Former South Lakes boarding school at centre of child abuse probe

Former South Lakes boarding school at centre of child abuse probe

The former Underley Hall School

Joseph Ryan with Underley Hall in the background

First published in News
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The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Reporter

DETECTIVES probing historic child abuse allegations are investigating a former South Lakeland school.

Underley Hall School, in Kirkby Lonsdale, was a residential boarding school for ‘troubled’ young boys before being shut two years ago.

Former pupil Joseph Ryan, who was at the school in the 80s, this week welcomed the investigation but said: “Questions need answering”.

Another pupil, Martin Dye, 51, who was there in the 1970s, told the Gazette: “It’s something that has needed to be done for a long time.”

Two MPs are calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to hold a public inquiry into the privately-run school, which was not under local education authority control.

It is not the first time 188-year-old Underley Hall, set in its own grounds on the edge of Kirkby Lonsdale, has been subject to serious allegations.

Seventeen years ago, Grange-based outdoor pursuits teacher John Wadlow gassed himself in his car in the town’s Eggerslack Wood.

Wadlow had appeared in court and was facing a number of sex charges against Underley Hall pupils which, his inquest heard, he ‘totally denied’ in his suicide note.

A few months later in 1997, another inquest heard that Philip Jefferson, 31, a former pupil, who returned to the school to work as a handyman and gardener, also committed suicide by setting his car on fire near Settle, and only being identified from his dental records.

Jefferson claimed he had been sexually abused at the school and was interviewed by police as both a victim and alleged perpetrator, the inquest was told.

This month Cumbria Police launched a major child abuse inquiry called Operation Tweed to investigate historical complaints about ‘a number’ of residential schools across Cumbria.

Police say it centres on allegations dating back as far the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s which have come to light recently.

In a brief statement to the Gazette this week, police said: “We can confirm that Underley Hall School is one of the schools that are under investigation.”

Former Underley Hall pupil Joseph Ryan told the Gazette he had been interviewed and that he was in touch with 10 other former male pupils.

Now living in Crumpsall, Manchester, Mr Ryan, 44, was at Underley Hall between 1980 and 1986.

He said that, because of family problems, he was subject to a care order handed down by a court and stayed at the school Monday to Friday but was allowed to go home to see his parents in Burton-in-Kendal at weekends.

Mr Ryan, who later spent his teenage years living at Romney Gardens, Kendal and now suffers from serious health problems, said: “I do welcome the police investigation because questions still need answering. I don’t think the whole story has come out yet. I went to the school and am personally still in touch with some of those who went there.

“We all believe that there should be a proper full inquiry – not just a police inquiry but a full public inquiry into the whole set-up of the school, the regime and how it was managed.”

Mr Ryan added: “I have asked Tim Farron (MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale) to ask for an inquiry into Underley Hall School.”

Mr Ryan told the Gazette he was not sexually abused by staff at Underley Hall but has made numerous allegations to the Gazette about his treatment there.

He said a law firm specialising in child abuse cases was now representing him and others.

Mr Ryan’s MP, Graham Stringer, has supported the call for an inquiry. In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Mr Stringer says: “My constituent believes there should be a full investigation into what went on in the school during his time there.”

Westmorland MP Tim Farron said: “Any allegation of child abuse must be taken with utmost seriousness – I have offered to help in any way I can. I want the police to investigate fully. We must get to the truth about what happened at Underley Hall.”

In his letter to Theresa May, Mr Farron said: “I strongly support the view of Joseph Ryan that there are more than sufficient grounds for a full investigation to be commissioned and I very much hope that you will agree to sanction such an inquiry.”

Cumbria Police’s Operation Tweed - headed by DCI Doug Marshall - is investigating allegations of child abuse at ‘a number’ of residential schools throughout Cumbria.

It said detectives involved in Operation Tweed were “highly trained and specialised in dealing with children who are abused.”

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “Underley Hall was a private school. It closed in 2012 following an Ofsted inspection which judged it to be inadequate. Up to that time, the home was used by local authorities across the country, including Cumbria, as a residential school.

“All children placed at the school by the county council were removed following the inadequate judgement.

“We are currently working with the police to review any files relating to Underley Hall as part of their on-going investigation into these allegations.”

The Westmorland Gazette tried to contact the headteacher of Underley Hall School during the period Mr Ryan and Mr Dye refer to but was unable to do so.

The Home Office yesterday confirmed it had received letters from the two MPs.

A spokesman said: “As the Home Secretary has announced, we are establishing an independent panel of experts in law and child protection to consider whether public bodies – and non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

“The Government will do everything it can to facilitate the investigation of child abuse whenever and wherever it occurred, to support its victims, and to bring its perpetrators to justice.”

* The allegations and police investigation have no connection whatsoever with neighbouring Underley Garden School, which was found by Ofsted to be good and outstanding.

JOHN Eric Wadlow was a former outdoor pursuits instructor at Underley Hall School from its opening in January 1976.

Back then, it was described as a ‘school for emotionally disturbed boys aged seven to 16’ with a roll of 55 pupils drawn from across the North. Mr Wadlow was described as a house father and was responsible for the school’s outdoor pursuits – taking pupils to the Lake District to places like Tilberthwaite Ghyll at Coniston and the school’s camp on Windermere. But 19 years later on November 20, 1997, an inquest was held at Grange’s Victorial Hall after his suicide.

His body had been found on September 24, 1997 – just six days after he had appeared in court.

Mr Wadlow, then of The Avenue in Grange, had been charged by police with several counts of child abuse against pupils at Underley Hall.

The inquest heard that Mr Wadlow denied all the charges and had decided ‘his life wasn’t worth living’.

His body was found in a car parked at the entrance to Eggerslack Wood, not far from his home.

A note on the dashboard, addressed to the police, read: “I have decided that my life is no longer worth living and have therefore decided to end it. I have done this alone and without help. I totally deny the allegations that have been made against me.”

Mr Wadlow’s brother, Peter, said Mr Wadlow had made two previous attempts on his own life. Coroner Ian Smith found that Mr Wadlow died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

* Philip Stuart Jefferson, 31, was a pupil at Underley Hall school between the ages of 10 and 15.

But at the age of 16 he got a job at the school as a ‘handyman and gardener,’ his inquest was told.

In 1997, he was found dead in his burned-out car by a forestry worker at a remote location near Settle.

He could only be identified by his dental records, the hearing was told. Friends told the inquest that he claimed to have been sexually abused at Underley Hall.

The hearing was told he also confided to a friend that he himself had been involved in sexual abuse.

At the time, Cumbria Police confirmed Jefferson had been quizzed as both a potential victim and potential perpetrator.

Mr Jefferson was said to have become ‘paranoid and depressed’ and fearful of getting in trouble with the police.

The inquest found he took his own life.

School history

* Underley Hall, a Tudor-style building, - is set in 31 acres of woodland north of Kirkby Lonsdale

* It has been a racehorse stable, a manor house, a convalescent home for soldiers, a prep school, girls’ school and a college

* Underley Hall School came into being in January 1976

* It originally provided a residential education for 55 emotionally disturbed boys, between the ages of seven and 16, drawn from all over the North

* When the school opened, it kept a very low profile because the four co-principals were reported to be keen to get off on the right footing in view of the controversy at the time surrounding proposals for a special school at Moresdale Hall, near Grayrigg

* The school’s aim was to provide ‘an affectionate caring environment for boys of normal intelligence but who cannot come to terms with the demands of an ordinary school’

* Each day began with formal lessons but in the afternoon pupils had a choice of activities, such as motorcycle trials riding, abseiling, canoeing and walking

* The school closed on July 20, 2012, following an Ofsted inspection which judged it to be inadequate

Comments (7)

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9:00pm Thu 31 Jul 14

Milkbutnosugarplease says...

Oh dear, this is sadly not surprising. I went to a boarding prep school in Lancashire during the 1970s for boys from 8 to 13. One of my former teachers is in prison now and another is facing a trial for sex offences against boys at this school. Every boarding/residential school for boys and perhaps for girls is suspect now because there had to be a high degree of trust in staff who had access to dormitories, shower rooms and other places. The very good headmaster and dedicated teachers must be spinning in their graves or, if still living, deeply ashamed of what colleagues did in those more innocent times.
Oh dear, this is sadly not surprising. I went to a boarding prep school in Lancashire during the 1970s for boys from 8 to 13. One of my former teachers is in prison now and another is facing a trial for sex offences against boys at this school. Every boarding/residential school for boys and perhaps for girls is suspect now because there had to be a high degree of trust in staff who had access to dormitories, shower rooms and other places. The very good headmaster and dedicated teachers must be spinning in their graves or, if still living, deeply ashamed of what colleagues did in those more innocent times. Milkbutnosugarplease
  • Score: 6

9:29pm Fri 1 Aug 14

JUSTICE4usall says...

To say the school was a private school is besides the point
the local authorities in south cumbria used the school and others like it, and were all heavily involved in "placing" children there using taxpayers money
only about 1% of children that where there were paid for by their parents

It was nothing more than an open prison for children who had been no choice to leave

There MUST be a full none local public investigation of the school, all the staff male AND female, and
the authorities that supplied the children
To say the school was a private school is besides the point the local authorities in south cumbria used the school and others like it, and were all heavily involved in "placing" children there using taxpayers money only about 1% of children that where there were paid for by their parents It was nothing more than an open prison for children who had been no choice to leave There MUST be a full none local public investigation of the school, all the staff male AND female, and the authorities that supplied the children JUSTICE4usall
  • Score: 6

1:31am Sat 2 Aug 14

BlackCombeRunnerKarl says...

I was a pupil at Underley Hall between March 1987 and May 1989.

Mr. Wadlow and Mr. Jefferson were there when I was, along with a number of other boys, some I can still remember their names as well as the names of some of the teachers at the time.

For now I don't wish to say whether I was abused or not, or if I saw other boys being subjected to it, however, I should point out that during the time I was there I had some happy memories, and still have a friend from Blackburn who also was at the school until he left Underley in 1991.
I was a pupil at Underley Hall between March 1987 and May 1989. Mr. Wadlow and Mr. Jefferson were there when I was, along with a number of other boys, some I can still remember their names as well as the names of some of the teachers at the time. For now I don't wish to say whether I was abused or not, or if I saw other boys being subjected to it, however, I should point out that during the time I was there I had some happy memories, and still have a friend from Blackburn who also was at the school until he left Underley in 1991. BlackCombeRunnerKarl
  • Score: 5

3:59pm Wed 6 Aug 14

SlimJimz says...

I did go to Underley Hall, and it was exactly as described. I'm 40 years old now, and not a minute goes by where i don't' think of the evil that went on in that school. I really didn't want to post a comment here but i felt i had to, just to let people know that things of a poor nature, did happen there. I would like to talk to someone about it but, sometimes we can't even pick up that courage.
I did go to Underley Hall, and it was exactly as described. I'm 40 years old now, and not a minute goes by where i don't' think of the evil that went on in that school. I really didn't want to post a comment here but i felt i had to, just to let people know that things of a poor nature, did happen there. I would like to talk to someone about it but, sometimes we can't even pick up that courage. SlimJimz
  • Score: 3

10:54am Thu 7 Aug 14

Whinfell says...

Not surprisingly the Gazette have jumped on the child abuse bandwagon in the hope of selling a few more copies as sales fall through the floor.
When reading stories like this remember the sort of children who went to schools like this:not always honest or trustworthy.
Also the Police lap this type of case up.They trawl for'victims' in the hope of increasing their conviction rates.
Don't forget cases like the well documented story about the ex professional footballer turned manager.
Instead of following the well worn path of retired players he thought he would do some good and retrained to work with children with problems.
His reward?-A gang of liars made up stories that he had abused them.They almost ruined his life.
Fortunately he was found not guilty in a court of law.
Not surprisingly the Gazette have jumped on the child abuse bandwagon in the hope of selling a few more copies as sales fall through the floor. When reading stories like this remember the sort of children who went to schools like this:not always honest or trustworthy. Also the Police lap this type of case up.They trawl for'victims' in the hope of increasing their conviction rates. Don't forget cases like the well documented story about the ex professional footballer turned manager. Instead of following the well worn path of retired players he thought he would do some good and retrained to work with children with problems. His reward?-A gang of liars made up stories that he had abused them.They almost ruined his life. Fortunately he was found not guilty in a court of law. Whinfell
  • Score: 1

11:01pm Sun 10 Aug 14

joe90ryan says...

SlimJimz wrote:
I did go to Underley Hall, and it was exactly as described. I'm 40 years old now, and not a minute goes by where i don't' think of the evil that went on in that school. I really didn't want to post a comment here but i felt i had to, just to let people know that things of a poor nature, did happen there. I would like to talk to someone about it but, sometimes we can't even pick up that courage.
SlimJimz

Can you ask the gazette to put you in touch with me I am doing a lot of work on Underley and am in communication with several ex boys

Joseph Ryan
[quote][p][bold]SlimJimz[/bold] wrote: I did go to Underley Hall, and it was exactly as described. I'm 40 years old now, and not a minute goes by where i don't' think of the evil that went on in that school. I really didn't want to post a comment here but i felt i had to, just to let people know that things of a poor nature, did happen there. I would like to talk to someone about it but, sometimes we can't even pick up that courage.[/p][/quote]SlimJimz Can you ask the gazette to put you in touch with me I am doing a lot of work on Underley and am in communication with several ex boys Joseph Ryan joe90ryan
  • Score: 0

11:07pm Sun 10 Aug 14

joe90ryan says...

SlimJimz

can you ask the gazette to pass you my details I am the one pictured in the article and I have done a lot of work with ex boys to get this off the ground.
I would like to help you if I can
SlimJimz can you ask the gazette to pass you my details I am the one pictured in the article and I have done a lot of work with ex boys to get this off the ground. I would like to help you if I can joe90ryan
  • Score: 0

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