Men accused of child cruelty at former boarding school in Stowmarket

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Four men accused of child cruelty when they worked as teachers at a now-closed boarding school in Stowmarket have today gone on trial at Ipswich Crown Court.

The four were charged following a lengthy police investigation into allegations surrounding pupils at Oakwood School between 1974 and 1997.

The trial, which is expected to last for eight weeks, was told by Jacqueline Carey, prosecuting, that 20 former pupils had made allegations that they were punched, kicked, repeatedly slapped and restrained in head-locks by the accused men.

Miss Carey said the school had catered for boys aged between eight and 16 with educational and behavioural problems.

She said: “They were naughty young boys. Because of their problems they were also vulnerable.”

Addressing the jury, Miss Carey said: “The violence meted out to them was an all too prevalent part of life at Oakwood. You may consider that there was an abusive regime that existed.”

Accused are Gerald West, 70, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham; Stephen Player, 61, of Manor Road, Spratton, Northamptonshire; Michael Watts, 59, of Sellwood Road, Netley Abbey, Southampton, and Graham Hallett, 65, of Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster.

Between them they face a total of 24 charges of cruelty to a person aged under 16 to which all have pleaded not guilty.

The court heard that each of the men denied any form of physical assault on a pupil at Oakwood although they said that, on occasions, it was necessary to restrain boys for the safety of others.

The trial continues.