Abuse at special schools for ‘maladjusted’ children: Keith Figes sentenced
A boarding school worker jailed for sexual offences from the 1960s shows it’s never too late for victims to seek justice.
A predatory boarding school ‘housefather’ who waged a “campaign of serious sexual abuse” at Berrow Wood School in Worcestershire has become the ninth member of staff to be convicted for abusing pupils under their care.
Keith Figes, 73, of Breach Close in Bourton, Dorset, was told he would die in prison as he was jailed for 27 years on Tuesday.
He admitted 11 counts of sexual offences at the school in the 1960s and 70s.
He joins eight other staff members who have been convicted of physically or sexually abusing pupils at Berrow Wood, a school for children with behavioural or learning difficulties. The other members of staff are:
- Maurice Lambell, 69, of Platt Fold Street, Wigan, a housefather who was tried alongside Figes and convicted of 30 counts of sexual abuse;
- Barry Hastings (deceased) of Margate, a housemaster jailed in 2019 for sexual abuse of a pupil. He died in prison;
- Alan Gorton, then of Gloucester, a former boxer and the owner of the school from 1984 onwards, jailed for 12 months in 1994 for offences of actual bodily harm and common assault committed against pupils;
- Ron Morris (deceased), then of Gloucester, the headmaster of the school from 1984 onwards, jailed for 8 months in 1994 for offences of actual bodily harm, common assault and cruelty committed against pupils;
- Phillip Gray, then of Gloucester, a housemaster jailed for 6 months in 1994 for offences of actual bodily harm and cruelty against pupils;
- David Laughton, then of Gloucester, convicted in 1994 of assaults against pupils and given a community sentence;
- Peter Larner, then of Gloucester, convicted in 1994 of assaults against pupils and given a community sentence; and
- Peter Gorton, then of Gloucester, convicted in 1994 of assaults against pupils and given a community sentence.
Lambell was due to be sentenced alongside Figes but he did not turn up at Worcester Crown Court.
Berrow Wood was a school for children with behavioural or learning difficulties, with pupils sent there by social services.
The school closed in 1992, and former pupils say they were regularly disbelieved by social services departments across the country when they attempted to report what was happening there. Figes went on to work at Badgeworth School in Cheltenham, and two other children’s homes in the West Midlands.
Simon Spence KC, prosecuting, said Figes’ time at Berrow Wood was “the beginning of a campaign of serious sexual abuse as he went from school to school targeting institutions where vulnerable young boys should have been looked after”, the BBC reported.
This is not the first such scandal regarding physical, sexual and emotional abuse at residential special schools for so-called ‘maladjusted’ children between the 1950s and the early 1990s. Many children were sent hundreds of miles away from home by local authorities and were vulnerable due to unmet and/or poorly understood educational and social needs.
In recent years former staff at several such schools have been convicted of a variety of offences against pupils under their care, including staff at:
- Brookside School, Shropshire where headteacher Jack Mount was convicted of hundreds of sexual offences.
- Kesgrave Hall School, Suffolk where teacher John McKno was convicted of indecently assaulting several pupils.
- Cavendish School, London where headteacher Richard Alston was convicted of sexually abusing a pupil.
We hope that Figes’ and Lambell’s convictions for abuse dating back to the 1970s will offer some reassurance to other victims of abuse at these schools that it is never too late to come forward, even if the institutions are now closed. All victims of abuse have a right to access justice, and to be believed.
Many former pupils are also likely unaware that they may be able to claim compensation for what happened to them. If you would like to investigate the possibility of making a claim you can get in touch with our team of expert solicitors. We assist clients on a no-win no-fee basis, and have recently launched a therapy fund for our clients, to ensure that those who would benefit from mental health support do not need to wait until the end of their case to receive it.