‘ It was a never-ending cycle of destruction ’

Mike Parker, victim of Derek Slade at St George's School, Finborough
Mike Parker, victim of Derek Slade at St George's School, Finborough

CONVICTED child abuser Derek Slade is in prison serving a 21-year sentence for his ‘reign of terror’ at a former boys school in Suffolk.

But for those young boys who were subjected to abuse at the hands of Slade, memories of their time at St George’s School, in Great Finborough, continue to torture and terrorise them more than 20 years on.

Mike Parker, now 40, was just 10 when he waved goodbye to his parents at the gates of St George’s School. Within 72 hours he had been caned, kicked and beaten by his new headteacher, Derek Slade. And that was just the beginning.

“Slapping, kicking, punching and caning led to touching and then it just escalated,” said Mike.

He was one of 12 former St George’s pupils involved in the conviction of Derek Slade at Ipswich Crown Court, in September 2010.

But for those who suffered from physical, mental and sexual abuse, it didn’t end there.

“It doesn’t just stop at a slap or a kick or a beating or even worse. It continues and the destruction continues - and until that person finds the power within or remembers everything then there is no way of accounting for the amount of damage, both physically and mentally, that could have been done,” said Mike.

It took 27 years before Mike’s memories of his school days came back to him: “I was in turmoil for years and I could never get to the bottom of it.

“December 2008 was the crunch. I woke up in the middle of the night and it was absolutely horrendous. Everything just came back to me - memories were so clear, thoughts and feelings and smells and tastes.

“I could see it happening, I could see myself as a kid and I could see it happening.

“But why did it happen? Why was it allowed to happen? Why did it continue to happen?”

St George’s School was established in 1977 as a military school in Wicklewood, Norfolk, by Derek Slade and a number of colleagues. The boys’ school moved to Great Finborough in 1980, and run by Anglemoss Ltd, leaving the girls’ school in Norfolk.

Mike said he witnessed the ‘terrorism of children’ at St George’s School, and his experience has haunted him ever since.

“I have felt this anger for years, it completely screwed my life up. At the time I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t get to the bottom of why I was so willing to attack people personally and sometimes physically.”

Despite going to two more schools after St George’s, Mike never finished his education. He was expelled from the second school, in Woolwich, after ‘whipping’ another boy with a branch just as Slade had thrashed him with a cane.

“That’s what would have happened to us at St George’s. I was sent to the headteacher’s office, he grabbed me by the arm and tried to slap the back of my leg and boom - he ended up on the floor.”

After a stint at a reform school, Mike left education. Today, he is unemployed.

His life of ‘turmoil’ worsened as he struggled to cope with everyday life. He got into trouble with the police and tried to commit suicide on several occasions, ending up in a psychiatric hospital.

“It was a never-ending cycle of destruction,” he said. “Now I’m madder than hell because all of that time has been completely lost and I have caused a lot of pain and suffering to other people. I could have done so much more.”

Mike’s relationships also suffered. He struggled with friends and girls, and slipped into a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship with his parents and three brothers.

But he found some peace when he met Sue, now his wife: “As usual, I started getting mad and upset when things were getting too close and too personal between us. I started pushing her away, but she stuck with it.”

The couple now have three children and live in Newcastle. But Mike’s life is consumed by the past as he continues to investigate the abuse at St George’s, and elsewhere.

On August 2, more than 2 million viewers tuned in to BBC1 to hear his story as part of Roger Cook’s An Abuse of Trust. The programme, which also featured former St George’s pupil Wayne Makin, was broadcast 29 years after the journalist’s first programme on BBC Radio 4 exposed abuse at the school.

“It got it out there,” said Mike. “If only it had been sooner.”

Slade resigned as St George’s headteacher in 1983, but the horror was not over.

For Mike, it was a turning point: “Slade had left and I swore to myself that nobody else would ever touch me again. But one of them decided to take a rubber sole to me, he got me once and then I took it off him. That was it. That was me finished.

“I ran out of the school and hid in the gardens. When I came back later that night I just raised a riot in the school - I had completely lost it. Three of us went on a rampage and I had a knife from the kitchen.”

But for Slade, it was just the beginning. Despite being exposed by the BBC Radio 4 programme, he went on to set up another school, in Sussex. Just three years later he was convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm to two pupils at that school.

And in 1988, Slade obtained a passport in the name of Edward Marsh and set off on a global mission. For a decade he travelled world-wide setting up schools and working in education in Swaziland and India, after setting up the Indo British Education Projects (IBEP) with Derek Sawyer and getting funding from Help A Poor Child, which was unaware of his real identity.

Finally, in 2010, Slade’s ‘reign of terror’ – as described by one victim at his trial – was brought to an end when he was arrested in Derbyshire, thanks to the tireless efforts and investigation by Mike and other St George’s victims.

“It’s only at the end that you see the damage caused,” said Mike.

“People that were involved in the abuse of children at St George’s should be brought to account and that’s what we are pushing for. I cannot let it go because I’m partially responsible, I didn’t have the strength to come forward before. But I’m not scared any more - how can they hurt me any more than I have already been hurt?”