December 17th 2020

Abuse

St James Schools compensation: Schoolboy ‘beaten and constantly made to feel worthless’ from age 9 to 15

Malcolm Johnson

Malcolm Johnson

Senior Solicitor, Abuse

St James Schools compensation: Schoolboy ‘beaten and constantly made to feel worthless’ from age 9 to 15

The former pupil of a privately run London school which has paid out close to £1million in damages to students who say they were ‘physically and emotionally abused’ during the 70s and 80s has told how he lived ‘in a constant state of fear’.

The former pupil of a privately run London school which has paid out close to £1million in damages to students who say they were ‘physically and emotionally abused’ during the 70s and 80s has told how he lived ‘in a constant state of fear’.

Chris de Vere, now 50, attended St Vedast School in Queensgate, and later Hampstead, London, from the age of nine to 15 between 1980 and 1985,

He says he was constantly made to feel ‘worthless’ and was ‘beaten and humiliated’ by teachers.

Mr de Vere is one of 45 former pupils to have been represented by Hudgell Solicitors and awarded a five-figure compensation settlement from insurers acting on behalf of the Independent Educational Association (IEA), which established and ran St James and St Vedast schools back in 1975.

The schools were formed through parents who were either members or spouses of members of the School of Economic Science (SES), an organisation influenced by Hinduism, promoting the study of meditation, philosophy and Sanskrit.

Mr de Vere says his parents (who were not members of the SES) had hoped the school would provide him with the best education and have the best resources to support his extra learning needs as he was dyslexic, but possessed a very high IQ.

However, he says he ended up in an environment where ‘the smallest perceived upset such as a slip in posture or undesired movement would result in severe punishment’ leading to him being ‘in a constant state of fear’ at school.

Inquiry found pupils were ‘criminally assaulted’

The extent of the punishments handed out at the two schools was first laid bare in 2004, when a number of allegations were made to governors relating to the discipline methods of teachers during the 70s and 80s.

An Independent Inquiry, led by James Townend QC, found pupils had been ‘criminally assaulted by being punched in the face or in the stomach’ or being ‘cuffed violently about the head.’ He said some pupils were ‘undoubtedly damaged by their experiences there.’

When those findings were published, Mr de Vere says he realised that as an adult, he’d unsuccessfully tried to bury what happened in his past.

“It was a culture of physical extremes, harsh punishment and psychological abuse that was reinforced with control and reward in order to bend you to their will,” he said, recalling his time at the school.
“The teachers often carried out pointless and seemingly spiteful petty punishments, or they would be flying into violent rages, accompanied by terrible psychological intimidation. The smallest infraction would lead to you being beaten. I learnt very quickly that is what would happen.

“If I arrived late, I would be given a whack of a slipper for every five to ten seconds I was late, and you would be whacked if you flinched. The teacher who administered this punishment preferred to use a green size nine gym shoe. He would sometimes take a run at you. This would happen in front of the whole class and it happened several times daily.

“The same teacher used to give children a choice of punishments. These were the “bicycle ride” or the “hedgehog”. With the hedgehog, he would grab a piece of your hair at the back where it was shortest, and he would pull you up until your hair pulled out. The bicycle involved removing the seat of a chair, and you had to step in and out until lactic acid built up in your legs to induce pain. If you stopped before he thought you had suffered enough pain, you would get whacked.

“I can recall one incident when a teacher threw a cricket ball at the back of my head, which knocked me to the ground. There was no particular reason for this as games had finished and we were walking back to the coach. I was about 12 or 13 at the time.

“I was also kicked on several occasions up the backside and cuffed around the head. I spent my school years in a constant state of fear and it got to the stage where I refused to go.

“Prior to going to St Vedast I was a very outgoing happy child, but during my time there it was constantly reinforced to me at school that I was worthless. This is something that has followed me through life.”

Former pupil turned to legal action for ‘recognition of what happened’

Mr de Vere has been supported through a legal claim led by specialist abuse compensation solicitor Malcolm Johnson, of Hudgell Solicitors. He first approached Mr Johnson in 2017, seeking not financial compensation, but recognition and admissions that what had happened at the schools had been wrong.

That has resulted in a damages settlement being agreed for Mr de Vere and 44 other pupils so far, with many also receiving letters of apology, something he says wouldn’t have happened without the strength of legal support.

Hudgell Solicitors agreed a compensation scheme through law firm BLM, who represent the Independent Educational Association (IEA). It has seen a total of £988,500 damages awarded to 45 former pupils of St James and St Vedast schools so far.
Damages settlements of up to £30,000 can be awarded, but the scheme is set to close on January 31st 2021.
After that time any claims will have to be dealt with under the Civil Procedure Rules, which Mr Johnson says will be ‘a more drawn out and difficult route to compensation’.

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