A School Culture That Hid Bullying, Beatings And Rape

As damaged as they were damaging, the children of Kerelaw made the easiest of victims. For years pupils at the school – effectively Scotland’s biggest lock-up for troubled youngsters – had spoken of ferocious bullying, beatings and even rape.

For years their cries for help were ignored. Nobody, it turned out, believed the kind of young men and young women Scotland likes to write off as “neds”.

Today, after almost exactly three years of investigation, Glasgow City Council, the authority in charge of Kerelaw, finally revealed what it believes was the true scale of abuse at the school.

Fully 40 members of staff, including some managers, were directly involved in hurting children. Perhaps dozens more knew what was happening and kept quiet.

Children, the authority said in an official report to be published today, were systematically physically assaulted. Some youngsters also faced sexual abuse. Violence and inappropriate sexual relationships stemmed, investigators believe, from a climate of “fear and collusion”. Privately, senior council officials believe children, many of whom were difficult teenage boys with histories of offending and behaviour problems, were demonised. Staff, some insiders say, believed troublemakers deserved what they got.

The report is more carefully worded. The culture at Kerelaw was “dysfunctional, insular and staff-centred”. Many members of staff were related. There were several married couples. Some sources within the school community admit some abuse may have taken place over the years. Few would admit to recognising the scale described in today’s report on the council’s investigation.

The report says: “The conclusion of our investigation was that a significant number of staff, many in management positions, were involved in the physical abuse of young people. This included physical assaults, excessive use of restraint outwith policy, inappropriate restraint and a range of physically abusive and intimidating behaviour characterised as horseplay.

“The investigation concluded, as have court proceedings, that young people had been sexually abused by certain staff members. Moreover, the culture at Kerelaw was characterised by a lack of appropriate professional boundaries between staff and young people. This included inappropriate relationships, a chronic lack of privacy for young people, young people having knowledge of staff’s personal relationships and an absence of boundaries regarding staff use of inappropriate language and dress.

“In addition to the specific instances of abuse that investigation has concluded that there were systemic failures which allowed a dysfunctional, insular and staff-centred culture to develop. The investigation shows that there was a significant core of staff, around 40 individuals, directly involved in the abuse of young people. However, a far larger number of staff had knowledge and information about abuse and potential abuse and were unwilling or unable to address this abuse, contributing to the development and dysfunction within Kerelaw, thereby failing to fulfil their duty of care.”

Many Kerelaw staffers deny things were ever as bad as the council believes. Some remain firmly convinced that council officials panicked when faced with a first 2004 secret report detailing allegations. That report, first revealed by The Herald earlier this year, described a staff riven by rival factions.

Its author was Bill Adam, the council official entrusted with overseeing Kerelaw, which is near Stevenston, from his office in Glasgow. He detailed various concerns from some staff and pupils about the culture at Kerelaw, described by one witness as “oppressive”.

Jim Hunter was head teacher at Kerelaw until he was removed from the post in 2004. He has never been accused of being involved in any abuse. Earlier this year he told The Herald that the 2004 report contained statements with which he “fundamentally disagreed”.

So where are the Kerelaw staff now? Twenty were reported to the procurator-fiscal. Two of those, art teacher Matt George and care manager John Muldoon were jailed for sexually and physically abusing children. One has died. Two have had charges against them dropped. Worried officials at Glasgow council, however, believe others are working in “care settings”.