Child abuse ‘normalised for decades’ at King’s former school, inquiry finds

Child abuse was “normalised” at the King’s former school with an “extremely violent culture” in some boarding houses, an inquiry has found.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chairwoman Lady Smith has published her findings about the private boarding school Gordonstoun and its junior school, Aberlour, and found children who boarded were “exposed to risks of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse”.

She said the abuse “materialised” for many pupils, and continued “for a long time” at the school in Moray, which Charles attended from 1962 to 1967.

Lack of oversight and effective child protection measures, ill-prepared staff, and insufficient recruitment polices all contributed, it was said.

Lady Smith described the junior school as having a “culture of naivety” between the 1960s and 1990s, but said new leadership at the senior school in 1990 brought positive change with a focus on child protection.

Lady Smith below sign reading 'Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry'
Lady Smith said ‘abuse was allowed to be normalised for decades’ at Gordonstoun (Nick Mailer/PA)

The inquiry heard in 2021 of racism, grooming and “extreme violence” at the senior school.

Gordonstoun offered an apology to those who suffered abuse and acknowledged its moral responsibility for those at Aberlour prior to 1999 when it became a subsidiary of Gordonstoun Schools Ltd.

Lady Smith said: “I have no difficulty in finding that children were abused at Gordonstoun and Aberlour in a variety of ways over a long period of time.

“It was assumed the declaration of good intentions by founder Kurt Hahn was enough to ensure the school could be entrusted to provided appropriate residential care.

“At Gordonstoun, the assumption proved to be ill-founded, largely due to poor leadership.

“It was only after 1990 and the appointment of a headmaster who understood the importance of pastoral care that abuse eventually began to be addressed and a measure of trust was restored.

“A dreadfully abusive and, in some houses, extremely violent culture was allowed to take root. Abuse was also perpetrated by staff. The evidence of abuse was clear from the accounts of many applicants.

“Similarly at Aberlour, the 1960s to 1990s were marked by a similar culture of assumption and naivety, exacerbated by the long and unchallenged leadership.

“There was a significant failure of governance with no interest in child protection or pastoral care until the 1990s.”

The King’s father the late Duke of Edinburgh also attended Gordonstoun, as did the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex and the King’s niece Zara Tindall and nephew Peter Phillips.

Lady Smith said: “There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where abuse was allowed to be normalised for decades. It seems clear, however, that for the last 30 years or so, some good leaders have sought to recover the position.”

She said the risk of children being abused will always be present and urged the school never to become complacent.

The inquiry found a boy was raped by a staff member at Gordonstoun, while voyeurism and indecent assault on both male and female pupils was revealed.

At the junior school – which effectively functioned as a prep school – it was found “a high proportion of staff sexually abused children”, and a known abuser was dismissed but not reported to police, while three other staff members left after “inappropriate” behaviour.

The King has previously described his time at Gordonstoun as “a prison sentence”, but he recently become patron of the Gordonstoun Association.

The inquiry heard of a “spartan” culture at Aberlour, where snow fell on children’s beds in the 1970s.

It also heard from paedophile teacher Andrew Keir, now 74, who was jailed for one year after being convicted of lewd acts in 2018.

Gordonstoun principal Lisa Kerr, writing jointly with the chair of governors, David White, said: “Today’s report is upsetting and it is shocking to read of the abuse that children in the past experienced and the enduring impact on their lives 30, 40 or even 50 years later.

“We respect and thank those who have spoken up about their experiences and those who gave evidence to the inquiry.

“The lack of care and the abuse they experienced, which the inquiry identifies as being mainly in ‘the period from the 1970s to the early 1990s’, reflects that, as Lady Smith states: ‘There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where the vision and ethos that formed the basis of Kurt Hahn’s founding of the school was allowed to wither’.

“Those who were abused deserved better, and we are sorry they were so badly let down.

“Since reports of historic abuse came to our attention in 2013, we have taken a proactive approach, addressing matters openly and offering whatever support possible.”

The inquiry covers the period within living memory of any person who suffered abuse, up until December 17, 2014 but heard evidence between 1934 and 2021 in relation to Gordonstoun.