Teacher denies 22 charges of abusing boys

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A FORMER assistant headteacher has gone on trial accused of sexually abusing four pupils at a West Yorkshire residential school for youngsters with behavioural difficulties.

Peter Merrick, 66, who now lives in Derbyshire, faces a total of 22 charges relating to abuse allegedly committed by him while he worked at the William Henry Smith School near Brighouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Prosecutor Matthew Bean told a jury at Bradford Crown Court yesterday that over a seven-year period Merrick had systematically abused four boys, who were aged between 11 and 15, in various locations at the school including the headteacher’s room, the shower area, the boot room and his own family’s living accommodation.

Merrick is also alleged to have abused one boy while they were on an orienteering trip and to have molested another youngster in his car.

“The prosecution say that over this period the defendant systematically sexually abused four boys at the school,” Mr Bean told the jury.

“The prosecution say that the abuse included not only repeatedly indecently assaulting them but also offences of buggery and simulated intercourse.

“You will hear that the defendant became a member of staff at the William Henry Smith School in 1976 and in 1979 he was promoted to become the assistant headteacher in charge of residential care.”

Mr Bean said all four boys were sent to the school because of behavioural problems and they were to varying degrees difficult children to teach.

“The reason they were sent to the school however was to help them,” said Mr Bean.

“The defendant as a teacher at the school knew that these were boys who needed care and support.

“As such the prosecution say the defendant was in a position of particular responsibility and trust and that he deliberately abused that position by committing these offences.”

Merrick has denied 20 charges of indecent assault on male persons and two allegations of buggery.

It emerged yesterday that one of the complainants, none of whom can be identified for legal reasons, made a report to the police back in 1993.

That inquiry uncovered details in the school records of an earlier complaint by one of the other boys.

Mr Bean said Merrick was arrested and after he denied the allegations a decision was taken by the police to stop the investigation.

About 15 years later a new inquiry was begun after the police received a report from solicitors representing people making claims against the school for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The two initial complainants were spoken to again and a third alleged victim also came forward.

Merrick again denied any sexual offences during his interviews, but after he was charged with a series of offences a fourth complainant came forward earlier this year after seeing a newspaper report of the case.

Merrick was again interviewed and maintained his denials, the court heard.

Mr Bean alleged that all four complainants had been deeply affected by the abuse they had suffered and the effects of what happened had continued into their adulthood.

He said it was of importance that none of them were friends at the school and they had not been in regular contact with each other prior to the police investigation.

“Each has decided separately to tell the police what the defendant did to them,” said Mr Bean.

Outlining details of specific abuse Mr Bean said one complainant would describe how Merrick committed an offence of buggery after taking him to the bedroom of his living quarters at the school.

The jury heard that complainant ran away from the school, but he was stopped by the police and the abuse continued after his return.

Another complainant alleged that Merrick began to indecently touch him after sending him to the shower room to take a cold shower as a punishment.

The trial is expected to last about eight days.