January 2018

Boarding school janitor, 65, used cigarettes and alcohol to lure boys as young as 12 into his caravan in the 1970s and 80s then sexually assaulted them

A janitor has been jailed for sexually abusing pupils by tempting them into his caravan on the grounds of a boarding school. 

Anthony Bennett, 65, befriended boys as young as 12 at Shebbear College in North Devon during the 1970s and 80s and groomed them before repeatedly assaulting them.

The victims, now all middle aged men, gave moving evidence about being humiliated and terrified by their ordeal at the private boarding school.

The court heard Bennett would share cigarettes, coffee and alcohol with the children and encourage them to watch porn with him before subjecting them to frightening abuse.

His actions had a severe psychological impact on his victims, the jury at Exeter Crown Court was told.

Bennett admitted 13 sexual offences against four victims but denied eight more serious charges involving penetrative sex with three of the boys.

But a jury found him guilty of all charges at trial after a week long trial and he was jailed for 19 years.

The trial heard that the boarding school ran a harsh regime where older boys enforced seniority over younger ones.

Bennett joined the staff in 1976 with duties included mowing the lawn and cleaning the swimming pool.

He lived on the grounds in a caravan and would gain the boys trust and prey on their loneliness by inviting them in before assaulting them.

The victims’ accounts of what happened to them as boys took many years to come to light because they tried to bury their ordeal.

The judge said their testimony was even more convincing because the boys did not know each other.

Judge Erik Salomonsen said: ‘These were heinous crimes committed against vulnerable victims who had left home and were entitled to rely on everybody employed at the school and to trust them.’

Some of the assaults involved Bennett pinning down his victims on the ground.

The court heard he then tried to bully them into silence saying they would be punished or expelled if they told anybody.

Judge Salomonsen added: ‘The victims were away from home for the first time. They felt vulnerable. You groomed them and groomed them over a period of time.

‘The psychological damage which your conduct caused to the victims was apparent to the jury as those victims gave evidence.’

In victim personal statements the victims each said the effect on their lives of the abuse had been profound.

One of the victims said he became a ‘terrified child, frightened of changing during rugby in front of other boys in case they suspected anything.’

Another of the victims said: ‘The happy times of school have been overshadowed and blacked out by memories of abuse.’

The defendant told the trial that the victims had exaggerated and lied about the level of abuse they suffered at this hands.

He admitted offences that did not involve penetrative sex and said he was sorry for his ‘disgusting and filthy’ crimes.

He said: ‘It was madness.’

He also said he did not realise his crimes would have such a lasting effect on his victims.

After the case police praised the courage of the victims.