Stowmarket: Four men to be charged with child abuse at former school

A man is in court charged with fraud

A man is in court charged with fraud - Credit: Archant

Four men are to appear in court on allegations of historic child abuse at the former Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

The quartet, who have been summonsed to court, will be charged with physical abuse and cruelty when they appear before Bury St Edmunds magistrates.

Two weeks ago Oakwood’s ex-headteacher 74-year-old Eric De Smith was charged with 16 sex offences against seven children over a period of 24 years.

The police inquiry relates to alleged offences carried out between 1975 and 1999 at Oakwood.

Detectives have spoken with more than 100 people since it began in 2011.

Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “Following the recent charge of Eric De Smith of Stowmarket, a 58-year-old man from Southampton, a 69-year-old man from Gislingham, a 59-year-old man from Northampton and a 65-year-old man from Lancaster have all been reported for summons to court.

“They are due to appear at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates Court where they will be dealt with for offences of child cruelty and assault.”.

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The accusations stem from what is understood to be the largest child abuse investigation undertaken in Suffolk.

De Smith, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, is accused of six counts of gross indecency and 10 indecent assaults following an inquiry prompted by allegations from former pupils of Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

All five men are now due to appear in West Suffolk Magistrates’ Court on October 1.

A dedicated inquiry team was set up in Newmarket in a operation codenamed Oxenton to investigate the complaints from former pupils at Oakwood.

The school opened in 1974 as a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

It closed temporarily in December 1999 after serious concerns were expressed. Although Oakwood was re-opened, it shut permanently in 2000.

In addition to the criminal investigation a separate civil claim in relation to Oakwood is currently being pursued against Suffolk County Council by Cambridge-based solicitors Andrew Grove and Co.

The firm has said it is working on behalf of 100 ex-pupils alleging abuse.

The county council is facing claims for a compensation payout which could run into millions of pounds.