Three men found guilty of abusing boys in their care at a Kent residential school over a 30 year period

Lawyers for survivors or historical sexual abuse at a school for vulnerable children have welcomed the guilty verdicts against three men for the crimes.

The three abusers were residential childcare officers at Swaylands School in Penshurst, Kent which closed in 1994.

Maidstone Crown Court heard how the men "exploited the pupils in their care" over a period of 30 years. David Hennessy, Colwyn Baker and Nigel Putman abused youngsters and jurors heard how Baker encouraged other pupils to commit sex acts on other children.

The school, run by Barnet Council, began as an institution for young people with moderate learning difficulties. It later became a residential school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Baker was found guilty of 20 counts, stretching back to 1963, Hennessy was convicted of six counts and Putman was found guilty of two counts, after the trio were originally charged with more than 45 offences, Kent Police said.

Jurors were told during that trial that Baker was convicted in 1994 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy aged under 16 and one count of gross indecency.

It was also disclosed that Hennessy was convicted in December 1993 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy and two sex offences against a pupil.

Following the conclusion of the trial, Barnet Council said it was sorry for the abuse suffered by the victims. And it said there was a "continuing need to learn lessons from the past" to keep children safe.

Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at Leigh Day, who is representing survivors of abuse at the school, said: "These men picked on the most vulnerable of children.

"These were emotionally damaged boys with behavioural difficulties; many of them coming from already from troubled backgrounds, or with special educational needs.

"Removed from their homes and communities in London and sent away to Swaylands where they should have received care and attention. Instead the defendants cruelly abused them.

"We must question the checks that were put in place to ensure that they were appropriate people to be trusted with the care of children and their supervision arrangements.

"This is yet another case which highlights the need for a mandatory reporting duty where child abuse or neglect is suspected; this will be an important step towards preventing future cases of abuse in regulated activities including schools like this.

"These defendants created an environment where sexual activity between children had become normalised through fear.

"The decisions of these men to plead not guilty and put those they abused through the distress of a trial should be reflected in the sentencing."