Published: 14:30, 27 May 2015
Three men have been jailed for historic sex offences spanning 30 years at a residential school.
Colwyn Baker, David Hennessy and Nigel Putman, who worked as child care officers at Swaylands School in Penshurst, were sentenced this afternoon.
Baker will serve 20 years in prison after being found guilty of 17 charges of indecent assault, one of indecency with a child and two other serious sexual offences.
The 72-year-old was acquitted of five charges of indecent assault and another serious sexual offence.
Hennessy has been locked up for 12 years.
The 75-year-old was convicted of six offences of indecent assault. He was acquitted of 10 charges of indecent assault.
Nigel Putman will serve three years behind bars.
The 61-year-old was convicted of two charges of indecent assault and acquitted of one similar charge.
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said Swaylands was a residential school for boys aged seven to 16 with moderate learning difficulties until 1989.
It was re-designated as a 60-pupil residential school for boys aged 11 to 16 with emotional and behavioural problems before it was closed down in 1993.
Mr Bennetts said Baker was convicted in February 1994 of four offences of indecent assault and one of gross indecency involving three boys at the school.
Hennessy was convicted in December 1993 of four offences of indecent assault and two other serious sexual offences on one boy.
Baker was employed at the school from May 1967 until his suspension and arrest in January 1993.
Hennessy was employed from March 1969. He resigned in April 1977 but was re-employed in April 1979.
Baker, from Edinburgh, denied 22 charges of indecent assault, one of indecency with a child and three other serious sexual offences.
Hennessy, of Westfields, Narborough, Kings Lynn, Norfolk, denied 18 charges of indecent assault, one of indecency with a child and one other serious sexual offence.
Putman, of Kings Road, Slough, Berkshire, denied three charges of indecent assault.
Only Hennessy gave evidence during the trial which started on March 4.
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said the police investigation lasting three years and involving 30 staff was “almost unique” against a backdrop of over 70 complainants, of which only 24 formed part of the trial.
He praised Det Sup Paul Fotheringham and his team of officers and Judge Statman recommended commendations to the Chief Constable.
Det Supt Paul Fotheringham said: “These three exploited the pupils in their care and committed horrible acts over a long period of time.
“We reviewed old school registers and visited potential victims or witnesses across the UK to ask if they wished to assist with the investigation.
“Officers heard how some children who tried to resist the offenders’ abuse would be beaten or refused food.”
Judge Philip Statman said to any outsider the school had excellent facilities.
“But when the veneer was stripped away in this courtroom, what has been revealed is a wholly different picture, namely one of persistent sexual abuse perpetrated by those in a position of trust against young vulnerable boys as they approached adolescence,” he continued.
The judge told Baker: “Over very many years you ruled by fear. Your favourites were known by other pupils as being Baker Boys.
“You groomed boys to perform sexual favours for extra tuck and the ability to stay up late at night to watch films in the TV room.
“It is an underlying feature of this case that you encouraged pupils to engage in sexual activity with each other.
“These boys were told in terms if they reported what happened no-one would believe them. Until this juncture, they were right.”
When Baker was caught on one occasion with a naked pupil, he claimed: “It’s not what it seems.” Thereafter, nothing was done by the authorities at the school.
“You must have thought as you entered your seventh decade that you got away with it,” said the judge.
“But after many years the extent of your criminality has been exposed as these young pupils have reached adulthood, and with the passage of time have had the strength and courage to confront you.
"This case constitutes one of the worst possible breaches of trust a court can deal with,” said the judge. What these pupils have suffered at your hands is seared in their memory banks for the rest of their lives..." - Judge Philip Statman
The judge told Hennessy that when children arrived at the school he treated them with love and affection but it soon turned to grooming and unwanted touching.
He told one boy: “This is our little secret.” He resigned in 1977 when he had been closely involved with a pupil.
“It beggars belief that a short time thereafter you were re-employed by the school, having the opportunity to perform the acts I have heard about in this trial,” said the judge.
Putman’s case was wholly different to the other two. One of his victims stated Putman resisted his advances for a while but one day just gave in.
“Nonetheless, you were the adult and your victims were young people,” said Judge Statman.
The judge said he was dealing with repeated sexual abuse of multiple victims aged eight to 16, not a one-off aberration.
“I am satisfied each of the victims has been groomed. There is a general background of intimidation and coercion.”
Baker told one victim: “If you tell anyone I will make your life a misery.” He told another: “I am the boss here. If you tell anyone you will get into ------- trouble.”
“This case constitutes one of the worst possible breaches of trust a court can deal with,” said the judge.
“What these pupils have suffered at your hands is seared in their memory banks for the rest of their lives. When they left school they remained scarred by what happened to them.
“It is like a pandora’s box. There they were having to relive the past. They have behaved in this courtroom with courage, dignity and restraint.”
One victim summed it up in a statement: “If I had a black eye it would have been over and done with and no effect.
“The thing with sexual abuse is the shame and indignity. It is so hard to report it. You feel dirty. I wondered why did I let it happen.”
Since leaving prison Baker had been in employment but he was recently before the Scottish courts for downloading indecent images of children.
A sexual harm prevention order was made for all three and their names will appear on the sex offenders’ register for life. They will be barred from working with children and vulnerable adults.
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