Oakwood Headteacher Jailed For Abuse

Three former Oakwood School staff members have been sentenced following two trials at Ipswich Crown Court.

Former Oakwood headteacher Eric De Smith, 76, of Danes Close in Stowmarket, was found guilty on seven charges at a trial in March and April - four offences of indecent assault and three offences of indecency with a child. Reporting of this case was restricted while a second trial, involving four men, went ahead during April and May. Two of the men involved in this second trial - former deputy headteacher Gerald West and child care officer Michael Watts - each admitted two charges of cruelty to a child under 16 and all charges have dropped against the two other defendants.
Today, Friday 22 May, Eric De Smith was jailed for seven years while West, 71, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham, and Watts, 59, from Southampton were given conditional discharges for a year and ordered to pay costs.
The sentencing follows a full investigation by Suffolk Police into allegations made by pupils at Oakwood School in Stowmarket, which closed in 2000.
A joint investigation into allegations of physical abuse at Oakwood School had been carried out by Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk County Council in 1997. A file was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service who determined that no further action should be taken.
However a new investigation was started when further allegations - including sexual abuse accusations - came to light in 2011. This resulted in charges against five men - Eric De Smith who was found guilty, West and Watts who admitted two charges each and two men who had all charges against them dropped - Stephen Player and Graham Hallett.
Detective Inspector Andy Footer, who oversaw the case, said; "This was a complex and challenging investigation that involved a number of victims and both sexual and physical abuse allegations. Over the past few years police have taken accounts from more than 100 individuals and have worked to determine what criminal offences had been committed. This evidence has then been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and has resulted in the two trials this year.
"Today the judge commended the work done by officers Detective Sergeant Helen Sowerby and Detective Constable Paul Gant on the investigation, and the sentencing brings the active criminal cases to a conclusion, although evidence gathered during our enquiry may now be used in civil cases for compensation claims."

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