Abuse solicitors to take legal action against London council after three care officers jailed for sexual abuse at residential school

Survivors of abuse at Swaylands School in Kent have welcomed the sentences handed down to a trio of residential care officers who were found guilty last week of sexual abuse at the school for vulnerable boys over a period of more than 30years.

Solicitors at Leigh Day, who are acting for the survivors of abuse, are now taking legal action against Barnet Council in north London who ran the school, which was an institution for young people with moderate learning difficulties and later schooled boys with emotional and behavioural problems.

The three men Colwyn Baker, 71, David Hennessy, 75, and Nigel Putman, 62, abused youngsters at the School in Penshurst, Kent. Maidstone Crown Court heard how Baker encouraged other pupils to abuse other children at the school for youngsters aged around eight to 16.

The judge said “he ruled by fear" using intimidation and coercion. Sentencing the men, the judge said the case "constitutes one of the worst possible breaches of trust that a court can deal with".

He added that the abuse suffered by the victims would be "seared in their memory banks ... for the rest of their lives".

The three men were residential child care officers at Swaylands, which closed in 1994, but their abuse left many victims with life-long problems, according to victim impact statements.

Baker was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of 20 counts, going back to 1963. Hennessy, was jailed for 12 years after being convicted of six counts and Putman was jailed for three years after being found guilty of two counts.

Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC read victim impact statements to the Court. One victim said in his statement: "At the time I didn't realise it was wrong because the abuse was done in a way that made it seem OK.

"I was sent to the school because I needed looking after. I was a little boy and I wasn't looked after. I was made to do things that I shouldn't. This will always affect me."

During their trial, Mr Bennetts said the atmosphere at the school was one "where abuse was almost the norm".

Alison Millar, an abuse solicitor at law firm Leigh Day which is representing survivors of abuse at the school, said:

"These offences were hideous and the sentences handed down are significant given the restrictions on the judge to use the sentencing requirements of the time, when the maximum sentences for serious sexual assault were very different.

"One of our clients told us that it felt like they'd waited all their life for this moment.

"However, the criminal justice process has been traumatic for our clients, requiring them to relive the most personal and traumatic memories and feelings and then be cross-examined in court about their recollections.

"This case clearly demonstrates the vital importance of proper support and assistance for those dealing with the lasting effects of abuse.

"It is also of great concern that Hennessy was allowed back into his post, to continue to abuse boys, having left 'under a cloud' 18 months before.

"The mistakes of the past cannot be allowed to happen in the present. We urgently call for mandatory reporting of all suspected child abuse to ensure that all schools and other institutions are made to report such concerns to the police and cannot be allowed to deal with it as they see fit."