A total of 20 teaching staff at Edinburgh Academy were subject to allegations that included a child being beaten with a cricket bat, another pupil suffering a “small bleed on the brain”, a child being strangled, and boys being paid to swim naked, an inquiry has heard.
Broadcaster Nicky Campbell was one of nearly 50 witnesses to give evidence. He told the inquiry of the sexual abuse he endured at the school – and compared one of its teachers to Jimmy Savile. He said the abuse he suffered and witnessed during his school days has “haunted” him ever since.
Yesterday, (Wednesday, August 39) the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry took closing submissions in its investigation into the school. It was told that “disproportionate sadistic violence” was rife in the school in the 1970s and a “culture of fear” prevailed.
One former teacher, Iain Wares, was described by a lawyer for survivors as “one of the most prolific abusers in Scottish criminal history”. Police Scotland has confirmed they are now investigating allegations relating to the school.
In an apology, Edinburgh Academy acknowledged the “brutal and unrestrained” violence and admitted “serious sexual abuse was widespread”. It expressed regret that police were not brought in to deal with Wares in the 1970s. He was instead recommended to Fettes College.
Wares and fellow teacher Hamish Dawson, who died in 2009, were publicly named during the inquiry. Wares now faces 74 charges. Fettes College also issued an apology for allowing Wares to keep working despite allegations of abuse because of the intervention of a psychiatrist.
Both schools said they are implementing mandatory reporting, while the General Teaching Council for Scotland said it should be “an opportunity for learning”.
Andrew Brown KC said the Edinburgh Academy had a “military mindset” and the “normalisation of deeply abnormal behaviour including beatings and voyeurism” was aided by “staff camaraderie”. Pupils were made to choose the implement of their punishment and sign it afterwards, the hearing was told.
Alan McLean KC, representing the Edinburgh Academy Survivors group, said nine former pupils took their own lives. The long-term impact had left pupils with PTSD, depression, failed marriages and trust issues, he told the hearing.
Mr McLean said: “Other schools did not operate like this – corporal punishment was a threat. This was a characteristic of Edinburgh Academy.”
Representing Edinburgh Academy, Calum McNeill KC said: “Physical abuse was brutal and unrestrained, it was not acceptable at the time, even though the use of corporal punishment was legal. It is clear that beatings took place which were not punishment.
“Abuse of power, belittling, calculating creation of a culture of fear – either for no apparent reason or for an obviously false pretext. Serious sexual abuse was widespread and continued undetected.
“Conduct was ‘hidden in plain sight’, with the perpetrators apparently getting gratification from that. Some boys who were groomed adopted the attitude that sexual abuse was preferable.
“It is accepted there will have been many more victims than we have heard first-hand evidence from. The atmosphere of fear and constant vigilance against injustice is something the school is deeply ashamed.”
The school also apologised for recommending Wares to Fettes College. Mr McNeill added: “He should have been facing criminal charges and having nothing to do with children.”
Wares was dismissed in 1979 and returned to South Africa. In a statement, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said she is “acutely aware” of the frustration at the length of time taken to extradite Wares back to Scotland to face charges.
“Significant efforts have been made to bring Mr Wares to trial in Scotland,” she said.
“These have helped ensure that those acting on behalf of Scotland in the extradition proceedings are fully informed about the detail of this case.
“This means they can effectively act on our behalf to secure the surrender of Mr Wares to face prosecution. In 2020 we were told that the extradition had been ordered but that the accused’s surrender would be delayed due to pandemic travel restrictions. We were later told that he had exercised his right to appeal.
“Appeal procedure in South Africa is different in timescale and approach to here. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on that process, which is currently, and properly, being dealt with by judicial authorities in South Africa.”
The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues.