The Inquiry into the St James Independent Schools in London

Inquiry Report
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  Physical and mental mistreatment of pupils
Corporal punishment
  Effects of mistreatment
  School governance & management, and the causes of mistreatment
  Inquiry findings on the SES (SoES) and St James
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The Inquiry Report

We thank the Inquiry Chairman, Mr James Townend QC, for conducting the inquiry. We are grateful to him for the sensitivity showed when dealing with witnesses and complainants for whom this process has been particularly painful. We appreciate the Chairman's thoroughness and the clarity of his findings. The high onus of proof used for ascertaining the credibility of complaints gives veracity to these findings. We are disappointed that limitations were imposed on the scope of the Inquiry by the Governors.

Full details of the mistreatment that occurred at the Schools and details of perpetrators are contained in a second confidential report to Governors. The confidential report may or may not contain recommendations.

Summary of the key findings on complaints submitted to the Inquiry
Inquiry findings on physical and mental mistreatment of pupils

“I am in no doubt that mistreatment of pupils took place in the Boys' Schools, mainly during the period 1975 to 1985. This took a number of forms.”  (GR5.7.1)

“…I am satisfied that several boys were subjected to rough handling. They were criminally assaulted by being punched in the face or in the stomach, cuffed violently about the head, had blackboard rubbers thrown at them causing injury in some cases, had cricket balls thrown at them violently when they were not looking at the thrower and were struck with the end of a gym rope. Other students were kicked, struck from behind, slapped about the face, thrown across a classroom. Whatever the provocation nothing could justify this mistreatment. It was clearly unreasonable and criminal.” (GR5.7.2)

“Several of the teachers [guilty of the behaviour set out in 5.6.2] would shout loudly at boys, verbally berate them and find ways to humiliate them. (GR5.7.3)

“A number of girls complained that they were subjected to various forms of verbal humiliation in front of their classes. Some were repeatedly shouted at and others told that they were stupid.” (GR5.9.2) 

“A number of complaints have been made against some female teachers alleging that they smacked girls on their bare bottoms. I find one complaint (described above in paragraph 5.8.3) proven. However, I have considered other complaints against other teachers and do not accept them as proven.” (GR5.9.1)

“A particular practice, not wholly confined to the Girls Schools, was either publicly or privately to interrogate a subject at, if necessary, very great length, in order to obtain a confession…..Sometimes in the course of this type of interrogation the subject would be attacked or criticised in hurtful and distressing ways.” (GR5.9.3)

“Some girls were mistreated physically and mentally by male teachers but to nothing like the extent that the boys suffered.” (GR5.9.4)

“For the avoidance of any possible doubt, I came across no evidence of any form of sexual abuse in any of the Schools.”(GR5.10)

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Inquiry findings on corporal Punishment

“Use of the cane was restricted to the Headmaster alone. To begin with the use of the cane was unrecorded and unwitnessed. Later in Autumn 1979 a punishment book was instituted by Debenham and purports to record the boy's name, the offence, the date of the caning and the number of strokes. This was kept for the rest of Debenham’s time as Headmaster. (GR5.5.4)

“The book does not cover the vital period prior to September 1979 when it seems that caning was probably at its height.” (GR5.5.5)

[the Headmaster of St Vedast from 1980 to 1975] “kept a similar record but the book is no longer available.” (GR5.5.4)

“Debenham was advised by a School Inspector to have a witness present at all canings. He said that he had not always adhered to this advice. In fact witnesses are mentioned in the Punishment Book. There are very few such entries.” (GR5.5.6)

“Debenham refers to 6 strokes as being the maximum and, with one possible exception, this appears to have been the case. He says that in all but one case he caned boys through their trousers. He says that he did not cause bleeding but I do not wholly accept this. I do not, however, think that it was his aim to do so nor do I believe him to have been motivated by sadism or any “bad motive” (see Mansell v Griffin ibid.). None of this punishment was ipso facto unlawful. (GR5.5.7)

“Miss Caldwell [Girl school Head 1975-95] says that she never allowed any corporal punishment in either St James or St Vedast. She also says that she does not remember any complaint about corporal punishment being used. There is, however, clear evidence of a girl being spanked in the classroom for stealing another girl’s clothing.….as a result Miss Caldwell spoke to the female teacher responsible and told her that all corporal punishment of girls was to stop. This would have been in about 1982. (GR5.8.3).

Up until 1982, therefore, there was spanking of girls and hand slapping of girls with a ruler by some teachers but not all. The spanking was with the hand or a slipper/shoe on the bottom.” (GR5.8.4)

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Inquiry findings on the effects of mistreatment

“…A number of very successful men and women have been sent out into the world from these Schools. (GR7.1.2) The other side of this is that undoubtedly some pupils were damaged by their experiences in the Schools. I saw some damaged witnesses and heard of others. I cannot say how or by what they were damaged and there is no medical evidence showing that it was the fault of the Schools. Nevertheless I am as sure as I can be that some of them are suffering from their experiences at school. There has to be an acknowledgment of this or talk of reconciliation is a waste of breath.” (GR7.1.3)

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Inquiry findings on school governance and management, and the causes of mistreatment

“When St James had opened there had been no formal discipline policy”. (GR5.5.3)

“In the early days there does not seem to have been any very effective line management to check on the teachers’ behaviour towards the children.” (GR5.11.3)

“In a limited number of cases individuals may have been temperamentally unsuited to teaching. Uncontrollable bad temper is but one example of this. The method of choosing teachers from a relatively small pool of S.E.S. members may also have had something to do with this.” (GR5.11.2)

“It is still the case that all the staff in the Junior Schools and two thirds of the staff in the Senior Schools is composed of members of the S.E.S.” (GR6.1.2)

“There seems to have been little involvement of the Governors in staff appointments or in complaints by parents. Until the death [1994] or, at least, the decline of Leon MacLaren, this can be put down to the fact that the Governors were not in any real sense in charge of the Schools. They were MacLaren’s people, as were the members of the S.E.S., and as the Senior Tutor, his word was very nearly law to all of them. The views expressed in this paragraph are the result of the distillation of a large body of evidence coming from impressive witnesses including ex staff members and ex members of the S.E.S.” (GR5.11.4)

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Inquiry findings on the SES (SoES) and St James

“During his life and up until his declining years in the early 1990s he [Leon MacLaren, former SES(SoES) head] seems to have maintained a very close interest in the Schools (as well he might as their Founder) and to have had a powerful influence over their running, not only in general matters but in matters of detail too. When he died he passed on the position of Senior Tutor, (Head) of the S.E.S., to Donald Lambie” (GR1.1.4c&e)

“Although there is evidence available to me as to the greater separation between the Schools and the Senior Tutor of the S.E.S. than existed in MacLaren’s time, I am nevertheless satisfied that as late as 1995, Lambie [Current SES (SoES) head] was in a position to exercise direct and real influence over senior appointments. He is still consulted over the appointment of Heads and Governors but the Heads report that he does not become involved in the schools' day to day management. None of this affects the position of the Governors in law: they remain responsible for the governance of the Schools.” (GR1.1.4-e)

[A] report by Marco Goldschmied, called “St James Schools Report”, was produced in October 1996 at the request of Donald Lambie. Its author was a senior member of the S.E.S. and a Governor of the Schools for upwards of a decade. It called, inter alia, for a more open and transparent organisation, no S.E.S. involvement, and for the Governors to govern more proactively and to be seen so to govern. It concluded that the “St James set-up is, as yet, far from transparent… [it] is really still a school for the “S.E.S. families”, controlled by the S.E.S….(GR1.3c)

It also reported that in May 1995 the new [SES/SoES] Senior Tutor, Donald Lambie, regarded the position of the Heads of the St James Schools as depending on his (Lambie’s) consent.”

“St James Schools Report” [1996] commissioned by the head of the SES[SoES]: The Inquiry found that “By no means all of its recommendations appear to have been acted upon.” (GR1.3e)

Click here for the full General Report of the Inquiry

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