‘The extreme difficulties that many staff members had in coming to terms with this particular member of staff’s conviction … is testimony to the difficulty in admitting the possibility that the charming, empathic colleague might also abuse children.’ That comes from the serious case review published in January by the Richmond Safeguarding Children Board into ‘events at St Paul’s School’ over the last five decades – events that include the conviction of five former staff members for sexual offences. No teachers are named in the review, but for ex-pupils it is easy enough to identify their erstwhile schoolmasters, since it includes dates and details that coincide with those in the newspaper reports that appeared in the wake of the criminal trials. I can recognise one of my A-level history teachers, for instance – ‘charming, empathic’ and convicted in 2014 of ‘the possession of child abuse images’.
I thought a lot about my time at St Paul’s while reading English Monsters, a novel that circles around a primeval boarding school and its culture of sadism, sex abuse and silence. Not because I ever heard, at the time, any suggestions among peers of sexually inappropriate behaviour (or worse)