Former head of boarding school denies alleged sex offences while former staff plead not guilty to child cruelty charges

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The former headteacher of a boarding school in Stowmarket has appeared in court to deny a string of alleged sex offences.

Eric De Smith, 74, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, is accused of committing 16 offences while working at the now-closed Oakwood School over a period of 12 years.

At Ipswich Crown Court yesterday De Smith pleaded not guilty to six counts of gross indecency with a child and ten indecent assaults on a male.

It is alleged the offences involved children all aged under 16.

De Smith’s trial is due to take place in June next year.

Judge Rupert Overbury told De Smith that he would continue to be granted bail until his next court appearance.

Oakwood School, which opened in 1974, accommodated children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It closed in 2000.

On the same day four former members of staff at Oakwood appeared in court to plead not guilty to child cruelty offences at the school.

Gerald West, 69, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham; Michael Watts, 57, of Sellwood Road, Netley Abbey, Southampton; Stephen Player, 59, of Manor Road, Spratton, Northamptonshire and Graham Hallett, 65, of Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster are due to stand trial in August next year.

All are facing the same charge of cruelty to a person aged under 16.

West denied 10 offences; Watts denied seven offences; Player denied six offences and Hallett denied one offence.

Judge Rupert Overbury told the four men that they would continue to be granted bail until their trial.