March 2002

Deputy head found guilty of illegal caning

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A FORMER deputy head of an East Staffordshire children’s home has been given a nine-month suspended prison sentence after being convicted of illegally caning and ill-treating a boy in his care.

Thomas Watson (pictured), who worked at the Riverside home in Rocester, near Uttoxeter, during the 1980s, was found guilty by a jury at Stafford Crown Court of caning a boy who was wearing only a pair of shorts and deliberately pushing a table into the boy’s stomach.

Sentencing him to nine months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, Judge John Shand decribed Watson’s behaviour as “an abuse of disciplinary procedure” and “a disgraceful lack of control”.

Judge Shand said: “You had no reason to act as you did – you were in breach of your trust.”

The offences were committed during Watson’s time as deputy head of the Riverside children’s home nearly 20 years ago, when the boy was under 16.

The jury, however, cleared Watson of allegations made by eight other boys that he breached the regulations for corporal punishment which were in force at the time. 

Watson, 57, of Meadow View, Burntwood, near Cannock, had denied a total of 13 charges – eight of child cruelty and five of assault causing actual bodily harm – involving nine boys altogether. 

He was acquitted on 11 charges but convicted of two offences of child cruelty involving one boy.

Christopher Millington QC, defending, said: “He is not here to be sentenced as a man who ran a cruel and violent regime. He fell down badly in respect of one of the many thousands of youngsters he handled.”

He said even the victim had described Watson as “a nice guy”, though if he was wound up he could “go off like a bull in a china shop.”

Mr Millington said: “If he operated on a short fuse, it was under severe provocation.”

The court heard that Watson, a father of five, was a former factory manager before turning to child care work. He became housemaster at Riverside in 1977 and, after a short spell at the Chadswell home in Lichfield, returned to Riverside, where he was in charge of the observation unit then becoming deputy head.

The alleged offences dated back to the early 1980s, when corporal punishment was legal in children’s homes, provided it complied with strict regulations then in force.

The regulations permitted caning to be administered to boys only, applied over normal clothing and up to a maximum of six strokes. It was forbidden to cane children aged over 16.

The prosecution had alleged Watson had breached the regulations by forcing boys to remove their clothing or wear silk shorts and in some instances, by using a plimsoll which he nicknamed “Percy” to administer the punishment.

Watson had refuted the allegations, describing them as “rubbish”.