A private school has apologised for “brutal and unrestrained” historic abuse.
A total of 20 teaching staff at Edinburgh Academy were subject to allegations, including a child being beaten with a cricket bat, another pupil suffering a “small bleed on the brain”, a child being strangled, and boys being paid to swim naked.
On Wednesday, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry took closing submissions in its investigation into the school.
The majority of evidence has covered the years between 1954 and 1995, and nearly 50 witnesses have given evidence, including broadcaster Nicky Campbell who spoke publicly about the abuse he suffered.
Corporal punishment was banned in Scottish private schools in 2000, but the hearing was told “disproportionate sadistic violence” was rife in the school in the 1970s and a “culture of fear” prevailed – with one former teacher, Iain Wares, described by a lawyer for survivors as “one of the most prolific abusers in Scottish criminal history”.
Police Scotland confirmed they are investigating allegations relating to the school.
In an apology, Edinburgh Academy acknowledged the “brutal and unrestrained” violence and admitted “serious sexual abuse was widespread” – and expressed regret that police were not brought in to deal with Wares in the 1970s. He was instead recommended to Fettes College.
Wares and fellow teacher Hamish Dawson, who died in 2009, were publicly named during the inquiry.
Fettes College also issued an apology for allowing Wares to keep working despite allegations of abuse because of the intervention of a psychiatrist.
Both schools said they are implementing mandatory reporting, while the General Teaching Council for Scotland said it should be “an opportunity for learning”.
Andrew Brown KC said the Edinburgh Academy had a “military mindset” and the “normalisation of deeply abnormal behaviour including beatings and voyeurism” was aided by “staff camaraderie”.
Pupils were made to choose the implement of their punishment and sign it afterwards, the hearing was told.
Alan McLean KC, representing the Edinburgh Academy Survivors group, said nine former pupils took their own lives.
Mr McLean said: “Other schools did not operate like this – corporal punishment was a threat. This was a characteristic of Edinburgh Academy.”
In the mid-1990s efforts were made to introduce self-appraisals and policies, but child protection training was described as an “irritant” and “depressing” by some staff, the hearing was told.
The school became a co-education day school in 2008 and has promised to recognise child abuse in its bicentenary celebrations in 2024-25, and has created an online reporting portal for pupils.
Mr McLean added: “Edinburgh Academy failed its pupils in terrible ways.
“It was accepted from victims that disproportionate, sadistic corporal punishment was rife in the 1970s.
“Punishment was for inability rather than breaking the rules.”
He said Dawson’s “unusual methods of punishment were celebrated when he retired”, and described Wares perpetrating “sadistic violence of a sexual nature”.
He also described how staff would watch or “flick” pupils in the showers.
Violence and homophobic bullying were also common among pupils, the hearing was told.
Mr McLean said: “Pupil on pupil sexual abuse took place with multiple incidents of penetrative rape and forced masturbation.”
The long-term impact had left pupils with PTSD, depression, failed marriages and trust issues, he told the hearing.
Fettes College made an apology to pupils for allowing Wares to continue teaching after it considered sacking him in 1975, but was urged to allow him to continue to teach by a psychiatrist.
Wares was dismissed in 1979 and returned to South Africa.
Graeme Watson, speaking on behalf of the school, said: “Fettes accepts it should have terminated his employment immediately.
“The school is truly sorry and this is a full and unreserved apology for the abuse while at Fettes.”
Representing Edinburgh Academy, Calum McNeill KC said: “Physical abuse was brutal and unrestrained, it was not acceptable at the time, even though the use of corporal punishment was legal.
“It is clear that beatings took place which were not punishment.
“Abuse of power, belittling, calculating creation of a culture of fear – either for no apparent reason or for an obviously false pretext.
“Serious sexual abuse was widespread and continued undetected.
“Conduct was ‘hidden in plain sight’, with the perpetrators apparently getting gratification from that.
“Some boys who were groomed adopted the attitude that sexual abuse was preferable.
“It is accepted there will have been many more victims than we have heard first-hand evidence from.
“The atmosphere of fear and constant vigilance against injustice is something the school is deeply ashamed.”
It apologised for recommending Wares to Fettes College.
Mr McNeill added: “He should have been facing criminal charges and having nothing to do with children.”
In a statement, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said she is “acutely aware” of the frustration at the length of time taken to extradite Wares back to Scotland to face charges.
“Significant efforts have been made to bring Mr Wares to trial in Scotland,” she said.
“These have helped ensure that those acting on behalf of Scotland in the extradition proceedings are fully informed about the detail of this case.
“This means they can effectively act on our behalf to secure the surrender of Mr Wares to face prosecution.
“In 2020 we were told that the extradition had been ordered but that the accused’s surrender would be delayed due to pandemic travel restrictions. We were later told that he had exercised his right to appeal.
“Appeal procedure in South Africa is different in timescale and approach to here.
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on that process, which is currently, and properly, being dealt with by judicial authorities in South Africa.”
The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues.