Stowmarket school abuse payout by Suffolk County Council tops £800k to date

Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

Oakwood School in Stowmarket. - Credit: Archant

Nearly 50 former pupils of a Suffolk school have received more than £800,000 from the county council for the abuse they suffered at the hands of staff.

Former headteacher of the Oakwood School Eric De Smith arrives at Ipswich Crown Court for sentencing

Former headteacher of the Oakwood School Eric De Smith arrives at Ipswich Crown Court for sentencing

Sixty-five additional claims by former students of the disgraced former Oakwood School in Stowmarket are still awaiting decisions on their compensation cases.

The total payout from Suffolk County Council when the matters are resolved will inevitably run into a seven-figure sum.

Andrew Grove and Company, the Cambridge-based solicitors representing the 114 claimants, said 49 ex-pupils have now had their claims settled.

Excluding costs the amount of compensation paid by the council’s insurers to date totals £835,5000. The amounts range from £10,000 to £50,000.

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The 114 abuse claims go back as far as the 1970s.

Oakwood School effectively closed in December 1999 after numerous complaints from pupils alleging various forms of abuse.

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In 2011 two ex-students approached Andrew Grove and Co with a view to making a civil claim.

Legal proceedings commenced in Cambridge County Court in July 2012, but were delayed by criminal trials at Ipswich Crown Court.

Former headmaster, Eric De Smith, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, was found guilty of nine counts of sexual offences against children.

In May last year De Smith, who is now aged 77, was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. Two other former staff, Michael Watts and Roger West were convicted of ill-treating children in a separate trial and received a conditional discharge.

Following the settlements Andrew Grove said: “This is a good start towards a final resolution of the Oakwood abuses.

“I hope that we can move forward now and settle more claims by negotiation or litigation.

“However there are 15 claims where Suffolk County Council deny any responsibility such as a number of claims where they say the abuse is minor and also those claimants who allege that they fell prey to abuse by the Chairman of the Governors and local United Reform Church Minister, the Reverend John Pugh.

“Five claimants allege abuse by the Reverend Pugh at church, which was compulsory for all pupils, and within the school itself, to which the reverend was a constant visitor.

“Reverend Pugh killed himself in a car fire on June 3, 2003, after allegations of abuse were made against him.

“Suffolk County Council deny liability for any alleged abuse by the Reverend Pugh because they say he was not employed by the council.

“However the claimants counter that he was invited onto school premises by school staff and therefore the school owed a duty of care to any pupil that he assaulted.

“Likewise the pupils were compelled to attend services at the United Reform Church and should have been more closely supervised by school staff.”

Mr Grove added in order to progress the remaining claims the next step in the litigation will be to ask the court to order disclosure of school documents.

Mr Grove said the Oakwood School claim is still open. Anyone who suffered abuse at the school should telephone 01223 367133.

A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said: “Our legal representatives have been working with the group of individuals and their solicitors.

“As the discussions are ongoing, we are not able to go into specific detail at this point.”

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