Former teacher accused of ‘systematic’ sexual abuse

Peter Merrick
Peter Merrick

A former teacher has gone on trial accused of systematic sexual abuse at a West Yorkshire residential school more than 30 years ago.

Peter Merrick was promoted to assistant headteacher in charge of residential care during his time at the William Henry Smith School near Brighouse, but a jury was told today that he had deliberately abused his position of responsibility and trust by committing repeated offences of sexual abuse against four male pupils.

Merrick, now aged 66, of Burton Road, Overseal, Derbyshire, has denied 19 charges of indecent assault and two of buggery arising out of allegations dating back to a period between 1977 and 1984 when the boys were aged 11 to 15.

Prosecutor Matthew Bean told Bradford Crown Court that the four complainants had been deeply affected by the offending against them and he revealed that an initial police investigation was started in 1993.

Merrick was arrested and interviewed at the time after two of the complainants had made statements, but he denied all the allegations and a decision was taken not to take the matter any further.

Mr Bean said it was 15 years later that the police were contacted by a firm of solicitors representing people who were making claims against the school for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

A new police inquiry was undertaken and a third complainant contacted officers but during his interviews in 2009 Merrick made further denials.

Merrick was charged with offences against the three complainants in May 2011, but a fourth former pupil came forward earlier this year after reading a newspaper report about the case.

The defendant was further interviewed about the new allegations and again denied committing any sexual offences.

Mr Bean said it may be suggested that the complainants are motivated wholly or in part by money, but he said the key question for the jury was whether what they say happened did happen.

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

“The prosecution say that the abuse included not only various acts of indecent assault but also offences of buggery.”

The court heard that the residential school dealt with youngsters with behavioural problems and Mr Bean said all the complainants, to varying degrees, were difficult to teach.

“The reason that they were sent to the school was to help them say the prosecution,” Mr Bean told the jury.

“The defendant as a teacher at the school was aware that these were boys who needed care and support. As such the prosecution say that the defendant was in a particular position of responsibility and trust and that he deliberately abused that position by committing these offences.”

Merrick is alleged to have sexually abused the youngsters in various locations at the school including the headmaster’s room and his own family accommodation on the site.

One complainant alleges that he ran away from the school because but it continued after he was stopped by the police and taken back.

Another complainant claims that he was indecently touched by Merrick after he had been told to take a cold shower as a punishment.

The trial is expected to last about a week.