her loss and it’s legacy. One thing is for sure, her death brought hundreds of ex pupils together, largely online, to share and better understand experiences and in some cases prosecute those who abused them. The chain reaction has been immense and affected far more people than those who have publicly testified.
I’m so glad I managed to persuade my parents to let me leave, a process that took 5 years, with every summer holiday an oasis that may or may not end with me having to go back there again. Come that day, like many others, I turned my back on the piano and any involvement in music for ten years. Later I did manage to enjoy getting involved in music I liked for fun, but the instruments I had played at Chet’s always had negative connotations, as did classical music which I was turned off for life. I also had to overcome as best I could a lot of associated insecurity and anxiety, including severe and crippling self-criticism, all of which dated back to Chet’s.
I thought I was the only one who carried the burden of not feeling good enough and feeling I was letting the side down, which was regularly reinforced by the adults around me at Chet’s. Little did I know that this was almost a standard part of the conditioning of pupils at Chet’s. I think the pupil who was confident in their abilities, felt nurtured and supported and enjoyed their music must have been rare. It is only by sharing stories that many of us have probably realised this.
Whilst my time at the school was unhappy, I fully realise that my stories pale in comparison to the horrendous accounts of abuse we now know. My heart goes out to all those who were sexually abused. It also goes out to those who were physically assaulted, bullied and otherwise abused and who were negatively affected by the toxic atmosphere and regime of Chet’s, as you would be. That would include me I suppose and I realise now would bring it to a very large number, perhaps even the majority of ex pupils. What is worse there seems to have been a similar culture in many other schools and colleges.
Although my memories are quite trivial in comparison to the worst excesses, I think they all form part of the context and culture within which the worst things happened. Even the things I remember and went through there were unacceptable and not something a child should have to deal with. I would certainly never send any child of mine to a place like that or accept them being treated in any of those ways.
I think that the accounts and memories from the past are still very relevant today, because there is no real evidence to show that all the welfare concerns are behind us and that the culture of Chet’s and elsewhere carries none of these negative issues. Even the concept of these schools and sending kids there has to be in question. Is it healthy to convince children they should embark upon a ‘career’ and adult responsibilities to which they should devote most of their time? Even if it is, is it actually being done in a healthy way?
Whilst it is a positive step that the latest head has apologised for past abuses and will communicate with ex pupils, this does not allay all concerns. The apology was after all given under extreme duress and this head has still stuck to the mantra that all these bad things were bad but are firmly in the past and everything is different now. There still isn’t enough humility or self-reflection. I also doubt that all the old guard and old attitudes have been completely shed.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that one music theory teacher, [AB], used to call kids up to the front who had displeased him and hit them over the head with an enormous book. Again, laughed off by him and most of the kids (usually boys), but a really silly, dangerous and violent thing to do in retrospect, not to mention the bullying aspect.
It should also be noted that for the boarders, the bullying and assaults from adults in charge continued into the evening and night by a fair few accounts, including more corporal punishment. I remember visiting a dorm with my boarding friend when we were eight and her telling me about being given ‘apple pie beds’ and how she hated boarding and really missed home. That sounded miserable enough, but I realise it wasn’t the half of it. Needless to say, led by the example of the adults or left unchecked, fellow pupils could also be brutal to boarders within their accommodation.
That has to be another scenario of dubious benefit in addition to the whole music hothouse / sweatshop idea: sending kids as young as seven away from their homes and families to live full time in an institution, for no good reason other than to apparently further their education and their musical ‘careers’ with little thought of their physical and emotional development and wellbeing. In this case this was frequently with bullying and uncaring ‘house parents’. How much more vulnerable those boarders were to sexual abuse as well, far away from their parents, under almost complete control of the school and unable to escape. It was the boarders who had it the worst. They were the most seriously let down.
Even the kind house parents wouldn’t love and care for the kids like their own parents would. How does this set kids up for happy, healthy young lives or indeed adult ones? A really silly, misguided practice in my view. I refuse to accept that this is a healthy way to bring up kids at the best of times, and the best of times it surely wasn’t for Chet’s boarders in the past. Research has been done on the emotional damage done to displaced kids in boarding schools, so I’m not the only one with misgivings and accounts from Chet’s ex-boarders are not the only evidence available on the folly of this.
I started Chet’s in lower sixth and having come from a normal comprehensive school in Greater London I felt very privileged to be a student there. Around the time of my audition I attended one of Chris Ling’s pupils concerts in London. I can remember being blown away by the standard of playing. Chris Ling was sitting in the front row being very flamboyant. In my final violin lesson before I left to go onto Chet’s my violin teacher had a long chat with me. She explained that Chet’s would be a fantastic place for me to blossom, but that I should be wary of some of the male members of staff. No plunging necklines or short skirts she said. Of course being 16 I didn’t pay much attention!
Within a few weeks of starting it became apparent that there had been many inappropriate things going on. Chris Ling had just left, everyone was talking about him and there were many rumours of relationships between pupils and teachers particularly in the string department.
During my first year I got taken out for drinks with another student by one of the violin teachers on many occasion. To be honest I’m not really sure why I went, maybe it was the free booze! He wasn’t even my violin teacher. I guess I felt lucky to be asked in some weird way. I can also remember returning from a night out very scantily dressed with another girl. It must have been late maybe 10.30pm. I walked through the string corridor to fetch my violin to take it up to my dorm and I saw Mike Brewer. I panicked, he looked really sweaty and had this big grin on his face and was looking up and down at us. We started to run off, we were giggling but feeling a bit freaked out to see Brewer at that time of night. He started chasing after us, he was laughing. We ran up the stairs and managed to get back into Palatine through the main door. We had a laugh about it afterwards, Mike Brewer being a pervert as usual! Looking back it seems so wrong!
But I was truly one of the lucky ones and remained unharmed at Chet’s. My playing did blossom, I made some lovely friends, some of which I am still in touch with. I went on to music college and now enjoy a successful career in music. My heart goes out to those who have been so badly affected and had a truly dreadful time at Chet’s.
I’m so sickened reading and hearing all of these reports. I was there from 1990-1996 (from memory).
I don’t remember much of my time there, just snippets? Not sure why this is.
However, I know what I’ve not heard anything about is the other house parents & other staff.. particularly [houseparent] from the [one of the houses in the school] who was in relationships with students. He wasn’t the only one, this was common knowledge across school that relationships between staff and students were happening! Brewer was one of them too in my time. He was in a relationship with the head girl who was in sixth form! I was 2 years below at the time!
Now that I’ve listened and read all of these reports I can remember some awful experiences of staff, for example, throwing a heavy text book at me Cos I had hiccups [name redacted] English teacher telling me I’ll never pass my gcse because I’m too stupid then accusing me of slamming a door in face (I hadn’t seen her behind me?!) – I got an A btw, the same comment from the science teacher – I got a B!
I went on chamber choir tours with Brewer! Did the staff know about the allegations of abuse against him before we went? Therefore putting us at risk! I’d really like to know? All of the staff there should be held accountable not just the few we are hearing about! All the house parents! All teachers…. everyone.
I’m actually a senior safeguarding officer with Manchester City council based in a large primary now!
I was not sexually abused while at Chet’s in the 1970s but my story is just another example of the neglect which was prevalent at the time.
From 1973/4 I had several symptoms, all relating to primary hypothyroidism, which were never picked up on. I had bald patches in my hair, I became increasingly tired (some of my reports said that I was lethargic), I became very depressed and just shut myself off from things so that I have very patchy memories of that time. I suffered such severe constipation that my bowel closed up. This involved me having to go to hospital and have really horrible procedures (completely on my own). My broken hip (a slipped epiphysis which was also related to an undiagnosed underactive thyroid) was not picked up on for 2-3 years; I was treated for a pulled muscle and given some cream to rub on until eventually I was sent for an x-ray. While in hospital I had various other symptoms which indicated that I had had an underactive thyroid for several years. Over this time I had become convinced that I was probably a bit of a hypochondriac and not so good at coping with aches and pains: the opposite turned out to be the case.
There was an utter lack of any pastoral care or creation of a safe and secure environment at Chet’s in the 70s. I could not share with my family how miserable I felt at school as they had enough problems of their own.
When I returned to the sixth form I was inexplicably boarded out to live with the PE teacher and his wife, an experience which further isolated me and for which I have been unable to get any explanation.
After all that has happened, and especially as I am now a mother, I feel so sorry for the girl I was back then. Totally alone and thinking that there was no place for her in the world because she was simply not good enough to exist.
I was at Chets 1970-72 then again 75-77 – I have very fond memories of a lot of that time and some of the freedom we were afforded as teenagers growing up together as a family. I still maintain some of those friendships now.
I just want to share an incident that happened at the end of the Easter term 1976 which took on greater significance when the trial of Michael Brewer became public.
It was the end of the Easter term and for some reason a few girls stayed behind an extra night before going home – there was a party in Miss Woodruff’s flat (Housemistress) which we went to – teachers were also there. A group went off to get pizza and I went to bed. Later that night I woke up to see a figure standing in the doorway of my room – and with dread realised I was the only girl on the corridor. We were in the centre of Manchester and I was the most terrified I’d ever been in my life up to that point – I pretended to be asleep and out of the corner of my eye I recognised it was one of the teachers, not music staff but an academic teacher who was in boys boarding at that time. He stood there for a long time and then came to sit on my bed – I don’t know if he knew I was awake and I can remember very confused feelings, mainly wondering why on earth he was there.. I could smell alcohol on his breath – as long as I feigned sleep we could maintain the status quo. As far as I remember he sat there for a long time – eventually I did pretend to wake up and at that point he got up and left. I can remember the courage it took for me to get out of bed, run down the corridor, through the glass doors, up the stairs to my friends’ room on the top floor. In the morning we went to see Miss Woodruff – all she said was, oh yes- he was a bit drunk last night… Instead of getting the train home I went to tell my then boyfriend – as I was leaving school she came up to me and said, ‘are you absolutely sure it happened?…’
The next term the teacher had left boarding but continued to teach at the school for many years. Nothing was ever said to me about it, although I remember JV coming to talk to me at supper in the Baronial Hall, which was unusual.
I’ve managed to piece all this together with the aid of my teenage diary – we’re talking 40 years ago! Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile were up there as role models..
Around 2011 the teacher in question sent me a message on Facebook which must have been when Brewers trial started – it was quite breezy and I just thought it was a Facebook weirdo! Of course, later I realised he was watching his own back – I didn’t reply. He seems to have removed his profile now.
It has a significance as this was prior to some of the dreadful abuse that took place in subsequent years and surely JV must have known there was a culture at the school.. Bakst was reported as far back as 1971.
I listened to the live streaming of the Inquiry and cried at the evidence of women in their 40s describing their ordeals –
I actually hated the salacious way the trial and Fran’s suicide were reported and the sensationalism surrounding the ‘story’. However, it had a profound effect on me personally – not only did it make me question the situation I was in at the time relationship-wise, (probably a good thing), it certainly impacted on my teaching job at a private school – somehow, I felt I was tainted by being associated with Chets even though I had been a pupil there, not a member of staff.
Chet’s student 1989-1998.
On watching the inquiry and reading it. I am appalled at Vallins, Hullah and Moreland. Still using cloak and dagger methods (relaying blame elsewhere) to sweep things under the carpet and cover things up. I do not understand why Mrs Rhind or people from the board of governors at the time have also not been called up and made to answer questions. It is quite plain to see they all failed in their duty and the rest of staff there that knew or heard rumours (they were probably scared not to speak up as would lose their own reputation in the music world or job if academic staff).
It is the truth that there was another cover up around the time Brewer left and that was of another housemaster/[academic subject] teacher who had relationships with students.
The school failed massively in its pastoral care and welfare of its students. The whole culture was a toxic environment to grow up in. I myself suffered greatly with anorexia and in adult life have depression/anxiety with the root cause of life at Chet’s that my psychologist/psychiatrist can confirm.
The friends I made and the few staff who really did care about our welfare are the positives and I received an education and piano teaching and musicianship I wouldn’t have received back home. That is no compensation for the awful culture the school thrived on.
I want to see Vallins stripped of his OBE and the Vallins building renamed.
As a wind player, I feel that I was lucky during my time at Chet’s. However, even writing that feels so wrong. Why should there have been pupils who were ‘lucky’ enough to avoid the direct and immediate effects of the culture of abuse that existed there? As with many of my mid-80s contemporaries, there was always gossip about who in the Sixth Form Mike Brewer was involved with, Ling’s Strings and Bakst (to mention just a few) but this was normalised amongst pupils – and in some ways was seen as something to be emulated. From the distance we are now, and as a teacher myself in a boarding school, I’m staggered to consider that this could in any way have seemed to be acceptable.
Pastoral care was essentially lacking – why was it possible for us to spend nights in the boys’ boarding house, spend evenings at the pubs (often with member of staff turning a blind eye) and even be able to spend whole nights out in Manchester? We were essentially left to our own devices in the boarding house with little care or consideration being shown to us.
The testimony of John Vallins in which he simply abdicated all knowledge and responsibility sickened me. I fail to believe that there was no way he knew of this – and if that holds even a grain of truth, then at the very least, he proves himself to have been incompetent as a Headmaster. The complete lack of compassion from him even now is something that I just can’t forgive. I have questions also about how many other members of staff knew what was happening and chose to ignore it – I fail to believe that other senior members of staff were unaware, yet did nothing to address the many concerns.
As with many other ex-pupils, I feel an enormous sense of guilt that I didn’t act upon any of this at the time when friends spoke about such things, but the normalisation of the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse allied with the poor pastoral care meant that there was little understanding and the reputation of the school mattered above all else. That strikes me as such a poor excuse now and I wish I’d been braver at the time – but then, reading others’ comments, would anyone have taken any notice even then?
I arrived at Chetham’s when I was 14, in time to study for my GCSEs and A-levels. I spent my last 4 years of school there, from 1988-92. For my first two years I shared a dormitory first with 4, then with 3 other Chris Ling pupils. I could tell I was different but I didn’t know why. I had arrived at the same time as one of the girls and was really good friends to start with but then she drifted and got closer to the others. As time progressed, I noticed they were much more ‘advanced’ than me (this is what my 14 year old mind called it). They were experimenting with make-up, really extravagant sexy underwear. I always felt a bit of a frump but of course, that’s because I didn’t know what was happening to them. Once the news came out a few years ago, everything immediately made sense to me. I re-connected and found they had been affected, personally and directly, by this horrendous man. Suddenly their premature sexualisation made complete sense. As an adult I was horrified to look back and realise that was why they were so attractive, making such an effort, wearing these underwear garments. It was utterly devastating to learn what happened to them. And to learn that many pupils tried to tell staff and they were ignored or told to be quiet. I am shocked to learn that the very people who were meant to protect us were aiding and abetting abuse on a very large scale. I am fortunate to not have got caught up in anything directly but the school was known to be a chronically unhappy place. For years people teased me, saying everyone who came out of Chet’s was messed up. I thought it was because they practised too much. The other point to make here is I know the boys were very violent towards each other. I can’t help wondering if it was all part of the same terrible dereliction of duty. My friend said the others regularly beat him up. No staff stood in. I would like finally to underline that we were NEVER written to, invited to make statements, offered counselling or any other support. The school has NEVER contacted me about this matter. I am shocked that the school has behaved as it has and then claimed to have involved us. I am lucky to have a great career as a musician but many of my friends have been destroyed by the school. When will it face up to the lives lost to mental and physical ill-health (very serious in the 3 cases I know of)? When will it offer proper compensation to these people?
I was at Chet’s at the time of the Michael Brewer trial and through the subsequent press revelations about the school. Possibly the biggest issue is that my memory is still accompanied by the feelings of a 16-18 year old… a young person in a potentially vulnerable position. It is only when I look back that I realise that I was still very vulnerable at that age and that my understanding of the world was still generally very naive. Naturally the main concern for students at the time was protecting the reputation of the school. This was seen in the online conflicts on Slipped Disc every time a new article was published about Chet’s.
After many years those feelings still exist (though diluted), and I now realise that Chet’s didn’t do anything to support students who were at the school when all this was happening. There was no guidance on how to tackle news reports; no formal discussion about who had been affected or when; no acknowledgement of wrongdoing to the students, or reassurance that we were all safe. The only pieces of guidance we ever received were in the form of Ms Moreland standing up in assembly to tell us the school was being investigated but not to worry and carry on as normal. Ms Moreland was largely out of the picture the rest of the time.
Small class sizes, rigorous curriculum and homework from age seven.
Daily spelling tests, punctuation lessons. We were always encouraged to take books from the extensive library, take care of small rodents. Science with Mr Gee, art with [X], charity awareness from Mrs. Mainprize.
Someone who really stands out from this time was the exceptional music teacher Cecilia Vadja, a Hungarian émigré and pupil of Zoltan Kodaly. She hated and struggled with the ethos of the school which is saying something, coming as she did from behind the iron curtain. I learned so much from her.
There were only six girls in juniors in 1969. Until age eleven I was called only by my surname by my classmates. I developed an aggressive, tomboyish personality as a defence mechanism.
In the early days the only option was to play football in PE. The PE teacher Mr Pessel (before [Y] joined) solved this by allowing myself and two other girls to go to the swimming pool totally unsupervised during double games. Usually a boy would appear to tell us it was time for us to change and return to lessons after morning break. On one occasion this did not happen and we appeared with wet hair much later. For this we were severely punished and made an example of in assembly when it was simply not our fault.
Mr Gee was prone to episodes of mania. I remember the whole Junior A class being forced to write lines for a whole day for some minor misdemeanour by a few pupils.
Mr Vickers acted likewise. You could be bawled at crossing the yard and summoned to his office for a uniform inspection. Offences included not having all your cardigan buttons done up or unpolished shoes.
The Matron (Mrs. Vickers) had designed the girls’ uniform. Picture ‘Call the Midwife’ circa 1955. Originally only available from Henry Barrie, it was all wool and very expensive. You could easily spot a boarding girl because this uniform was ruined, washed out in the school laundry. There was also a school cape which made it impossible to carry anything while wearing it. Imagine on public transport hauling a satchel, violin case and duffel bag with hands protruding through the two small holes in front. All topped off by a blue beret. Losing or not wearing the beret had consequences.
From the time I started in Junior B, every breaktime we played cards in the class room. The game was Beggar my Neighbour. The loser of each round had to remove an item of clothing or show their genitals for an increasing amount of time. A ‘sentry’ on the door alerted us when the teachers were returning from the staff room.
Around age ten, swimming lessons consisted of us playing underwater kiss chase in full view of the staff supervisor.
School Camp – Around 1972
The school bus driven by Mr Tyler!
Cocoa in the marquee.
Complete freedom of movement.
It was run on strict military lines by Brian Raby, with accommodation which consisted of canvas army tents.
Communal cricket and rounders.
One night I organised a group of girls to sing in a seaside talent competition in Llandudno. What the trippers made of four part Kodaly folk songs is anybody’s guess!
A bizarre holiday that quickly progressed from ‘St. Trinian’s’ to ‘Lord of the Flies’.
All previous testimony about camp is true. ‘Staking Out’ could be done in the field or worse case, ‘suspended over the bog pit’. The game ‘Split the Kipper’ was played where your legs were progressively extended to the splits position. It was played with penknives or even larger lethal knives. There was no supervision.
There were a couple of boys, who had probably just left Upper Sixth, with whom [X] spent a lot of time. Every day one of them would rub suntan cream all over her on Deganwy beach. There was a lot of tinkering with her sports car as well. In retrospect I think there was a lot more to it than this…
At night the tents became orgies as the sexes mingled. I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time as I was very young. My father paid a visit and interrupted a daytime tryst on arrival. That was the last time I was allowed to attend.
In the day we fished for crabs. At night we walked them over the top of the nearby quarry and cheered.
I wore the same clothes including underwear for ten days. Nobody noticed or cared.
I encountered some exceptional and inspiring teachers, including Mr Richie, Mr McFarlane (a true eccentric), Mr Leach (15th century polyphony anyone? & Peter Sellers comedy records), Penry Williams and Mrs James, both of whom taught history.
I would put many of the staff in this category, including my first teacher who sent me for a trial lesson with Bakst when I was thirteen. I commented ‘He looks frigid’ and she said ‘Don’t you believe it’.
[Z]. A horrible bully (and I think a former policeman) who called me arrogant and always addressed me as Mozzzzzzzart after a mispronunciation with my Lancashire accent. There was a kind of show and tell in his lesson, every week we were encouraged to bring in our favourite recordings. My Brandenburg Concerto was abruptly turned off with the comment ‘terrible recording’. This was the sort of thing that destroyed confidence in a moment. I was terribly humiliated.
[AA]. A PE teacher and Housemistress. Straight from the cast of Prisoner Cell Block H. She would drag us into the showers by our bra straps, insist we undress and watch. I remember her forcing anti-smoking medication down a girl I knew. She was a sadist.
Nobody took much notice of me musically until I was about 13. I hated practising and gradually my inbuilt talent was eroded by the daily grind. All that changed when I became a Bakst pupil. Once on this fast track my playing improved. At the same time the sex abuse started. The worst of it was lessons at his house in Prestwich, ostensibly extra work before a concert. He would put on a record, sit close on the chaise longue, grasp my hand and place it on his lap. He had a peculiar odour, a sweet sickly mixture of cologne and sweat. All the while with his (much younger, stunning) Polish wife and infant child downstairs.
At school, he did the same sort of thing but would leave the room and return ten minutes later! I won’t elaborate further, as you already know about this from other testimonies.
The point about it is that by the age of sixteen I was being encouraged by Bakst to devote myself completely to the piano. So I went to Vallins and asked if I could give up all academic work and concentrate only on performing. Amazingly he and other members of staff agreed to this despite me having done well at ‘O’ level. So for the whole of the sixth form that’s what I did, only walking into the ‘A’ level music exam on the day. What I didn’t realise was that without two ‘A’ levels I couldn’t get a grant to continue at music college. Finally my local authority relented on condition that I did another A’ level which I did at night school. This is an example of the lack of knowledge and care that occurred on Vallins’ watch.
LATER YEARS – OUT OF HOURS
Here is a description of boarding life at the time. We all smoked, every lunch and breaktime in the toilets in Girls’ Boarding House.
Sometimes there were Saturday night parties at day pupil’s houses. The school presumably imagined birthday cakes and candles but they always degenerated into a drunken sexual free for all. Liberal seventies parents often disappeared for the duration.
Some sixth form boy boarders slept in a block of classrooms with the traditional storeroom at the back of each room. This is where the home brew was made. By this time we had keys to every door in the school and at night (after a swim) we would raid the kitchen for coffee, butter, bread and many more things that would also be kept in suitcases in the storeroom. At night I often used to sleep with my boyfriend at the top of Millgate House under the eaves. Several years later Vallins found our sleeping bags up there and there was a big investigation – too late. We also used my BF’s tuba case to transport bedding and booze if we wanted to meet up in Palatine in the evening. Sometmes we would be disturbed by David Usher, Brewer’s deputy. He would rattle the door handle in frustration but could do nothing. But he was one of the good guys….
As were [House parents AA and AB], Junior House. They made a real effort to understand and help me in the sixth form but I was off the rails by then. When the school doctor put me on the pill [AB] commented “how convenient”.
At weekends I used to tell school I was visiting my father. In fact I was attending parties all over the country with my boyfriend.
He knew the date of the sixteenth birthdays of all his female students. They were always invited to celebrate outside school on that day! He struck me as a weak and repulsive individual but there was no interaction with him as I was not a string player.
His camper van was always conveniently parked outside Palatine House. I was not in his ‘clique’ so never got to know anything of his crimes.
I agree with previous comments made about the ethos of music education. I could have been good at many things given the ten thousand hours theory. Instead I was narrowcast in a musical educational experiment. I believe music is an adult emotion and that the process of cauterisation, instilling Western sonata form in young brains is a destructive act. It is the opposite of creativity. The very best can survive and flourish as musicians. The rest are gradually deprived of the thing that originally gave them joy.
I have not played the piano since 1984.
As a former Chetham’s pupil (border for six years) in the era of both H. Vickers and the then moderniser JV , I feel in a position to say how I saw the writing on the wall for the situation that is now so evident. In my early days bullying was endemic at Chetham’s, in the way it probably was in the armed forces and any other closed institution.
The school had limited resources for control of children unseen, and it was left to a hierarchical system of older boys and the staff to be the ones in charge of the micromanagement on a day to day basis.
I was slippered in the sixth form study block surrounded by onlooking prefects. The flashman of the day was warming the sole on the side of a door to make it malleable and more effective, while the prefects ate sandwiches and laughed. They even threw one at me as I waited for my punishment.
A boy sitting in an armchair on the school yard outside in winter at very low temperatures with a dressing gown only. He had been talking after lights out and this was his punishment. I sent him back to bed and an argument ensued with the staff member because I had undermined his authority!
I was threatened with a knife by a member of staff who, incorrectly, said I had been spreading rumours about him having an affair with one of the sixth form. There was absolutely no possibility to share this threat because I knew, as we all did, that stories like that would undermine the schools public image. It would be denied !! I had to live with that threat 24/7.
I could write a complete book but you get the idea…….
As JV went about his business as a moderniser he took his eye off the ball. His suggestions that the music department had autonomy is consistent with his denial of the issues for which he is responsible.
As a prefect there myself I had many occasions on which to question the suitability of the house staff.
John Vallins walked up to me as we waited on the yard one day before I left and said out of earshot of anyone else “I told you to get your bloody haircut and if you weren’t leaving in three days I would throw you out”. The venom took me aback . I had put more of my life into that place than he could imagine and it almost destroyed my feelings for the the school. His only objective was to be totally in charge. I represented the old Chethams and he wanted to expunge that establishment and for it to become a new order under his stewardship.
To conclude! If Chethams had spent more of its energy looking after its children and less after its oh so inflated status in the world of music education people like Brewer and Ling would never had been allowed to flourish. It was a breeding ground for the swamp life below the surface. The school were so busy producing brochures and fundraising new buildings to they had lost their sense of priority!
I feel ashamed to be associated with the place now. When I was there I don’t believe the grooming had started . Brewer was there in my last year but had not achieved a position of power at that time. His presence seemed minimal it seemed.
My sincere sympathies to all those young people who were affected by what became an evil regime. There were some good people working there, and this diminishes their efforts and their memories.
I was at Chet’s in the early-mid 90s. I flourished musically and academically, and was given many performance opportunities, so I was one of the lucky ones.
However, I have memories of the overly sexualised environment, and also of the prevalence of eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide attempts, particularly amongst the girls.
I was a member of Chamber Choir, and also had aural classes with Brewer, so I spent quite a lot of time with him, and remember his pervy ways. He liked the chamber choir kids, we were his pet students i think. Lots of people thought he was having a relationship with a girl in the Chamber Choir, then when she left, he moved onto RS187, which led to his dismissal in 1994.
He used to get me to sort out piles of choir music in his office in the evening after dinner, and he used to come up behind me and massage my shoulders. He was usually in school until late, probably 10 pm.
He had a copy of Madonna’s book “Sex”, which was a sort of coffee table book of soft porn photos. He seemed to be delighted to have acquired this book, and invited me to have a look at it with him. I was really embarrassed. I think he also used to go on about what a good book it was in chamber choir rehearsals, or perhaps in our aural class.
He used to sprawl on a deckchair near the entrance to Palatine House, bare-chested with these green shorts, and leer at the girls as we walked into Palatine.
In choir, he took every opportunity to be smutty and crude, and used to make innuendos all the time. We used to sing a madrigal called “Hard by a crystal fountain” and he would make a big innuendo out of this. He was really excessive about it.
We were working on Kodaly Psalmus Hungaricus, and he wanted us to be expressive on the words “este könyörgök” so he said “Have you achieved “nyörgök” today?” Nearly everything he did was framed in terms of sex.
We were well aware that he was perverted, and we used to call him Screwer Brewer. I remember being in Palatine near the string corridor, telling a friend “Oh my God, Brewer was so perverted today” then he suddenly appeared from round the corner. He had heard me, and made a big deal of me having hurt his feelings. I don’t think he was really hurt though, he was smiling at me. I just felt really awkward.
There was also amazing music-making and some wonderful academic teaching. Mr. Little was a superb, inspiring English teacher. Academic music with John Leach, Robert MacFarlane, Stuart Beer and Sam King was excellent. Brewer, although deeply flawed and predatory, was an inspiring and charismatic choir conductor, and his aural classes were fun and challenging. I think that was partly why he got away with it all for so long, and why some girls fell for his advances.
I was the first and only junior boarding girl for some time in 1969. I was 8. I arrived a couple of weeks later than the other girls and was put in a room with 3 other girls older than me. I was violently sick the first day there and totally confused by everything. I wet my bed in the first few weeks and my mattress was paraded by the housemistress Mrs Stevens, in front of the other girls.
My first memory of complete isolation when I first went there, was standing in the middle of the yard and there seemed to be no one there in the whole school. I stood there crying not knowing what to do. Eventually a woman came up and asked me what was wrong. Apparently everyone was doing prep somewhere. She sent me to the refectory and there was all the bigger children there. I sat and did some work and only days later found that I was supposed to go to the junior school for it. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of being completely abandoned.
My Mother sent me some money at one stage, there wasn’t ever a lot in our family but the same person told my Mother not to send any more as I spent it in sweets. The two day girls in the two younger junior years had been going up to ‘Matron’ for tea and biscuits when I came along. They took me with them. After I had been there twice, Matron announced that I shouldn’t come anymore as I only came for the biscuits. ( Did I mention I was starving?) I’ve never forgotten the solidarity from the other two girls, they decided to stop going too.
My Mother told me that after my first half term, I came home with a suitcase full of diarrhoea covered clothes and everything fastened with safety pins. I fainted in church one Sunday morning because I was starving, I used to go to the 9 o’clock service as well as the other one we had to go to. I would go because we got tea and toast with butter afterwards. I had dry bread at school for 5 years as the ‘axle grease’ made me violently sick. Nobody looked after me at all that first year until Mrs. Littler came. She was strict but kind and tried to be a bit of a mother to me, when my beloved Grandfather died, she took me up to her flat and also another time when I had a suspected appendix, she let me sleep in her flat to keep an eye on me.
There was also an incident with the swimming pool that was mentioned in an earlier post. We were left down in the pool 7 and 8 year olds unsupervised, whilst the boys played football , a boy would come and get us and the end of games. One time we were left down there and admonished in front of the whole school, not the master who always left us there.
There was a doctor who came to inspect the girls, only the younger ones as I remember. We would be told to strip to our pants only and lined up waiting to go into the staff common room. Matron would be standing behind the doctor and we would file forward for our “ check up” and he would look down our pants and send us on our way.
Harry Vickers and Matron were vile to me the whole time and Boss would put me down constantly and ask me why I couldn’t hold up my viola like everyone else and other comments whenever he saw me. She was almost worse, so bitchy and uncaring. Musically it was great the first year, my violin teacher was Colin Callow and he treated me really well and used to make me play little things to some of the older pupils. He left after a year( I was very sad) and I went to David Usher and I told him I wanted to swap to Viola. He was a nice man but he sacked me after 3 years as I didn’t practice enough. He couldn’t even remember teaching me in later years and remembered me as a horn player in his wind ensembles. My horn teacher was wonderful, Andrew Jones, sadly no longer with us.
Later on there was an occasion when an older girl returned to say hello and came down our corridor to see us. Mrs Orchard came up and said “ Who are you” and it was said back to her by the girl. She was told to leave and I and two others saw her out.
Later that week we were called to the common room where Mrs Orchard and Harry Vickers were. They told us off for talking behind Mrs Orchard’s back. We hadn’t.
Boss pulled down my pants, over his knee and smacked me. After that incident Boss ordered all the doors to be taken of our dorms. He would come down our corridor unannounced quite often.
I also ran away with another girl , very unsuccessfully, we laugh about it now but I was told by boss if I did it again I’d be expelled. I was deeply depressed for the rest of my time there. My form teacher in my first year in the senior school , William Clarke, otherwise known as WC or bog face, gave a report that said ‘[Redacted]’s attitude to school and life is deplorable’. I have had a complete block to do with maths and French since then because of him.
There are more stories but too many to put here. The other children were pretty great and I have really close friends from there still. One older girl was lovely to me in my first couple of terms and tried to look after me though she was young herself. She knows who she is and I am forever grateful. There was one boy I won’t forgive for bullying me, he knows who he is.
Chetham’s made me fiercely independent to start with and gave me a huge contempt for authority. It also made me hate any sort of injustice.
I gave up playing finally a few years ago after a pretty successful orchestral career but complete burn out in the end. I had been playing professionally since the age of 15. When I gave up I heaved a huge sigh of relief, I realised that I’d always done it for someone else. I still teach amongst other things. I’ve found my voice since freeing myself. I left in 74.
In my first piano lesson as a homesick twelve-year-old the teacher asked me to play a piece. When I had finished he leaned his head back in a supercilious fashion and said ‘Oh dear, what a poor admission’. He then paced around the room repeating it several times. I’m not sure that my self-esteem/confidence as a musician ever completely recovered from that moment and occasionally, I still dream about it 45 years later. It was not, however, the only instance when I was made to feel like a second rate musician who really shouldn’t have been at Chet’s. It took some time after I left to realise that my worth as a person was not inextricably linked to my merit as a musician.
I was a boarder at the school between 1982-1987. I’ll cover three areas – how much I knew in the 80’s about the abuse and the culture in general, Mr. Vallins, and [houseparent from group A].
In my first term, I was warned by older girls never to accept a ‘babysitting’ invitation from Michael Brewer for extra pocket money. When students went to his house, ostensibly to watch his kids, he didn’t go out, instead made sexual advances once the children were asleep with promises of helping their careers.
He had a camper van permanently parked on the middle of the playground and no-one on the staff questioned it. It was an open secret that he had affairs with female students.
[Cello teacher X] repeatedly asked my room-mate (aged 13) to practice naked and masturbate and to tell him how she felt. She never did and as a result he lost interest in her as a student, she begged to be a first study singer. She reported him, Brewer did nothing. [X] was an alcoholic who drank vodka in lessons then sipped men’s cologne to hide it – you could smell where [X] had been, the Palatine corridors reeked of alcohol and cheap cologne.
Two of my other life-long friends were molested by Bakst from the age of 11. One unnecessary hand under an arm to ‘assist’ fingering so he could rub a breast, on the floor to ‘help’ pedalling, hand up skirt – shall I go on? Not isolated events, but continuous. They spoke openly of it at the time. They felt they couldn’t ask for another teacher – in a culture where ‘best’ was all, he was at the top of the pedagogic tree in the piano department and Brewer couldn’t care less about harm.
Even a relatively green teenager from [redacted] who didn’t study the violin realised Chris Ling was ‘wrong’, so the claim by Vallins that academic and music staff were separate, therefore didn’t know anything about him, is ridiculous. Ling announced his arrival at school with an almighty horn tune emanating from his naff white Mazda as he passed under the Gatehouse, in front of the staff room (door always open, staff watching). His chest hair and medallions were never out of view. If that spelled wrong to a teenager, how come it didn’t to adults who were supposed to be protecting minors?
Pip Clarke, his widow, was in my class. She was showing off her engagement ring (to Ling) when she was 16. She wasn’t exactly a retiring violet, very garrulous. No teacher spotted that, heard anything?
My piano teachers were [Y] (for 2 years) and [Z] (for 3 years). [Z] was immaculate in every respect as a teacher. [Y] – in thrall to Bakst – was a horror. I learned my place at Chethams from Brewer. [Y]’s tantrums were simply proof of her exceptional ability as a teacher, she was emotional and would bring out the emotion in me.
Having bruises on an arm where you’ve been hit repeatedly with a volume of Bach’s 48, screamed at for one wrong note, my music case (bought by my father, he didn’t have much money) thrown around the room, Beethoven sonatas thrown at you, then ‘I didn’t mean it, lets go to Chloe and you can help me choose my dress for my concert comeback’ was standard fare with [Y].
John Vallins tutored me on a one-to-one basis before my Oxford Entrance exams and was my teacher for A level English. He was a misogynist of the first order and never missed an opportunity to belittle women with a plethora of Shakespearean quotes to back his argument during lessons. A girl wearing eyeshadow was a ‘concubine’, and once our texts were Anthony and Cleopatra and Lear, he was in vituperative heaven – the women were to blame for everything, the men led astray. He would examine our fingernails for signs of paint/degeneracy as he wafted through the room with halitosis, then unleash his skewed interpretations, never at fault, never to be questioned.
Aged 17, I knew him to be morally stupid, but very aware. So fixated by sex would have made him doubly aware of anyone else enjoying it on his territory. By the Upper Sixth Form, [houseparents B] requested I be Head of House and Head Girl. When [houseparents A] arrived they behaved as if royalty from the first day, [redacted information]. They took one look at me, it was a case of mutual detestation. I think they knew I saw through them instantly.
Within a week, my having a period so bad I was bent double, according to them meant I was unfit to lead. I was stripped of head girl, prefect and head of house titles. My parents phoned – Vallins ‘it’s not up to me.’ The [houseparents A] never accepted phone calls from my parents and never responded. I had never broken a school rule.
Twice weekly, [houseparent A] would find me to humiliate me, always when no-one else was present, sitting on the end of my bed. That it was such a pity I had no class, that my clothes were so poor, and that was why I’d never understand that Oxford was beyond me.
When it came to my Oxford entrance exam, on a Monday, given permission by Vallins to go home early the previous Friday, I found my suitcase had disappeared from my room when I was about to go home. There was no note. I thought it had been stolen, all my notes in it, I ran up to the [houseparents A]’ flat to report it. I was asked to step inside with a smile.
The [houseparents A] had removed it. Because I’d been given permission to go home early by Vallins, they didn’t approve of. it They kept me there for two hours, instructed me in humility, Mr [houseparent A]’s low-brow effort was:
‘Do you know what an anarchist is?’
‘Yes – ‘
‘You’re a failed one as long as we are here.’
In the interim, my father, 66, waiting for 4 hours at the unmanned [redacted] Station, which not seeing me arrive from a train, began to panic. No mobile phones. Mother beginning to panic. My father had had two cardiac arrests. I arrived home, having left Manchester at 7pm instead of 3pm, around midnight. For no reason other than cruelty and schadenfreude.
Why didn’t my parents complain? For the same reason no-one else did – Vallins could be threatening by doing nothing.
[Houseparent A] continued to bully me on my academic achievement, music, my appearance, my parents’ class throughout my final year. Mainly by using her daughter as a comparison.
‘You know why [daughter] will always be a success?’
‘No. I’m not sure.’
‘[Daughter] is special. You have to be special to go to Oxford. You are not – the sooner you accept this, the sooner you will be happy. [Daughter] has a something you’ll never understand.’
This happened every week during my last year. On the edge of my bed with an insincere smile wishing me ill.
How I dealt with that was to leave Chethams every weekend. The [houseparents A] were thick, they refused to accept that the people they bullied were far brighter than they were.I spent every Saturday in London – an early train, The Tate, The British Museum, a Simon Gray matinee – or Yorkshire, in Top Withens, that walk from Emily Bronte’s Parsonnage. Anyone notice I was gone? No. So how did the [houseparents A] notice who was harmed?
My mother is a retired secondary school literature teacher, now 83, who had a mini stroke a few weeks ago and is still far from well. She sacrificed much to make up the difference in the fees not covered by my government grant. Listening to the evidence given about [houseparent A] made her BP shoot through the roof (I have to check it several times a day). She felt it was necessary to listen to it as she had entrusted me to her care and knew how cruelly I’d been treated by her.
Thirty-two years on, [houseparent A]’s odious neglect of student welfare is still causing harm and distress. She and her husband were utterly unfit to be house parents. I understand [daughter of houseparent A] is no longer Deputy Head. That is a source of some comfort; I cannot believe the apple fell so far from its poisoned branch given the culture of entitlement that existed in that family while at the school.
I am only one of hundreds of students seriously hurt by staff at Chethams.
I was in year 5 at Chetham’s in 1962, which is the year the bullying and abuse became unbearable, and I walked out. The bullying began on my first day, before registration, when I was singled out by Arthur George for negative comments, including being called Phyllis. The bullying became worse, escalating to sexual abuse, and Operation Kiso, (to whom many thanks) recorded two crimes as having been committed against me, by Arthur George and Donald Clarke. No further action could be taken, as both are deceased. One of my peers in year 5 has remained in continuous contact with the school, until recently being involved with the governance of the school. For the school to deny that abuse has happened, continuously, since the 1950’s is deceitful and hugely personally distressing.
I was a scholarship student at Chet’s between 1996 and 2000. I wasn’t sexually abused, but am still dealing with the effects of the emotional and physical abuse, mostly at the hands of the houseparents and my piano teacher (a female). When I complained that my piano teacher had slapped me hard across the face (when she caught me doing my maths homework in practise time), and would often dig her nails into my arms in lessons, the houseparent told me to stop bothering people with “my chavvy drama” otherwise my scholarship would be in danger.
This houseparent and her husband (a French teacher there at the time) regularly mocked, humiliated and belittled me, to the point where I became a pariah to the other girls who were scared of it happening to them too, and who started to join in the bullying to curry favour with them. When we had pizza or icecream treats, there were always reasons why I “didn’t deserve them” and was made to sit alone at the back of the room whilst the others enjoyed a treat; they would inform me that letters had arrived for me by post, then would withhold them for weeks. On my 16th birthday, my gifts, cards and flowers were kept from me for so long, the flowers were given to me dead and wilted. I was constantly told that I was worthless, and mocked for being stupid (my GCSE results said otherwise), untalented (my future career said otherwise), fat (have issues with eating to this day) and “ridiculous” (they mocked my high voice and accent and often imitated me even when just answering the register). The wife pushed me into walls, grabbed my hair and stopped my from using the phone to call home if I was crying or she thought I would tell and would sit by the phone to control what I said to my parents. Once on a Saturday outing, I had an icecream cone in my hand, and the husband hit my hand so that my icecream hit my in the face, to make the other students laugh. They constantly threatened me with my scholarship and place at the school and how much it would embarrass my family and end my career in music.
One time, I woke up to find my long hair cut partially in chunks while I was sleeping. It was Alton Towers day, so she gave me a cap, told me to tuck my hair up and sort it out myself the next day. No effort was ever made to find out who did it, or to comfort me and take me to sort my hair out. At one point, she had me sent to live in the sick bay for half a term under some excuse, completely excluding me from the other kids.
My piano teacher also told me how untalented I was, how a scholarship was wasted on me, hitting me on the hands with rulers, pushed me off a piano stool, and would often come into my practise room and slap me – quite often, I would spend practise time sobbing at the piano, and if she saw that I was in for it. It totally affected my love of playing and I soon lost interest and did anything I could to get out of performing, for fear of the repercussions behind closed doors, or the mockery.
Now that I’m an adult and a teacher myself, I can’t believe how they justified any of this, and how they got away with it. It still affects me to this day in terms of self-confidence, feelings of being undeserving, and I’m still working through the trauma. The school on my CV does wonders for me, but I would have preferred to stay in my little rural hometown with a piano teacher who didn’t hit me around and better adults for role models. The headteacher, head of piano, other house-staff and teachers all told me either that I was mistaken, exaggerating, or to not make trouble for myself by speaking out. That was the culture at Chet’s.
I only recently tried reading other people’s accounts of abuse, I’ve stayed away from it all because I couldn’t cope with the memories. I hope that anyone else abused there, sexually, physically, emotionally, or other, have found happiness in their lives now. Much love.
The 1980 Department of Education and Science Report into Chetham’s School of Music, National Archives ED 172/598/2Posted: September 20, 2015
Below can be found the full text of the Her Majesty’s Inspectors’ report on Chetham’s School of Music prepared by the Department of Education in Science in 1980, copied from the National Archives file ED 172/598/2. There is no major ‘smoking gun’ here, nothing to suggest that the inspectors noticed much of the abuse which was going on at the time (though very little about issues of safeguarding too – much less of a priority then than now), but many who were at the school at the time will no doubt find this interesting to read.
Yesterday saw the horrendous news of the conviction of and 11-year jail sentence for Philip Pickett on charges of rape and sexual assault of students while he was teaching at the Guildhall School. Here is the original list of charges against Pickett from last year; I do not wish to say much more specific to this case, not least because of the possibility of further trials; suffice to say that I believe a good deal more will be made public about both actions and the complicity of others.
If anything good is to come from this case, I hope it may help to put pressure for a proper international debate about the nature of music education and the possibilities for abuse and exploitation therein. I blogged in some detail about this last December, in response to an excellent article by Damian Thompson in the Spectator. Yesterday I published an article on the film Whiplash in terms of its representation of bullying and abuse in teaching, on The Conversation , and a wider article in The Telegraph about abuse and elite music teaching, in particular raising the controversial question of whether self-regulation is ever likely, and whether that a system which places enormous powers of patronage in a few people’s hands needs a greater degree of external accountability (which would mean political/governmental intervention). Naturally, I would expect there to be and would welcome a range of different opinions on these subjects, but feel strongly that the debate needs to be had amongst music educators worldwide, and more widely in the profession.
With this in mind, I wanted to post here a set of draft guidelines for instrumental and vocal teachers and students at a tertiary level (generally 18 or over) in terms of their dealings with one another, as a starting point for discussion. I drafted these around 18 months ago (which included other guidelines on such things as when it is/is not appropriate to cancel a lesson, not so relevant here), and whilst they have not yet been taken up, I hope very much at some point they or something like them will be.
I would welcome all thoughts on the below, including new suggestions, disagreements, and so on. I accept some will disagree with my views on physical touching (I suggest this is OK so long as one asks permission) and whether student-teacher relationships or sexual encounters are ever permissible (I argue that where they happen, or one or other party demonstrates agency with the intention of inducing such a thing, then both parties should act like adults and report things, their formal teacher-student relationship brought to an end without other negative consequences, then they are free to continue like any other two adults). But I think we should be talking about these things, in order to arrive at a humane system which protects both students and teachers.
Guidelines for Teachers
• In general, treat your student with respect as a human being, independently of your reflections on the quality and extent of their achievements as a performer. This should be borne in mind at all times.
• Remember that you are there to help the student, rather than their being there in order to enhance your own reputation.
• It is your choice how you wish your student to address you, whether by first name or title and surname. It is advised to clarify this to the student at the beginning of a lesson.
• Where there are serious problems concerning a student and their progress, you should try and discuss these with the relevant member of staff as soon as possible.
• It is accepted that teachers will naturally need to voice criticisms of a student’s playing or singing, sometimes severe criticisms. This should always be framed in such a way as to make clear that the criticisms relate solely to the student’s achievements (or lack of) specifically in terms of their work as a performer, not to their wider qualities as a person. Criticisms should be balanced with encouragement in the form of positive steps forward in order to improve.
• Use language which makes the above clear: for example, instead of saying ‘You are a very poor player’, say ‘You really do need to do considerable work in order to improve’, followed by suggestions of what form that work might take, or (if necessary) ‘It will be very difficult in the time available to you here to attain the level necessary in order to gain a high mark in your recital’. Similarly, avoid other generalities such as ‘You have no technique’ or ‘You are profoundly unmusical’, in favour of the likes of ‘I have to tell you that a good deal of work is necessary if you wish to achieve a higher technical level’, or in the second case, focusing on specific things the student needs to consider in order to be able to produce a more musically satisfying performance.
• You should always avoid any type of deliberately demeaning or belittling language of a personal nature towards a student, especially that designed to undermine their confidence. This can include undue and harsh sarcasm, deliberate aloofness and coldness, ignoring a student, negative comparisons with others, insensitive jokes, setting unrealistic demands, malicious rumour-mongering, threats, sexual or racial harassment, or anything which might be construed as ‘bitchy’. It is no justification for this to argue that such talk and attitudes are commonplace in the professional musical world.
• A student’s personal life is their own business, and discussions of this should generally only be undertaken when personal issues have a direct impact upon their performing. If a singer or other musician’s lifestyle – in terms of problems to do with sleep, maintaining good health, and so on – is impinging upon their singing, then it is legitimate to raise this issue. If a student raises the issue of difficulties arising from family, health or relationship issues, and wishes to talk about it, this is fine, but you should not feel under any obligation in this respect. In general, such matters are better discussed with the appropriate member of staff, who has pastoral responsibility, and who can communicate directly with you about them.
• When teaching a student, avoid befriending them on social media. [Personally I believe this is a principle worth observing for undergraduates, but which can be more flexible with postgraduates.]
• If you wish to make physical contact with a student in order to demonstrate some matter relating to performing, you must first ask their permission to do so. This can be done at the beginning of a series of lessons in order to facilitate so doing in general (but this must then be made clear to the student), or separately on individual occasion. If the student is unhappy with such physical contact and declines, this must be respected, and physical contact must then be avoided.
• Under absolutely no circumstances should there be any touching which can be construed as being of a sexual or unduly intimate nature.
• However, it is accepted that much music – especially for singers – relates to matters of an intimate and sometimes sexual nature, and it is legitimate to discuss this in lessons. But please always respect boundaries here, and be clear that you are talking about the music or the role, not directly about the student.
• Whilst in general conservatoire students are aged 18 or over and are technically adults, remember that they are still in a very early stage of adulthood, likely to be dealing with many pressures due to being away from home for the first time, having to negotiate possible loneliness, homesickness, coping with a degree of independence likely to be unprecedented for them, and of course a demanding course. It is best to work with the assumption that they are thus likely to be at a vulnerable stage in life, and should be treated with corresponding sensitivity.
Guidelines for Students
• You should always treat your teacher with respect and courtesy, be punctual for lessons, and acknowledge the help they are able to give you.
• Your teacher can choose how they wish you to address them, whether by first name, title and surname, or otherwise, and you should respect this. It is advised that this is clarified in the first lesson.
• Whilst you are certainly encouraged to solicit your teacher’s advice concerning the extent of your progress, or on future study, avoid asking such questions as ‘Do you think I can make it as a performer?’ or other such things which might put your teacher in a difficult position.
• If asking your teacher what they imagine would be your likely mark for a recital, on the basis of how you are performing at the time of asking the question, bear in mind that their answer will be an approximation, and is in no sense binding.
• Avoid flirtatious or overly ‘forward’ behaviour towards your teacher such as might place him or her in an awkward situation.
• Teachers may wish to make physical contact in order to demonstrate some matters relating to performance. They are required to ask your permission before so doing, either at the beginning of a series of lessons in order to establish that this is generally acceptable, or on individual occasions. If you do not wish this, you are entirely within your rights to refuse. Such physical contact should never be of a sexual or unduly intimate nature, nor should you respond to it in such a fashion.
• Never use any abusive or offensive language towards your teacher.
• When there are personal matters – for example relating to family, health or relationships – which might affect your performing, you are advised first to speak to your personal tutor, who can discuss these sensitively with your teacher.
• Your teacher often has a life and career outside of their work at your institution. Avoid gossiping about them, even amongst other students, including with respect to the nature of their other activities, as this can have the potential to be hurtful and demeaning. Any form of rumour-mongering, sexual or racial harassment, aggressive behaviour or threats towards your teacher will be treated with the utmost seriousness.
• Your teacher is not your friend on social media, and you should not request that they befriend you on there. [Personally I believe this is a principle worth observing for undergraduates, but which can be more flexible with postgraduates.]
• If you wish to record lessons for other reasons (so as to have a more permanent record for your own study purposes), you must ask your teacher first, and must also respect their wishes if they decline this request. (But see also Guidelines for both Teachers and Students below)
Guidelines for both Teachers and Students
• In the event of any serious worries about the nature of the relationship between teacher and student as made manifest verbally in lessons, either the teacher or student can request that the lessons be recorded. In this situation, the appropriate individual should be informed of this.
• In the event of any type of romantic or sexual liaison between a tutor and student – which can include any form of agency on either part with the intention of inducing such a thing, whether or not this is fulfilled – it is an essential requirement that both teacher and student report this to an appropriate individual. As a general rule it will be considered that in such a situation the relationship has assumed a degree of intimacy which is no longer compatible with a normal teaching relationship, and the student will be assigned to a different teacher, but without further consequences for either party.
New article on abuse and classical music by Damian Thompson in the Spectator, and some wider reflections on classical music and abusePosted: December 5, 2014
A new article went online yesterday on abuse in the classical music world – Damian Thompson, ‘Classical music’s dirty little secret’, The Spectator, December 6th, 2014. It contrasts in particular the revelations about alleged abuse within the El Sistema organisation through the work of Geoff Baker, and those about abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and elsewhere, featuring an interview with me on this and related subjects. The article goes deeper than most have done previously, and I would urge all to read it.
I have been reflecting more widely on the relationship between the callous exertion of power in music and also aestheticised outlooks, and the abuse of both children and adults, and wanted to share a few thoughts growing out of what I said for the Spectator interview. I have published previously on this in the Times Educational Supplement here and here, and will write at more length on these issues at a future date. At the heart of this lie the issues of the exploitation of power beneath an artistic veneer, and the relegating of human interests secondary to other aesthetic or more abstract concerns, an subject which has exercised me for a great many years. Here are my thoughts for now.
There are multiple ways in which sexual abuse occurs in musical education in the UK (see my earlier posts here and here for documentation of various cases since 1990). One involves abuse of pre-pubescent boys in choirs, and has been found time and time again in many leading private schools; another involves adolescents, primarily but not exclusively girls, who are sexually exploited by instrumental teachers, especially in specialist music schools and at summer music courses and the like. There is also of course much evidence of abuse of both sexes by private music teachers, who are often not subject to the same checks as those working in some institutions. The process of sexual exploitation of adolescents also continues with young adults in conservatoires, in a similar fashion. Instrumental teachers have great power and prestige which can easily be exploited when they have access to vulnerable, sometimes star-struck, girls and young women. The many stories I have heard are utterly hideous and depressing. Teachers regularly reduce their students to tears so they can then comfort and sexually touch them, or ask the students to perform sexual acts as a sign of how much they ‘trust’ them. Some are told they can only do justice to certain types of music when they have become a ‘whole woman’, as a prelude to sex. Other teachers simply attempt to force themselves on students in lessons in ways which can be terrifying and amount to attempted rape. Some have been told by directors of institutions that if they dare to go to the police, then they can give up any hope they might have had of a musical career; those with powerful connections are indeed often in a position to do this.
But there are certainly non-sexual forms of abuse which have gone on at all the music schools as well, which can be just as damaging. The issues of abuse in the classical musical world are not in my opinion simply about some people in power being sexually attracted to some musicians – I don’t think that is something surprising, unnatural or wrong, even if they act on those desires, when the musicians are above the age of consent and of course consenting. But I believe these link to a deeper culture of power and its wilful exertion, a vocabulary and mentality of sexual predation as a strategy to demean, dominate, humiliate for reasons that are far from merely sexual. In this field, in my experience, there is no reason to believe that female teachers are any less likely to be culpable than male ones (and in the case of actual sexual abuse the gender divide is not necessarily so simple; even where not actual perpetrators, some female teachers and others have been amongst the most staunch defenders of abusers, and acted in hateful and vicious ways towards those they have exploited).
In such a context sexual abuse can often be an extension of other forms of emotional and physical abuse, in order to enforce a relationship of domination and dehumanisation mystified by the aura surrounding ‘artistic’ personalities and their relationships to others. An artistic aura and its associated temperament can often mask simple cases of fragile egos and other insecurities, which can be bolstered by dominating others. Such domination works best with a willing or at least helpless victim in the form of a child, or one who acts and appears like one.
At the same time, I think we need to look hard at the way audiences and others ‘consume’ and psychologically dominate musicians, especially young ones. Is the young performer presented in a rarefied fashion for an audience’s delectation so different from a glamour model, or even one in a window in a red light district? Are they meant to have a will of their own, or merely to please others?
The world view of the nineteenth-century aesthete still has a profound impact upon classical music culture, certainly in the UK, US, France and some other places. I have spent quite some time studying this in various contexts (not least the ways in which this outlook can be linked to fascism, as diagnosed in different ways by Walter Benjamin, Roger Shattuck and Frederic Spotts). The aesthetic movement was a type of quasi-aristocratic rearguard group of aesthetes reacting against the growth of bourgeois society and mass culture. They believed moral questions and human interests to be of little importance relative to their own notions of beauty. This beauty was of course something only a small number were in a position to appreciate, an aesthetic aristocracy if you like, and they often viewed other human beings in purely aesthetic terms. I believe this is profoundly dehumanising. There is also a considerable overlap between early aesthetes, including Pater, Wilde, Huysmans, Crowley and others, and the movement of ‘Uranian’ poets and some artists, a group of pederasts who were described in the volume Betrayal of Youth as like a nineteenth-century version of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
To the aesthete, a young boy not yet faced by the doubts, moral choices and responsibility of an adult, is unthreatening and more ripe to be adored and salivated over. If you look at pederastic photographs of naked young boys in classical poses by Wilhelm von Gloeden, who was associated with the Uranians (and whose work I have earlier written about in terms of its influence upon some music of Michael Finnissy), you will see a similar thing. Certain qualities are favoured – looks suggesting arrogance but submission, petulance and self-centeredness, and sometimes exaggerated hyper-masculinity, absolutely nothing which would suggest an emerging mind or any trappings of an intellectual-to-be.
I have seen exactly the same attitudes at play regularly amongst those with power in the classical music world. Young men and women favoured to the extent they exhibit (deliberately or unwittingly) certain of these attributes. Some men because they look like a slightly thuggish rent boy, some women because they can give the right type of Shirley Temple-like sickly-sweet smile. Fundamentally, they become objects, and often the critics, administrators, radio producers and so on who favour them will abandon them as they get older, so they can move onto their next bright young things. This is all part of the same processes of domination of which sexual abuse of children is the most extreme form.
There’s a very obvious continuum, to me, between von Gloeden’s arrogant yet submissive naked boys and the picture of Gustavo Dudamel with a smug and self-satisfied expression, showing how his willingness to conform to the needs of others is rewarded with a Rolex watch. Similarly between Lewis Carroll’s pederastic pictures of young girls and some of the images routinely encountered of young female violinists. The same is true of the publicity materials and discursive constructions around numerous Wunderkind young composers and performers. The arbiters of classical music enmesh musicians into their own web in ways which bear an uncanny resemblance to the grooming strategies of paedophiles. I have even come to consider more sinister interpretations of the apparent innocence, suffused with unspoken desire, which I hear in works such as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, possibly representing dances of naked boys (in part) at an ancient Spartan festival, at a time when the concept of ‘Greek love’ (love between men and boys) was very much in vogue in British and French artistic circles.
There were tyrannical teachers and educational practices which grew in the nineteenth century. It was seen as perfectly acceptable to beat students; teachers put them through gruelling (and generally useless) regimes of exercises so that the few who had not had a nervous breakdown or suffered irreparable muscular damage could feel themselves blessed and ‘toughened up’ for a musical career, in which they could inflict the same on their own students. Learning, practising, and music-making were made mind-numbing and conducted in an atmosphere of intense fear. In the educational culture bequeathed above all by the early Paris Conservatoire, the emphasis was no longer upon producing a rounded musician and individual, as in earlier times, but more simply a streamlined playing machine. But in many places these methods were found to be unsatisfactory in many respects and more mature and humane approaches began to take their place, which also often produced much finer musicians.
But then with the Cold War and the Soviet need above all to produce competition winners rather than rounded musicians, there was something of a backlash. Dictatorial approaches to teaching, with no concern for the wider consequences, came back into fashion. Some were aped in the West, crowding out some alternative approaches. Several of the specialist music schools in the UK – all of which were founded between 1962 and 1972 – were explicitly modelled on Russian institutions and styles of teaching, at a time when considerations of the welfare of children and the dangers of such hothouse environments hardly registered.
I have heard major allegations of abuse at all five institutions. The schools have certainly all produced some successful musicians, but if they are happy to take credit for these, they must also take responsibility for the ruined lives, sometimes racked by depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and more, which are equally their legacy. The effect of a school upon all who attended it, not just a small successful minority, matters.
Bullying and malicious exploitation of power in musical education are also rampant. Insecure teachers do this plenty. One of my own former students underwent some serious bullying at the hands of another teacher on a course, who tried everything he could to undermine this pianist by repeatedly spreading malicious talk about him to others, doing all he could to humiliate him in front of others (and before he was about to perform) and so on, because he saw him as a threat. Various people complained about the behaviour of this teacher, but of course nothing was done. This individual once proudly pronounced ‘I get students who think they are good – my job is to make them realise they suck’. This attitude is all-revealing – it is not about helping the student, but playing power games to bolster the teacher’s own self-esteem.
Other types of behaviour I have often encountered have deeply shocked me – just the callousness of it all. One privileged young composer thought nothing of fabricating false rumours about a rival, claiming he was being beaten up by his father, so as to portray this rival as unstable and thus unlikely to be up to being a composer. What has shocked me even more is how many people know this and other similar things about this person, but are completely unbothered by it – certainly it did not impede his own progression in academia. I know one instrumentalist who feigns friendship in order to gain other musicians’ confidence, so that they might reveal such things as spells of depression, which he then uses as malicious gossip to undermine them; another did the same when he found that one woman was going through a legal process in which she alleged her father had abused her. A prominent musician, upon being appointed to a prominent position, bragged to others that now he had the chance to get revenge on all those who had previously stood in his way.
Classical music and its associated culture is still shot through by some fundamentally hierarchical nineteenth-century values which are little in vogue any longer in other cultural fields. I am not saying we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, but do believe much rethinking is necessary. Sexual abuse in classical music is maybe the most extreme symptom of a wider corruption. When you have a culture which idolises a small few ‘great men/women’, sees narcissism, bullying and despicable treatment of others not simply as unavoidable evils but actually as signs of artistry, and encourages an attitude of awe and submission, rather than concrete and critical engagement, then the dangers of abuse are acute.
Whilst figures such as Beethoven or Wagner or Furtwängler or Britten continue to be idolised not just for the work they produced but for the personalities they were, then the role models for younger musicians are fatally flawed. We should reject entirely the idea that musicians are a breed apart, and discourage such thinking.
At the time of writing this (evening on Monday June 30th, 2014), it is the day before an important event in the House of Commons. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, co-author (with Matt Baker) of Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback, 2014), is due (at 4:15 pm on Tuesday July 1st) to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Whilst the ostensible subject of this meeting is to do specifically with historical child abuse in Rochdale (Cyril Smith’s old constituency, now Danczuk’s), Danczuk has also written of how Smith was connected to the sinister figure of Peter Righton and a wider paedophile ring including prominent politicians (see this article by Watson in praise of Danczuk). In particular, this ring is thought to have frequented the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes, South-West London, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and one name in particular of a very senior former cabinet minister from the Thatcher era (a name which I do not intend to share here) has been widely circulated around social media and the internet. This ex-minister has also been linked to a separate story concerning the rape of a woman known just as ‘Jane’ in 1967, but the police apparently have dropped any plans to prosecute (or even arrest or interview) the minister.
Back in April, Danczuk indicated to the Daily Mail that he might use Parliamentary Privilege to name the MP in question; in an interview given to The Independent a little over a week ago, he affirmed his intention to do so if asked, and may also name a further Labour politician involved in a separate abuse scandal (this is likely to be the former Blair-era cabinet minister alleged to have abused boys in a children’s home in Lambeth, run by paedophile Michael John Carroll, in which case experienced detective Clive Driscoll was taken off the case as he allegedly came to investigate the minister.
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has eleven members; five Conservatives (Nicola Blackwood, James Clappison, Michael Ellis, Lorraine Fullbrook and Mark Reckless), one Liberal Democrat (Julian Huppert) and five Labour (Chair Keith Vaz, Ian Austin, Paul Flynn, Yasmin Qureshi and David Winnick). Vaz has a particular connection as he was Solicitor for Richmond Council, and a parliamentary candidate for Richmond & Barnes around the time when the alleged events at Elm Guest House occurred (see the account of his career with primary sources, ‘Keith Vaz and the Mystery of Barnes Common’ at Spotlight). Three members of the HASC – Huppert, Flynn and Qureshi – have declared their support for a national inquiry into organised abuse; one member of the HASC has confirmed that Danczuk will be asked about visitors to Elm Guest House (Leftly, ‘MP will name politician ‘involved in child abuse”). This will be an important occasion at the HASC which may change the whole climate of opinion concerning abuse and the urgent need for an inquiry.
Yet at the eleventh hour, the Exaro news website, who have attempted to claim control and credit for all matters relating to the call for an inquiry (with the help of a few people never described more specifically than ‘Exaro’s twitter followers’), are calling upon Danczuk not to name the minister(s) in question, as well as claiming on Twitter that they have now got some special information which changes things (which of course they are not prepared to share). I will return to this in a moment.
First I want to respond to a blog post by Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk . In response to a lobbying campaign of MPs to support a national inquiry into organised abuse, started by seven MPs (Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Tim Loughton, Liberal Democrat John Hemming and Tessa Munt, Labour Tom Watson and Danczuk, and Green Caroline Lucas), which was indeed reported by David Hencke for Exaro (David Hencke, MPs call on Teresa May to set up inquiry into child sex abuse’), a relatively organic campaign was started around the same time (beginning with a draft letter from earlier by another campaigner on another forum) which came to be initially about encouraging all those who agree to write to their own MPs and ask them to join the original seven. Some took the decision instead to send Tweets to all MPs on Twitter, which has certainly led to positive responses from some. In most cases, it is likely that a combination of the reminders on Twitter, together with letters sent to all MPs from Tim Loughton, information about the campaign e-mailed by various of us to MPs requesting it, and private discussions between MPs (not least between Tory MPs and Loughton, and Labour MPs and Watson) has led many to support the campaign, which some have announced on Twitter; at the time of writing the number stands at 123, though there has been only minimal coverage in the mainstream media, even in the wake of the latest Savile reports (such as this article by Robert Mendick and Eileen Fairweather in the Telegraph). Mark Watts, Editor-in-Chief at Exaro, who tweets as @exaronews as well as under his personal handle, has certainly been urging people to simply keep asking MPs Yes or No. Sometimes the Twitter campaign has got rather hysterical, with tweets which appear to scream at both politicians and journalists, sometimes accusing them of being supporters of child rape if they don’t reply, or don’t support this precise campaign. This mode of argument allows for no discussion, no reasonable and intelligent debate about the exact nature, remit and purpose of an inquiry, nothing more than screaming emotional blackmail, and serves no good purpose other than to try and bully politicians into agreeing. It is certainly not something with which I want to be associated, and shows Twitter at its worst. But this is what appears to have provoked Eric Joyce’s blog post.
Joyce’s primary objections to the demands of the original seven campaigners can be summarised as follows:
(a) they would undermine the Crown Prosecution Service’s consideration of an important police report presently before it (he does not make clear exactly which report this refers to).
(b) the campaign does not mention Savile of the issues implied by this case, and would thus miss these.
(c) it is focused entirely on historical rumours about ‘senior politicians’.
(d) it would exclude adult victims of Savile.
Then he also lays out wider objections to the actions of other campaigners (i.e. beyond the original seven MPs):
(i) they routinely use abusive bullying tactics, which are hardly persuasive.
(ii) it all has a ‘really sickening “get the pedos/cops/politicians” feel about it’ and ‘looks like a campaign designed to catch public attention for its own sake rather than a genuine effort to get at important truths’.
(iii) names of politicians have routinely been published online, which could wreck the lives of innocent people and destroy the case put by the police to the CPS.
(iv) the whole campaign is really a self-aggrandising exercise by Exaro, who have recently found that they cannot pay their one way, and have become a ‘schlock merchant’ who only really have one story, cynically waiting until the names of alleged ‘politician paedophiles’ were all over the internet before asking campaigners not to post or tweet them.
(v) there is some confusion between calls for other types of wide inquiry and this specific one, differences between which are papered over by Exaro.
I cannot deny that (i) is true of some campaigners, though this is definitely not a style I want anything to do with – nor with campaigners associated with the BNP, those who are homophobes, man-haters, paranoid conspiracy theorists, unconcerned about the difference between truth and fiction, and so on. One reason for becoming involved in abuse campaigning (over and above knowing a good deal of survivors sometimes very close to me, and becoming convinced that this was an issue bigger than simply individual perpetrators, in classical music and elsewhere), was the hope that it might be possible to avoid and go beyond tabloid-style hysteria over this inevitably highly emotive subject. As far as I am concerned, though, those who support vigilante action, capital punishment or other forms of cruel and unusual punishment, are no better than abusers themselves. However, the medium of Twitter, allowing only for 140 characters per tweet, can hardly do justice to this nuanced and complex subject, nor do I imagine (whatever some might think) that many MPs’ minds were changed purely by receiving a tweet from someone using a pseudonym; rather used this prompt to announce something they had already decided. I disdain (ii) for the same reasons, but realise that only by identifying prominent names is it likely that the whole campaign will gain wider attention with a public otherwise seeing celebrity names such as Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and others. As things stand the campaign can resemble a cult, with various people frequenting small sub-sections of social media and Exaro, but unfortunately sometimes not realising how invisible this is to much of the wider public. Social media are certainly not the place to name names (coming to (iii)), but in light of the fact of many claims of failure of police to interview prominent figures, intelligence services sitting in on interviews, witnesses being threatened, important evidence going missing (including dossiers going to the Home Office), I do believe some more decisive action is needed now (more to follow on this in a moment).
I will come back to (iv) but will address (a)-(d) first. Objection (a) is unclearly specified and so cannot be responded to properly. There is no reason why the inquiry could not also look at Savile, certainly (there is plenty of reason to think there may be connections between his activities and those in other abuse scandals, not least his connections to senior politicians). And just because of the areas specified as requested to be included in the original letter from the seven MPs to Teresa May (which I have also posted below Joyce’s blog), such an inquiry could certainly be extended further. Re (c), The demands go well beyond historical cases involving politicians, dealing with a range of children’s homes, businessmen trafficking between countries, churches, public schools, and much more, so this criticism is wholly unfounded. The issue of adult victims is a serious one (also a big issue in the classical music world, abuse of all types in which is a particular area on which I have campaigned extensively), but I cannot believe an inquiry could not be adapted around this as well. I doubt many supporters have an absolutely clear idea of exactly the form the inquiry would take; rather it is the principle that this type of inquiry should happen which is being supported.
Returning to (iv); I do not really want to write too much about Exaro, as I certainly think some of their journalists – most notably David Hencke – do excellent work (see also Hencke’s blog), and do not share anything like as negative a view as does Joyce. I do have problems with the way in which Mark Watts, however, has attempted in a territorial fashion to claim complete control of the campaign as purely an Exaro initiative sustained through ‘Exaro’s twitter followers’, showing zero interest in a wider campaign involving e-mailing and constituents contacting their MPs (less ‘rapid-fire’ than anonymous tweets), whilst jealously guarding information for himself and trying to shore up a fledgling organisation, and tweeting with a rather boorish swagger which has unfortunate associations. Most posts or tweets by Watts try to steer the serious issues of organised abuse and urgent need for investigation into being self-promotion for Exaro, in a territorial manner which has perhaps dissuaded other media from taking an interest (most other journalists and broadcasters I have contacted have felt the story is not yet big enough to cover). When I first started being involved in abuse campaigning last year I was warned (not least by some senior journalists who I consulted) about two things in particular: (a) how some journalists will try and get you to do their work for them for free; and (b) how many people greatly exaggerate the importance of social media. Of both of these I am definitely convinced, but have known excellent journalists (including Hencke) with whom to work on stories and share information under fair conditions of confidence.
Sadly, with these lessons in mind, I do have reason for scepticism about Exaro on several fronts, which I would not bring up were it not for their eleventh-hour intervention. The Twitter campaign seems a typical example of their getting others to do their work for them (posing as campaigners rather than journalists) for free. Through the course of the last 18 months Exaro have promised major new developments, arrests, and built up to each new report in an extremely dramatic way. There have certainly been some important reports, for sure, not least those on ‘Jane’ (though this story does have its doubters) and also Mark Conrad’s earlier reports on links between Operations Fairbank and Fernbridge and the killings of Sydney Cooke, though much less coverage (or links to coverage by others) of issues involving Peter Righton and numerous networks involved in children’s homes, not to mention churches, schools and elsewhere, stories which are generally less spectacular. The sort of investigative journalism which grapples with the complexities of these other fields is done more successfully by a variety of other journalists at The Times (Andrew Norfolk’s work on Caldicott, Colet Court, St Paul’s and many other public schools, and Sean O’Neill on Robert Waddington and Manchester Cathedral), The Independent (Paul Gallagher on abuse in music schools and colleges), The Guardian (Helen Pidd’s important set of articles on Chetham’s and the RNCM), and sometimes at the Mail (Martin Beckford on PIE and their Labour links, and many earlier articles published here and in the Standard and Telegraph by Eileen Fairweather), Express (the latest work by Tim Tate and Ted Jeory on PIE and the Home Office), Mirror (Tom Pettifor on abuse in Lambeth and the Labour connection) and People (Keir Mudie and Nick Dorman on Operation Fernbridge and associated investigations, sometimes working together with Exaro). Exaro have certainly provided an important service, as one of various news organisations.
But now I fear that territorial attitudes could play a part in sabotaging an important opportunity. Watts has published a piece today aimed at dissuading Danczuk from naming, in which in a rather grandiose fashion he reports how ‘We have strongly advised him against naming the ex-minister tomorrow, and we are grateful that he has listened to us closely and is considering our points carefully’ and the same time as (almost comically) disparaging ‘Journalists on national newspapers, desperate for a splash story’, who allegedly have been arguing otherwise. Watts argues that ‘David Cameron is under intense pressure to agree to an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK’ which he doesn’t want. How big this pressure is is debatable; Cameron could brush off a question from Duncan Hames at Prime Minister’s Questions quite easily (see the bottom of here for the exchange), and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did not seem particularly flustered at the debate in the Commons last week. The majority of MPs supporting an inquiry have been Labour – 73 at the current count, compared to 23 Conservatives. Many Conservatives have been copying and pasting stock replies which say nothing. Furthermore, most of the Labour MPs have been backbenchers without so many high profile figures; despite the support of Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham (who did not necessarily commit his party to support in the Commons, though, as I argued last week – this is a response to point (v) which I identify in Joyce’s blog), there has been only occasional support from other front bench figures. A proper inquiry would need to look at such matters as abuse which went on at children’s homes controlled by Islington Council when senior Labour figure Margaret Hodge was leader, of the role of the Paedophile Information Exchange, about whom I have written amply elsewhere, which embroils current Deputy Leader Harriet Harman and frontbench spokesman Jack Dromey; as argued earlier, Ed Miliband needs to take a lead on this, but it should not be so surprising that he has not yet done so. There are rumblings about Labour figures also visiting Elm Guest House, and of course the deeply serious issue of a senior Labour figure as a suspect for abuse in Lambeth, not to mention continuing investigations into Lord Janner, whose office at the House of Lords was raided earlier this year. Certainly any such inquiry would not be likely to be easy for Labour, nor for the Liberal Democrats, with the debacle of Cyril Smith still haunting them, and further rumbling about some other senior figures.
But at present mainstream media attention is very sporadic, and certainly in my experience (amongst generally educated people well-informed on news) very little of this has yet registered with a wider public. Cameron has in the last week had to deal with the conviction (and possible further retrial) of his former press secretary Andy Coulson, the charging of his former advisor on online pornography Patrick Rock for manufacturing images of child abuse, and now his failure to avoid Jean-Claude Juncker from being voted to be the next EU Commissioner. It is hard to see how a demand primarily from a group of Labour backbenchers would be obsessing him at such a time (though the campaign should definitely continue and hopefully grow). Watts claims that Danczuk’s naming of the ex-minister (he doesn’t mention the Labour minister) would serve as a ‘diversion from the inquiry call’, as front pages would be dominated by the ex-minister’s name. I think this is nonsense; such dissemination of the allegation that an extremely senior minister could themselves have been part of a ring-fenced VIP ring would cause outrage and anger, and the pressure for a proper inquiry would be irresistible. This very evening, Watts has also been tweeting that some new information has come to light which changes everything, but characteristically they will not even hint at what this is. Major developments have been promised before by the organisation, but these have rarely materialised. It is now looking more like a petty playground fight over who has the biggest amount of secret information.
Ultimately, as mentioned before, simple lists of MPs’ names are not that newsworthy, as various major journalists have had to point out to me. Only a major catalyst such as the revelation of a major name would be likely to get more attention. What this would also change is that the story would be taken up by all the major media, to such an extent that Exaro’s contributions would cease to be so central; I do wonder if this is what Watts is trying so hard to avoid. In the end, though, wider exposure for the many stories of abuse (which would follow upon the outrage caused by revelations that this extends to the very highest levels, and other figures were protected for this reason) is more important than the prestige of one website.
If Danczuk is certain that the ex-minister (and the ex Labour minister) are guilty, and the only reasons why they have not been brought to justice is through cover-ups, destruction of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, or simply stalling for convenience’s sake, then I hope very much he will name names tomorrow. If there is doubt about this, then it would only be wise not to do so – using Parliamentary Privilege in a way which would smear an innocent person would be reprehensible. I have faith in Danczuk to do the right thing, and hope the momentum which has been achieved will not be sacrificed for the short-term interests of any media organisation. If all of this is being covered in details in newspapers and on broadcast news programmes being read/watched by many of the country’s population (in some cases with stories written for these papers by Hencke, Conrad and others), it would be all for the better, even if many of the earlier campaigners (including myself) are quickly forgotten.
[Since first publishing this article online a number of further MPs have indicated their support for a national inquiry in line with the express wishes of the original seven. For details of this, and how to write to your MP to ask them to support, please see this post]
The pioneering news organisation Exaro have published two important articles today by David Hencke relating to a cross-party group of seven MPs who have written jointly to Home Secretary Theresa May called for a proper inquiry into child abuse, citing the Hillsborough inquiry as a model (see Hencke, ‘Police keep failing ‘to follow evidence’ in abuse cases, say MPs: Call for wide inquiry into ‘schools, churches, children’s homes, politicians and celebrities’, 3/6/14, and ‘MPs call on Theresa May to set inquiry into child sex abuse: Tim Loughton and Zac Goldsmith in cross-party group that highlights failures by police’, 3/6/14; see also Jason Beattie, ‘MPs demand inquiry into historic claims of child sex abuse by Cabinet Ministers’, Daily Mirror, 4/6/14).
The seven MPs in question (who Hencke has elsewhere called the ‘Magnificent Seven’) are:
Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, whose constituency contains Elm Guest House, Grafton Close Children’s Home, and Colet Court and St Paul’s Schools (Twitter @ZacGoldsmith ).
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and former Children’s Commissioner, who spoke powerfully in the House of Commons in September 2013 about many ongoing revelations of abuse (Website here; Twitter @timloughton ).
John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, who made representations on behalf of financial journalist Leah McGrath Goodman on the grounds of her being banned from the UK following investigation into child abuse at Haut de la Garenne, Jersey, but has also been critical of UK family courts when dealing with allegations of abuse against parents. (Website here; Twitter @johnhemmingmp )
Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, who as a member of the Education Select Committee has taken a special interest in child safeguarding, and whose constituency contains Wells Cathedral School, one of the five specialist music schools, all of which have been connected to abuse (Website here; Twitter @tessamunt )
Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, who has been indefatigable in his commitment to this issue ever since raising in Westminster in October 2012 the issues of a high-level paedophile ring (see Watson’s blog and articles here and many other places online; Twitter @tom_watson ).
Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, co-author with Matthew Baker of Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback, 2014), who has written of how Smith was connected to Peter Righton and also a wider paedophile ring including prominent politicians (see this article by Watson in praise of Danczuk) (Website here, Twitter @simondanczuk )
These seven MPs are concerned about how important files, surveillance videos and other material have gone missing, lack of charges brought as a result of Operation Fernbridge, and in general an apparent reluctance on the part of the police and others to pursue cases of serious abuse. Watson has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions naming a former cabinet minister alleged to have raped a woman going by the name of ‘Jane’ (see also the detailed five-part account linked to at the bottom of this article and the video interview with ‘Jane’); this is the same senior cabinet minister who has been linked to the VIP paedophile ring related to Elm Guest House (as confirmed by Mark Watts on Twitter on 18/5/14). The Metropolitan Police have chosen not to pursue Jane’s allegations further, nor even interview the alleged perpetrator, raising serious questions about whether proper procedure has been followed; Exaro have also claimed that there was a shocking concerted police smear campaign aimed at discrediting ‘Jane’. Furthermore, there are serious questions about the whereabouts of a series of documents submitted to the Home Office by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP (see here, here and here), one of the few MPs who continued to pursue this issue in the 1980s. Loughton has spoken of his alarm at consistent ‘reluctance, or more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously’, and how ‘Documents go missing and investigations are curtailed with a chilling frequency, and that now threatens a serious undermining of the public’s confidence in our current child-protection system despite all the progress that has undoubtedly been made in recent years’.
The range of areas of public life in which there have been major allegations of abuse is frighteningly large: these include children’s homes in Islington (see also here and this article by whistleblower Liz Davies), Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Haute de la Garenne in Jersey, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, Staffordshire (the ‘Pindown’ scandal) Birmingham, Leicestershire, North Wales, South Wales, Cheshire, Leeds, Sunderland, Northumberland, Lothian, Renfrewshire, Isle of Lewis, the Kincora Boy’s Home in Belfast, Stockgrove Park School, Buckinghamshire, Stanbridge Earls School near Romsey, Hampshire, New Barns School, Gloucestershire, Castle Hill School, Shropshire, St George’s School, Suffolk, Knowl View School in Rochdale, in Cleveland, many of the leading public schools (see also the range of articles here), the Catholic Church, not least in Scottish abbeys, the Church of England, the entertainment industry (not least involving Jimmy Savile), grooming gangs in the North West and Oxford, music education, a ring around Piccadilly Circus, major networks trading images of child abuse, and more. Some of these cases have been investigated, with some prosecutions, but there is good reason to believe some of these investigations have been half-hearted, whilst other cases have simply been ignored. There are many individuals linked to multiple networks (not least the sinister figure of Peter Righton), continuing talk of the VIP paedophile ring connected to Elm Guest House and elsewhere, major information concerning late MPs Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison and serious allegations about others who are living (not least the severe claim that a Blair era cabinet minister was being investigated for abusing children in a home in Lambeth, leading to a detective being taken off the case, and even that a council official looking to expose a ring involving the minister was murdered). The activities of members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), about whom I have blogged in detail, remain shady, and there are many suggestions that this organisation might be linked to a great number of cases of abuse. Furthermore, it is now clear that PIE had deep links to the Home Office, receiving large amounts of money from the organisation, with at least three members working on its premises (with a phone line there), its magazine printed there, and some civil servants receiving images of child abuse delivered to the building!
It is heartening to see such a diverse cross-party group of MPs coming together on this issue. Yet it is more than a little disappointing that there are not more, and that the most senior politicians in all the major parties do not appear to be taking seriously what can only be called an epidemic (if even less than half of the allegations were true). I would urge everyone reading this to write to their own MP and implore them to support the seven courageous figures above (any of whom I would gladly vote for). I have earlier blogged on the need for Ed Miliband, the leader of the party to which I belong (Labour), to put all of his weight behind calls for a proper inquiry, but also how there is near-silence from the upper echelons of Labour, perhaps related to the fact that senior Labour politicians are under investigation and also that the current Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, has been linked to PIE during her time as Legal Officer at the NCCL, during which period NCCL took out an advert in PIE’s journal Magpie and also their policy on images of children reflects aspects of PIE thinking. But this should not be stopping Miliband, nor should worries about the former Thatcher era cabinet minister, and Peter Morrison and others, be stopping David Cameron (and in light of revelations about Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg should be firmly behind this).
Leading experts, researchers and campaigners on child abuse Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met recently with Home Office minister Norman Baker. They were granted a mere ten minutes of time, despite having built up huge bodies of evidence about child abuse, but it was made clear that there was no intention to undertake either a national police investigation (absolutely necessary because so many complex cases are interlinked) nor a public inquiry. I would urge people to read the account above. Nonetheless, I have been informed that both individuals spoke very highly of Zac Goldsmith’s commitment to the issues in particular.
The media have reported much about the relatively small number of cases coming to court as a result of Operation Yewtree. But these are just a tiny fraction of the wider allegations of serious and sustained abuse (and non-sexual abuse should not be treated any less seriously). All credit to these seven MPs, but as for the others – if our MPs do not care about protecting children in the most vulnerable situations, what do they care about?