Trio accused of 30 years of sex abuse at school

Colwyn Baker is among those accused. Picture: Julie Bull
Colwyn Baker is among those accused. Picture: Julie Bull
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An Edinburgh man is among three who are accused of a catalogue of sex assaults over a 30-year period at a school for vulnerable children.

Colwyn Baker of Morningside, David Hennessy, and Nigel Putman are said to have preyed on youngsters at the now-defunct Swaylands School in Penshurst, Kent, from 1963 to 1993.

As well as the abuse allegedly committed by the trio, jurors were also told that Baker also allegedly encouraged other pupils to commit sex acts on other children.

The men were residential child care officers at Swaylands School, which closed in 1993 after catering for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The trio face a total of 49 charges against 24 victims, some aged around 10 to 15 at the time the abuse was said to have occurred at the school.

Opening the 12-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court, prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC told the jury: “The atmosphere at the school at the time that you are considering was one where abuse was almost the norm.

“Children who were abused were positively encouraged to abuse other pupils. Abuse and the age of pupils abused led some pupils to consider that there was nothing wrong with abusing other pupils.”

One of Baker’s alleged victims became so scared that he often stayed awake at night, sleeping in stairwells to avoid Baker, Mr Bennetts said.

As a result, the boy would often fall asleep in class, causing a dramatic decline in his learning. But Mr Bennetts said the boy ended up being caned by the headmaster as punishment for dozing off.

The court heard another boy disclosed how Baker would wake him in the middle of the night and abuse him almost nightly for three years.

Another boy told investigators that Baker was in charge of the Scouts, karate and swimming, adding: “Anything good that you wanted to do as a boy, Baker was in charge of it.”

Baker allegedly told the boy that he had a small penis because he did not “exercise it” enough with other boys.

Mr Bennett said the boy resisted for a long time but Baker made sure no one spoke to him, until eventually “caving in” and allowing others to “let them do it”.

Hennessy abused one boy on his first or second night at Swaylands, telling his victim: “It’s not worth crying, it won’t help you,” jurors heard.

The boy told police that Hennessy abused him from the age of 10 until he was 13 or 14, when he stopped as new boys came in and he was getting too old.

Victims told how they were allegedly targeted when they were at their “weakest”, while going to sleep, jurors heard.

Mr Bennetts said one boy revealed that Baker’s most effective “blackmail” tool was not allowing him to go home at the weekend.

Baker, 71, faces 24 counts of indecent assault and three charges of buggery.

Hennessy, 74, of Westfields, Narborough, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, has been charged with 17 counts of indecent assault, one of gross indecency with a child and one of buggery.

Putman, 62, of Kings Road, Slough, Berkshire, faces three charges of indecent assault.

They deny the charges against them.

Mr Bennetts told the jury that Baker was convicted in 1994 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy aged under 16 and one count of gross indecency.

And he also disclosed that Hennessy was convicted in December 1993 of four counts of indecent assault on a boy and two sex offences against a pupil.

Mr Bennetts said one boy was abused for three years on a nightly basis by Hennessy while he was at the junior school.

When the boy moved to the senior school, his care worker was Baker who allegedly sexually abused him until he was 16, he added.

Putman was said to have tried to molest one boy while he was in the shower. When the boy told Putman to back off, he put his arms round the boy “like lovers”, Mr Bennetts said.

The trial was adjourned by Judge Philip Statman to 10.30am tomorrow.