Pupil was force-fed tomatoes at former Oakwood School, court hears

The old Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

The old Oakwood School in Stowmarket. - Credit: Archant

A former pupil at a Suffolk school where children were allegedly subjected to a “regime of abusive behaviour” by four members of staff has claimed he was physically sick after allegedly being forced to eat tomatoes.

The witness, now aged 42, who lived with his parents in Mildenhall before being sent to Oakwood School in Stowmarket, told a jury at Ipswich Crown Court that deputy headteacher Gerald West insisted he ate tomatoes at a mealtime despite being told they made him sick.

“I didn’t want to eat them and he made me eat them front of everyone in the school,” said the man.

He said at the time he was aged 10 or 11 and had begged West not to force him to eat them.

He said West told him he had to eat the food on his plate and should be grateful for it and had then stood over him while he ate the tomatoes and was sick.

The witness, who was at the school between 1982-1989, claimed West had also physically assaulted him once a month by striking him on the forehead with his knuckles if he misbehaved or answered back.

He alleged that on one occasion West saw him and a friend laughing in a dormitory and had slapped him across the face seven or eight times.

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“My face was red and stinging and I was crying my eyes out for ages afterwards,” he said.

He also alleged that West had picked him up off the ground by holding the hair on both sides of his head if he misbehaved.

The former pupil accepted he was one of a number of ex pupils making a civil claim against Suffolk County Council arising out of their alleged ill treatment at Oakwood.

He denied lying about the way he had been allegedly treated by West and being motivated by a potential compensation payout.

West, who is known by his middle name Roger, 70, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham, has denied ten charges of cruelty to a person under the age of 16.

Also before the court are Stephen Player, 59, of London, a senior master at Oakwood, who has denied six offence of child cruelty; Graham Hallett, 66, of Lancaster, a senior master at Oakwood, who has denied one charge of child cruelty and Michael Watts, 59, of Southampton, a child care officer at Oakwood, who has denied seven offences of child cruelty.

The offences are alleged to have been committed between 1974 and 1999 and relate to 20 victims.

It had been alleged pupils, who were sent to the school because they had educational and behavioural problems, were repeatedly subjected to physical ill treatment including slaps to the face, punches and kicks, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Several boys complained of being force fed if they didn’t finish their meals and then being forced to eat food covered in vomit if they were sick, claimed Jacqueline Carey, prosecuting.

One boy allegedly suffered a fractured wrist after West grabbed his hand and bent it backwards so hard he heard it snap and another child allegedly suffered a head injury after a teacher pushed his head against a wall.

“The violence meted out to them was all too prevalent a feature of life at Oakwood school where a regime of abusive behaviour existed,” alleged Miss Carey.

Oakwood School opened in 1974 and shut in 2000.

The trial continues today.

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