King’s former school turned blind eye to child abuse for decades, says inquiry

The King was educated at the Gordonstoun boarding school between 1962 and 1967
The King was educated at the Gordonstoun boarding school between 1962 and 1967 - EXPRESS/HULTON ARCHIVE

The King’s former school was a “dreadfully abusive” and “extremely violent” place which turned a blind eye to paedophile teachers, an inquiry has found.

In a report, children boarding at Gordonstoun in Moray, Scotland, where a succession of British Royals were educated, were found to have been “exposed to the risk of sexual, physical and emotional abuse for decades”.

Lady Smith, who is chairing the Scottish child abuse inquiry, said examples of abuse included the repeated rape of a boy by an exchange teacher and multiple indecent assaults by other staff.

She also uncovered evidence of rampant racism and grooming, amid a “code of silence” between pupils, with the situation only improving in the 1990s.

Gordonstoun, which has tried to shake off a reputation for bullying after the King was said to have dubbed it “Colditz in kilts”, described the verdict as “upsetting and shocking” and issued an apology to those abused in its care.

Abuse was also rife at Aberlour House, Gordonstoun’s prep school, Lady Smith concluded after hearing evidence from dozens of former pupils and staff across both establishments.

Gordonstoun, where many Royals have attended, was set up by Kurt Hahn, a German educationalist in 1934
Gordonstoun, where many Royals have attended, was set up by Kurt Hahn, a German educationalist in 1934 - PETER JOLLY NORTHPIX

The late Prince Philip was one of the first pupils at Gordonstoun, set up by Kurt Hahn,  a German educationalist in 1934. Other Royals who were educated there include Prince Edward, Prince Andrew and Zara Tindall.

Earlier this year, the King accepted a patronage at the school while the Princess Royal is a long-standing supporter, serving in the honorary role of warden.

Lady Smith said that complaints mainly related to the period from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The King was educated at the school between 1962 and 1967.

“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,” Lady Smith said.

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

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

She said a “dreadfully abusive and, in some houses, extremely violent culture was allowed to take root” with bullying and cruel initiation rituals common between pupils.

“Abuse was also perpetrated by staff,” Lady Smith added. “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.”

Over recent years, the school has begun to push back against its harsh reputation, criticising Netflix for its portrayal of a miserable young King at Gordonstoun in its hit series The Crown.

The late Queen Elizabeth II and a young King Charles III at Gordonstoun in 1967
The late Queen Elizabeth II and a young King Charles III at Gordonstoun in 1967 - PA/PA ARCHIVE

Lisa Kerr, the school’s principal, last year put forward evidence suggesting that the King had actually thrived there and cast doubt over whether he had ever uttered the infamous “Colditz in kilts” phrase.

However, Lady Smith’s report makes clear that Gordonstoun’s historic reputation was based in reality, saying its “robust ethos” did not suit all children and that “abuse and unhappiness went unnoticed.”

She said Andrew Keir, a physics teacher between 1983 and 1994, was a “predatory paedophile” who “groomed boys with a view to satisfying his sexual desires”.

When complaints reached Michael Mavor, the headmaster in 1989, he failed to take appropriate action, meaning Keir continued to abuse pupils until the end of 1991.

Mavor and his successor, Mark Pyper, then helped Keir get work in other schools despite knowing about the concerns about him.

Six other teachers sexually abused boys between the 1960s and 1990s, the report said.

Another paedophile, John Conroy, who was an English teacher, sexually abused at least four boys at Aberlour in the 1970s.

When the abuse was discovered, he was dismissed but no report was made to police.

Another English teacher, Derek Jones, sexually abused at least three boys in 1990 but parents were discouraged from pressing matters to preserve the school’s reputation.

Staff would often turn a blind eye to pupils abusing other children, the report said.

In an example of punishments for misbehaviour meted out, a female pupil was hoisted 7.5 metres up a mast of a sail-training vessel by its captain and left there for two-and-a-half hours for smoking on board.

In some boarding houses, serious abuse between pupils was “endemic”, as some children “revelled in their own brutality while others lived in perpetual fear.”

After girls were allowed to attend the school in 1972, it was “not unusual” for them to begin sexual relationships with older boys as a means of gaining protection.

The situation improved after Pyper became principal in 1990 and sought to repair the school’s “abusive culture”.

But indecent assaults by boys on other boys continued with the most recent expulsion in the 2000s.

Gordonstoun has tried to shake off a reputation for bullying after the King was said to have dubbed it 'Colditz in kilts'
Gordonstoun has tried to shake off a reputation for bullying after the King was said to have dubbed it 'Colditz in kilts' - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP

Ms Kerr issued an open letter, co-authored with David White, the chair of governors, in which they offered a “heartfelt and sincere apology to all those who suffered at the school.”

She added: “[The] 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.

“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.

“We know how important it can be for survivors to know how things have changed, and Lady Smith describes the ‘good and effective school leadership’ since 1990 as ‘committed, enlightened and child focused’.

“We agree with Lady Smith, however, that we must never be complacent; instead, we are always seeking to learn and improve.

“This is no more than the children in our care today deserve, and it is the least we can do to honour those survivors whose testimony led to today’s important report.”