February 1999

Scandal school victims hit back at their abusers

Nigel Hare is HIV positive and homosexual. But he does not accept that he is gay, at least not in the genetic sense. Instead he blames his current state on the sexual abuse he suffered in the 1970s at Forde Park, an approved school for boys in south Devon.

‘I didn’t choose to be gay – I was made that way,’ says Hare, who claims that between the ages of 10 and 13 he was subjected to repeated sexual and physical abuse at the school. ‘By the time I left Forde Park in 1975 it was the only way I knew how to be.’

For the past 18 months Devon and Cornwall police have been investigating multiple allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the Home Office-run school in Newton Abbot, which closed in 1985. The allegations, being brought by a group of 40 self-styled survivors, suggest that for 25 years Forde Park harboured a particularly sadistic paedophile ring.

But despite the fact that the identities and whereabouts of the alleged paedophiles are well-known, police have yet to make any arrests, fuelling claims that they are not treating the allegations seriously.

‘The pursuit of these people cannot be allowed to fade away,’ says Alan Duncan, the Conservative Shadow Health Minister. ‘A number of former pupils now independently corroborate the same story. The police should get on with it and make arrests.’

So far, survivors have named some former members of staff, but the key allegations revolve around a group of six men. One, Stuart Brooker, the school’s former odd-job man, was convicted of a series of sex offences at Exeter Crown Court in 1990. After leaving Forde Park, Brooker joined a council-run home in south Devon. Survivors claim that other alleged paedophiles went on to jobs at schools in Exeter and Bristol, leading to fears that their victims could include boys in care throughout south-west England.

But despite reporting the abuse to social workers at the time, survivors say there is no record of the complaints in their social service files. Now, with the backing of their MPs, they are asking the Department of Health, which inherited files on the school from the Home Office, to launch a public inquiry.

‘Forde Park was not an isolated case,’ says Andy Kershaw, spokesman for the survivors’ group, who was sent to Forde Park when he was 10 for stealing £4 from his mothers’ purse. ‘What we are talking about is a clever, well-organised paedophile ring.’

Kershaw complained to Devon County Council about the abuse at Forde Park nearly three years ago, but police did not take a formal statement from him or other members of his group until late last year. It was as a result of those statements that the inquiry team traced Nigel Hare, now 37, to an address in Cardiff two weeks ago.

Hare had never been in trouble with the police – his only ‘crime’ was to have run away from a council home when he was eight after his adoptive mother returned him to Devon’s care. Fed up with his frequent absconding, in 1972 Devon sent him to Forde Park. He was just 10 years old.

Designed as a ‘caring’ alternative to borstal, Forde Park was anything but. Within days of his arrival Hare says he was placed in a boxing ring with an older boy and beaten until he bled. When he ran away, he was captured and caned in front of the whole school. This was the start of a cycle of abuse that ended with Hare being locked in a cell and deprived of his clothing to stop him absconding.

‘Sometimes, they would forget to come for me and I would be locked up all day,’ says Hare. ‘Other times, they would make me stand on the parade ground in the freezing cold in my T-shirt and underpants. It was humiliating.’

In desperation, Hare says he turned for comfort to Mr X, a part-time teacher in charge of school excursions. It was a mistake. On a day trip to Dartmoor, Mr X arranged a game of hide and seek. But when the other children scattered he held Hare back. ‘He took me into the woods and put his hand down my trousers. He said: ”You’re one of my boys now.” I was terrified but there was nothing I could do.’

After that, Hare says, Mr X began interfering with him regularly. ‘He took me and another boy to the school chapel and tried to make us do things to each other. Everyone in the school knew what was going on, but it was useless to complain. If you did, it just made the abuse worse.’

Tragically, it continued when Hare was transferred to a school in Exeter. The result was that by the time he left Devon’s care at the age of 16 he was unable to form relationships with women. ‘I’m no Julian Clary,’ he insists. ‘But when I try having sex with girls it doesn’t work out.’

Ex-pupil Mark Speed, who was sent to Forde Park in 1976 at the age of 13, says he was abused by a teacher during camping trips. On one occasion the teacher stripped him naked on a chair and made him undergo a ‘medical’ examination. But when he complained to police, the teacher denied the allegations and the incident was hushed up.

Another former pupil, who cannot be named for legal reasons, says he was sexually abused by Stuart Brooker at a series of local authority-run institutions, including Forde Park. The man, who subsequently suffered a mental breakdown, has now been granted legal aid to sue Devon council for damages and loss of earnings.

Devon and Cornwall police could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Steve Webb, MP for Northavon, who has two constituents who attended the school, says that when he met the inquiry team four weeks ago he was told that police had interviewed 100 former pupils and that arrests were ‘imminent’.

‘It’s not just about what criminal acts may or may not have been committed, but what education the boys received at Forde Park and why no one appears to have taken any notice of their complaints,’ said Webb.

‘As far as I can tell, no one emerged from the school with any qualifications at all. Someone needs to take a look at the bigger picture.’

Next month he is meeting the Junior Health Minister, John Hutton, to raise survivors’ concerns about the inquiry. A key issue is whether or not the Department of Health has files that could aid the police investigation.

Last month, the Health Secretary Frank Dobson told Alan Duncan that his department had no files on any individuals at the school. But in previous correspondence with MPs, department officials said they do hold files on former pupils.

As for Hare, he is due to give a formal statement tomorrow to police. But he says he has little confidence in the inquiry. He points out that Kershaw and Dyer named him in their statements to social services three years ago, but despite being on the disability register since 1994 police only contacted him last month.

‘Devon and Cornwall police are too close to it,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel I will be given a fair hearing. After everything that has happened to me, the least they could do is appoint an outside inquiry team.’