Ex-head of prestigious music school ‘bitterly regrets’ not knowing of child abuse

A former headmaster of a prestigious music school rocked by child sex abuse scandals has told an inquiry he “bitterly regrets” not knowing what was going on.

John Vallins was the headmaster of Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (pictured) from 1974 to 1992, during which a number of children suffered abuse at the hands of teachers, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard.

The school was a “hothouse” for musical talent, highly competitive and “ruthless” but had no written child protection policies and teachers and staff were given no guidance or training about the grooming of children.

Mr Vallins said Chetham’s at that time was no different to other schools and all were operating in a “different world” than nowadays.

Fiona Scolding QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked the witness about Michael Brewer, the former director of music at the school, and Christopher Ling, a former violin teacher.

Brewer was jailed for six years in 2013 for sexually abusing former pupil Frances Andrade, who killed herself during his trial at Manchester Crown Court.

Ling later took his own life as he was about to be extradited from the US to face charges in the UK.

A number of former pupils have told the inquiry Ling sexually abused them while pupils at the school.

Mr Vallins said he did not know Mr Ling and had no involvement in his recruitment, but was told the school was “lucky” to have him as he was a brilliant violin teacher.

Ms Scolding QC asked the witness if perhaps at the time he did not quite have his “ear to the ground” and know what was going on in his school.

Mr Vallins said: “It would be idle of me to deny that its evidence for the subject of this inquiry that there were bad things happening that I did not know about but which I should have done, and I can’t say how bitterly I regret that.”

A victim of Ling’s eventually reported matters to police in November 1990, which was the first time Mr Vallins became aware, he said.

Mr Vallins said he was not a musician and Brewer was director of music, and the whole music department had a high degree of autonomy from the head and the rest of the school.

Earlier, a former pupil told how during an October half term, a house was rented in Manchester and Ling gave pupils lessons outside school.

He arranged to be alone with his victim, then aged 15, and warned her he would “punish” her if she made a mistake playing the violin.

She told the hearing: “He said he was going to spank me. That was the punishment. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me down on to his lap and pulled down my underwear and he struck me with his hand.”

The woman, identified only as witness A2, said Ling warned she stood “no chance” of a career in music if she made a complaint.

Asked how she felt about her treatment and Chetham’s School, she said: “Shocking. It’s appalling. There are a lot of people who are very wounded who have come out of there.”

A second woman, known only as A1, also told the hearing Ling sexually abused her for nine months while a pupil, leading her to develop an eating disorder.

The hearing continues.

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