Boarding School Predators

Caldicott's junior rugby team. The two teachers coaching it did not abuse boys, but these boys later rose to the senior rugby team, where three of them (circled) were systematically abused by Peter Wright, the teacher who coached the team. Tom Perry, on the far left in the row of boys seated on chairs, is now a leading voice for bringing molesting teachers to justice. Tom Perry

When John Rolfe was 12, he was a star rugby player at Caldicott, a Catholic boys' school near London whose famous alumni include the British deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

At Caldicott, being good at sport meant falling into the hands of Roland Peter Wright, a charismatic teacher who went on to become headmaster.

Unfortunately for Rolfe, success on the rugby field came at a high price: sexual abuse. "Peter Wright would put his hand up my trousers and play with my genitals," Rolfe told Newsweek. "I liked the attention and the buzz of being good at sport, but I didn't like his hand up my trousers." His abuse came to an end only after he left Caldicott when he was 13.

Rolfe, now middle-aged with a good job, a wife and two grown sons, has suppressed the bad memories, but they haven't gone away. In recent years, this soft-spoken man finds himself at the center of a child sex abuse scandal engulfing many private schools.

Rolfe was not the only boy abused by Wright. Nor was Wright the only pedophile at Caldicott. And though Caldicott may top the chart of schools with teacher convictions, recent investigations and trials reveal widespread abuse at several of Britain's elite schools.

Convicted teachers taught at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School, Wellington College, Haberdashers' Aske's, King's School Rochester and Downside Abbey, run by Benedictine monks.


Earlier this year, Wright, age 83, was sentenced to eight years for abusing five boys ages 8 to 13. A former Caldicott teaching assistant, John Addrison, is serving five years for abusing two boys there and five at Moor Park.

Teacher Hugh Henry, found guilty of molesting six boys at Caldicott and three at Gayhurst, threw himself under a train last month, two days before he was to be sentenced. To date, more than 70 teachers at British private schools have been convicted of abusing some 300 boys.

Yet these convictions may be just the beginning.

Liz Dux, an attorney at the firm Slater & Gordon, told Newsweek she represents "over 17 victims" of alleged sexual abuse at Ashdown House, whose alumni include London's mayor, Boris Johnson. "In the last two years, I have seen a large increase in claims against private schools," said Samantha Robson, a lawyer at Slee & Blackwell who specializes in child abuse cases. Pannone, another law practice representing sexual abuse victims, is handling allegations from pupils at 32 schools.

That's a big change from the past, according to Richard Scorer, Slater & Gordon's head of abuse cases, who said, "In the 1990s, most of the cases had to do with state-run care homes." Indeed, until recently sex abuse in Britain was seen as the domain of the Catholic Church and homes for underprivileged children.

The fact that private school pupils are reporting abuse represents a new development; these schools, after all, educate the sons of the elite. Indeed, the quality of education they provide encourages wealthy parents from around the world to pay fees that can top 30,000 pounds per year.

"The atmosphere has changed, partly due to the Jimmy Savile investigation [involving a BBC disc jockey who abused several hundred boys, girls and adults] and partly due to the publicity from recent trials involving teachers at fee-paying schools," Scorer said. "It has also become more acceptable for well-off people to talk about having been victims of sexual abuse. The taboo has been lifted."

"I had one of the most privileged educations," said "Jack Smith," who between 10 and 12 was repeatedly abused at Aldwickbury. His English teacher "would play with my penis and make it erect and play with his own penis as well. What [the abusers] do is they stroke and fondle and get their pleasure from seeing young boys' first arousals."

Rolfe's younger brother, Alastair, was repeatedly raped at Caldicott by Martin Carson, a teacher who served only a year in prison for raping him and another boy. Perplexingly, rape charges have been exceptional, as boys often willingly interacted with their abuser.

"If you were successful in sport, you could go to Peter Wright's room or his cottage in the evenings," Rolfe explained. "You went even though you knew the abuse would happen, because you didn't want to be the one who missed out on the fun."

Nobody knows the depravity at Caldicott better than Detective-Sergeant Joe Banfield of Thames Valley Police, who has investigated more than 20 cases there.

"There was abuse that happened when the boys were in bed," Banfield said. "The teachers would go into the dormitory and masturbate boys as they lay in their beds, and on some occasions the teachers performed oral sex on them. The second category is abuse that happened when Peter Wright took children from the dormitories to his room, where they performed mutual masturbation."

The third category was simulated sex. "He'd lie down behind the boy and massage himself until he ejaculated," Banfield explained.

"It's believed he stopped abusing in the 70s when he got married," Rolfe said. "But in those 20 years, let's say he abused five boys each year. That's 100 boys."

Victims were groomed to keep quiet. "It's surprising how quickly he could control me," said Rob Hastings, who was abused by his geography teacher as an 11-year-old at Downside. "It started with him inviting me to sit on his lap. Then he started fondling me."

Before long, Hastings was performing sex acts on the teacher, Richard White, who paid him 50 pence (83 cents) each time. But it wasn't money that ensured Hastings's loyalty. The dyslexic son of an Oxford academic and a businessman, he craved affection he wasn't receiving from his parents.

"Was I hurt? No. Was I slashed and strangled? No. In fact, sometimes it felt quite nice. As a child, you don't understand what's being done to you. Besides, I was confused. I was being shown love," said Tom Perry, who was abused by Wright and has become the driving force behind abuse victims' calls for justice.

"Some victims will be sexually aroused, which they confuse with consent," psychologist Elie Godsi said. "It may even distort the perpetrator's perception. He'll think to himself, 'Look, he's enjoying it!'"

Since 1986 there has been a toll-free help line, ChildLine, and most schools today have designated staff to whom pupils can report abuse in confidence. A generation ago such options didn't exist, and reporting abuse to parents would have proved too embarrassing. Rolfe assured his father there was no abuse at Caldicott.

At Caldicott, telling the school's matron—employed to attend to boys' pastoral care—wasn't an option either. As Mark Payge, a Wright victim, recounted in the documentary Chosen, one time his matron saw him leave his abuser's room and said, "You dirty little boy."

According to Godsi, the victims' high social status makes reporting abuse hard. "In upper-middle-class society, there's more of a stiff-upper-lip culture," he said. "You're told just to get on with things. And as adults, these victims have very high barriers to coming forward. They're doctors, lawyers, CEOs. If you're a CEO, you don't want people to know you were abused!"

Anne Carpenter, a forensic clinical psychologist at Scotland's Glasgow Trauma Centre, notes that children who have a stable home life and perform well academically can overcome sexual abuse. Others report permanently damaged relationships. Perry was so traumatized he doesn't even kiss his children.

Because Smith's teacher, Mulcahy Brown, is dead and Aldwickbury refused to apologize, he brought a civil case against the school that has just been settled. "The School has reported the allegations to the relevant authorities and has been informed that they do not intend to take any further action," Aldwickbury headmaster Vernon Hales wrote in an email.

According to Scorer, in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, "there was a quite lax attitude towards teacher selection in fee-paying schools, with no criminal background checks required. As a result, it was relatively easy for pedophiles to get jobs."

Instead of reporting abusers to police, headmasters would often simply send them on their way. Henry and Addrison went on to molest children at other schools. Downside failed to report the abuse. White went on to molest Hastings. But there were good people, too. A Caldicott music teacher told the local vicar about Alastair Rolfe's abuse and signed an affidavit later used in court.

Teachers and staff are still under no legal obligation to report abuse. "We need an agency that functions like triage and sends credible allegations on to the police and social services," argues Perry, author of the Mandate Now campaign for mandatory child abuse reporting.

A spokesman for the Department for Education told Newsweek, "The government is not considering the introduction of mandatory reporting. Guidance is already absolutely clear."

Considering the pain involved with publicly identifying yourself as a sex abuse victim, Hastings is remarkably well-adjusted. Even so, he apologizes for sounding angry. "I'm not trying to bitch about Richard White," he said. "I'm just trying to say that I could have been saved. And I want to make sure that all our children are saved."