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Former master jailed for sex abuse

A former French master at a prestigious boarding school was today jailed for six years and nine months for the sexual abuse of dozens of pupils.

Keith Cavendish-Coulson, 71, preyed on the youngsters while working at the Terra Nova School in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire in the early 1970s - but escaped justice for four decades after a cover-up led by the then headmaster.

The harsh private preparatory school was run with a "brutal" military regime and described as like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, as Cavendish-Coulson was jailed at Chester Crown Court.

But Cavendish-Coulson, then aged 30 to 32, would behave in a more friendly and approachable way than the other masters.

After befriending his victims he would molest them in classrooms, their dormitories and his private quarters, sometimes in the presence of other children, with his activities an open secret among the boys.

But despite complaints he was allowed to leave the school for "health reasons", and took up other private teaching posts, including offering his services to Eton College, the court heard.

Two separate police investigations in 1998 and 2005 stalled, the court heard.

Past pupils of the £13,000-a-year school include Olympic sailing gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie and David and Victoria Beckham's eldest son, Brooklyn.

Cavendish-Coulson yesterday admitted 42 offences of indecent assault against 24 boys aged between eight and 13, while working at the school between 1973 and 1975.

He also admitted a further offence of indecent assault against another child while working as a private tutor in the mid-1980s.

Jailing him, Judge Roger Dutton said: "It is a sad reflection on the attitudes of that time that even when complaints were made by parents no proper action was taken to investigate these grave allegations. That amounted to a shameful and abject failure to deal with serious sexual abuse upon boys.

"One cannot help but conclude that the reputation of the school meant more to those in authority than the exposure of wholesale sexual abuse by a member of staff on their premises.

"It is quite obvious that the impact of the defendant's behaviour has had a profound effect on them all."

Earlier, Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, told the court: "It is quite clear that this defendant was a persistent and predatory paedophile."

Boys at the school were separated from their families as boarders so there was "no escape" from their tormentor, she said.

For each victim it was their first sexual experience, they found it difficult to comprehend what was happening and it left wrecked lives, leaving years of feeling guilt and worthlessness and resentment towards their parents, Miss Whyte told the court.

While the psychological harm had lasted 40 years for some victims, the defendant told probation officers he was abused as a youngster himself and said of his victims, "Why can't they get over it?"

Cavendish-Coulson's abuse was uncovered after the father of one boy overheard his son talking about it and contacted the headmaster, Andrew Keith.

But Mr Keith concluded "nothing sinister" had occurred, until weeks later the defendant was found in a "compromising position" while tutoring another boy privately at a nearby house.

Cavendish-Coulson was allowed to resign on health grounds and the real reason covered up, though school governors and doctors were aware of the real situation but did not want to "stir up trouble unnecessarily".

The head wrote to one parent that police involvement would do "untold damage to the school" and the "quicker we can forgive and forget the better".

The defendant's name was however put on "List 99" by the Department for Education and barred from working in state schools - though not, it appears from working in private schools or as a private tutor.

He faked references and worked as a private tutor in Surrey and for a number of schools until his past was found out.

Jeremy Laskar QC, mitigating for the defendant, said: "The climate during the 1970s was as far removed from the climate that exists today than can possibly be imagined.

"I do not seek to suggest that what occurred all those years ago was any less reprehensible.

"When one listens to the regime that existed in the school in the 70s it does from today's perspective, seem rather Victorian."

Judge Dutton interrupted: "Dickensian. Dotheboys Hall. Extra-ordinary.

Cavendish-Coulson was known as just Coulson at the school and when and how he acquired his double-barrelled name is unclear.

He was noted for wearing an academic gown while teaching and affecting the manners and accent of an upper-class public schoolboy, claiming to be an old Etonian.

He also had a conviction for fraud after adopting the names of peers of the realm to write out cheques.

In fact he was born in Stockport, the son of a post office worker, and went to a local state school.

Martin Hallam, chairman of governors at Terra Nova School said: "These offences are abhorrent and deplorable, especially by a teacher on young and trusting children. Our first thoughts are with the victims, who will have lived with this dreadful experience for their entire adult lives.

"We very much hope that the conviction of this man will enable them to begin a process of closing a very long and distressing chapter in their lives.

"I would like to make a full, sincere and heartfelt apology to each and every one of the victims for the fact that these offences were committed by a teacher at the school.

"Terra Nova School takes child protection extremely seriously and operates a clear safeguarding policy. The welfare and education of children at the school is our highest priority.

"The school would in no way condone the 'covering up' of any allegations or behaviour that could risk a child's welfare. Policies on safeguarding are very different these days and much more robust and effective against this type of offence.

"We welcome the recent changes in legislation brought in by Keeping Children Safe in Education 2014 that makes it the responsibility of all adults involved with young people to report and act on suspected cases of abuse.

"We are very clear that it is the right of every child to feel safe, happy and secure at school and we take very seriously the trust placed in us by the children and their parents. We are rightly proud of the practical and rigorous steps taken on a daily basis to help ensure that such behaviour cannot be repeated in this day and age."

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