Stowmarket/Ipswich: Five former teachers at Oakwood School deny child abuse charges.

Ipswich Crown Court

Ipswich Crown Court - Credit: Archant

The former headmaster and four other teachers at a Suffolk school have denied a total of 40 child abuse offences between them.

The quintet who taught at Oakwood School in Stowmarket entered their pleas at a hearing before Ipswich Crown Court today.

The school’s former head Eric De Smith, 74, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, denied 10 indecent assaults on a male and six counts of indecency with a child.

The alleged offences are said involve seven victims and refer to the period between 1979 and 1986.

Prosecutor Anthony Abell told the plea and case management hearing that the estimated duration of De Smith’s trial would be three weeks.

Judge Rupert Overbury, who is due to preside over the trial, told De Smith it would begin on June 23.

He was released on conditional bail.

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The four other ex-Oakwood teachers entered their pleas at a separate hearing which followed on immediately from De Smith’s.

Gerald West, 69, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham, near Eye, pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of cruelty to a child under the age of 16.

Stephen Player, 59, of London, denied six charges of cruelty to a child under the age of 16

After leaving Oakwood Player went on to other teaching posts, including being headmaster of Spratton Hall prep school in Northamptonshire from where he retired earlier this year.

Michael Watts, 57, of Netley Abbey, Southampton, pleaded not guilty to seven allegations of cruelty to a child, while Graham Hallett, 65, a former lecturer, of Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster, denied one charge of cruelty to a child.

The offences are said to have occurred between 1974 and 1997.

Watts, West, Player, and Hallett were told their trial would begin on August 4.

The court heard it was estimated that the trial will last around eight weeks and would feature at least 34 prosecution witnesses with potentially more than 20 for the defendants.

All four men were released on unconditional bail.

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

It closed temporarily in December 1999. Although Oakwood was re-opened, it shut permanently in 2000.

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