“Alex Renton has recounted his horrifying story of being sexually abused by a UK [Christian] boarding school teacher in a new ITV documentary.
Titled Exposure, the journalist and author reveals how he was abused as an eight-year-old by his maths and history teacher in his first year at Ashdown House [Christian] boarding school in Sussex. Speaking on the show, Alex said: ‘My memory of my sexual encounter with him is only once and it was in the classroom where he usually taught.
‘I remember very clearly the physical feeling of being pressed up against his sort of hairy tweed jacket while he had an arm round me and his other hand was going straight down the front of my corduroy shorts. ‘I remember quite distinctly being given the fruit gum afterwards which I knew already was what you got if you submitted to this. But he was a very violent man so I’m not sure what submission meant. ‘I don’t think you could have said no,’ he added.
Alex later wrote an article about his claims, prompting hundreds of others to contact him about their own tales of abuse in boarding schools across the UK.
One survivor in the show is Phillip Witcomb, who in 1975 aged 13 attended [the Christian-based] Lucton School in Herefordshire, where he claimed housemaster David Panter was abusing him in the showers.
He attempted to tell the headmaster, Keith Vivian, about the incident – only to be shrugged away and told to go back to classes. Speaking on the show, Phillip said: ‘So you describe it in your own childish way. And I remember this big hand, cause he had massive hands, Keith Vivian, coming down on my shoulder, “Now boy, now let’s stop telling stories. Run along to your class. Off you go, boy.” ‘And you’d get washed out the door. So, that is actually what happens.’
Keith Vivian later listened to numerous complaints about Panter, removing him from the premises.
The former headmaster, now vicar, told Exposure he has ‘no recollection of any complaint made by Phillip’ but remembers prefects coming to him which prompted him to ask Panter to ‘leave the school premises immediately’ and inform the governing body.
He claims he would have acted immediately on such accusations, but stated ‘it was not a police matter at that time’.
In 2016, Panter was later jailed for nine years for indecent assault and gross indecency against seven Lucton pupils. He however pleaded not guilty to the allegations made by Phillip, which he still denies today.
All schools are expected to have safeguard arrangements to prevent abuse, which are checked in regular inspections.
When Exposure analysed the most recent inspection report for every boarding school in England, they found one in ten schools either failed to meet national standards or didn’t meet the requirements needed to be certified ‘good’.
Alex Renton spoke to the Boarding Schools’ Association, which represents 90% of boarding schools, who stated: ‘What I can say is that everyone who works in boarding today is professional, caring and doing everything they can to make safeguarding their number one priority.
‘There’s no doubt, that there was a period where some people at some schools experience some appalling abuse. And it’s absolutely shocking. ‘But in my experience, there isn’t any school out there which doesn’t want to listen to victims and, where it can, as quickly as possible, say sorry.’”