April 2019

Former teacher at now closed special school found guilty of historical assaults

A former teacher accused of historical abuse at a now-closed Overseal special school has been found guilty of assaulting pupils, including hitting one with a chair and punching another to the head.

A jury found Christopher May guilty of three charges of causing actual bodily harm during the 1970s and 1980s. He also punched a child in the nose, the court was told.

However May, 77, was cleared of seven counts of indecent assault, four counts of an attempted serious sexual assault, one count of causing grievous bodily harm, and five counts of causing actual bodily harm.

His co-defendant Terrence Butler, 75, was acquitted of all seven charges against him.

These were five charges of actual bodily harm against former pupils at the school, and two charges of false imprisonment, all alleged to have been committed between 1977 and 1985.

Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.

May, from Wales, and Mr Butler, of Beech Lane, Stretton, were on trial for more than three weeks at Derby Crown Court accused of abusing pupils who attended Overseal Manor School, in Hallcroft Avenue, during the 1970s and 1980s.

The school, which closed in 1997, catered for boys aged eight to 14 with behaviour issues or those who been expelled from mainstream schools. Some also boarded there, the court was told.

The jury of seven men and five women listened to evidence from multiple witnesses detailing their alleged abuse at the hands of their former teachers and took five hours to reach verdicts on all the charges.

As part of her summing up before the verdicts were reached, Judge Nirmal Shant had reminded the jury of both defendants’ police interviews in which the allegations were put to them and they had denied the charges.

The court was told May left the school after 14 years due to the level of aggression from the children, he claimed, saying that he was assaulted by pupils.

He told the police in interview: “I am absolutely flabbergasted. There is not an ounce of evidence; I feel it is all a conspiracy.

“I really don’t know how this came about.”

During Mr Butler’s police interview he told officers he eventually left the school due to the stress of a new head teacher bringing in changes, the court was told.

Asked about assault allegations, Mr Butler told the police: “I never hit anyone or caused injury.”

Witnesses who gave evidence in court were also questioned about their communication with each other, with at least one accused by the defence of making up the allegations to receive compensation.

He denied this and said he would not seek compensation.

Police have looked at the witnesses’ phones and social media accounts to gather any evidence on any communication, the hearing was told.

They found one of them had texted another to say: “Had a call from Derbyshire Police”.

This witness was accused by the defence of having a conversation about the case, which he denied in court.

Both defendants received what Judge Shant described as “glowing references” from family and former colleagues.

She said: “Mr May’s son spoke in glowing terms of his father, calling him supportive, generous and loving.”

Former colleagues said he had a natural way with children and supported them in a number of activities. Butler has been described as a calm, rational man, and incredibly patient.

His son described him as a true gentleman. Another said he was a model father – “one of life’s good guys”.

May is expected to be sentenced for the three offences at the crown court on May 10. He was remanded on conditional bail.

Judge Shant told him: “You cared for these children and were in a position of trust and in these circumstances it is a case where it would be assisted by a pre-sentence report.”