Two former senior Suffolk school staff members convicted of assaulting pupils were exonerated in 1997 abuse probe

Gerald West leaves Ipswich Crown Court

Gerald West leaves Ipswich Crown Court

Two senior members of staff at a former Suffolk school convicted of assaulting pupils had previously been the subjects of a major police investigation in 1997, it has emerged.

Michael Watts leaves Ipswich Crown Court

Michael Watts leaves Ipswich Crown Court

Oakwood School former deputy headteacher Gerald West and care worker Michael Watts were two of the people suspended 18 years ago amid allegations of physically and verbally abusing pupils. They were also accused of using excessive restraint techniques.

However, both men were exonerated following the inquiry by Suffolk Constabulary and social services, and were re-instated at the Stowmarket school, which closed permanently in 2000.

The pupils who made the allegations were not the same students as those who West and Watts admitted assaulting during their trial last week.

Police and Suffolk County Council have said the findings of the 1997 investigation were given to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, it was decided the evidence did not meet the threshold for prosecution.

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A spokesman for the county council said: “When interviewed by police/social care, pupils made direct allegations against Watts and West.

“This was further to an initial allegation made by a pupil at the end of May 1997.

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“When initially interviewed he named other pupils as having also been subject to abuse by staff at the school.

“Watts and West were the subject of the investigation, along with a third member of staff.

“All three were suspended during the investigation.

“A number of other staff were also directly named by pupils during the course of the investigation but they remained in work.

“Having reviewed the evidence, CPS considered that there was not a realistic prospect of conviction and so the case did not proceed any further.

“The suspension of the three staff members was lifted by the Chair of Governors following the CPS decision and the staff returned to work.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokeswoman also confirmed the CPS had reviewed the evidence and decided it was not strong enough for a prosecution.

West, 71, of Martin’s Meadow, Gislingham, near Eye, and bus driver-turned-care worker Watts, of Netley Abbey, Southampton, were given 12-month conditional discharges by Ipswich Crown Court last Friday after each admitting two counts of assault.

West, a former secretary of Stowmarket Golf Club, and Watts, 59, changed their not guilty pleas to guilty during their trial earlier in the week.

Eight other similar charges against West – which he had denied – will not be pursued. Neither will five further charges of child cruelty against Watts, which he also denied.

Prosecutor Jacqueline Carey said Watts had admitted assaulting one boy by purposely flying a kite into him from about 25 feet away.

The court heard Watts had tried to do so on several occasions, finding it funny, but only struck the child once, causing a cut to the boy’s arm.

Watts also assaulted another boy in the 1980s by forcefully pushing him in the chest and jabbing him twice in the stomach.

West had hit a boy in the forehead with a beaker during the 1980s and had also slapped a 12-year-old boy.

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