School Failures Over Teacher

1 August 2014, 18:15 | Updated: 1 August 2014, 18:17

A report finds a top London school made errors when they hired a teacher who went on to abuse dozens of boys in his care.

Southbank International School also failed to properly handle concerns raised about 64-year old American national William Vahey (pictured), according to an independent review by Hugh Davies QC.

The report said the school breached statutory guidelines when they hired Vahey, who killed himself earlier this year.

Southbank failed to take references before offering him the job in 2009 and allowed him to be hired after an interview with only one person, the then principal, Terry Hedger, the review found.

In his interim report into Vahey's conduct, Mr Davies said the teacher was "an accomplished and sophisticated criminal" who was able to "exploit weaknesses" in the reporting of his behaviour.

There was "a collective lack of understanding about what to report" following concerns about Vahey's conduct, Mr Davies said.

"Had what was reported within the school about Vahey's conduct... been appropriately recorded and evaluated, the pattern of conduct would have required direct intervention by the school," the barrister said.

Vahey, who worked in schools in a number of countries including Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Spain, was popular with pupils and parents but perceived as a "bully" by some of his colleagues at Southbank, the report found.

He killed himself in March, two days after police in the US filed a warrant to search a computer drive belonging to him containing pornographic images of at least 90 boys aged from 12 to 14, who appeared to be drugged and unconscious.

Vahey, who taught history and geography at Southbank from 2009 to last year, was convicted over a child sex offence in California in 1969.

It is believed he failed to sign the sexual offenders' register, which allowed him to slip through the net and go on to work in several schools around the world.

Southbank, which has annual fees of up to £22,300 according to the Good School Guide, commissioned the review by Mr Davies.

Sir Chris Woodhead, chairman of the school's board and the former chief inspector of schools, said: "Mr Davies's report makes very helpful recommendations on how safeguarding at Southbank International School can be improved yet further.

"The school is clearly in very good shape and his recommendations will be implemented by the beginning of the school year."

Sir Chris said the second stage of Mr Davies's inquiry would consider the recruitment procedure when Vahey was hired and how incidents concerning his behaviour were reported.

He added: "This should be completed during the autumn term when he has had the opportunity to interview the then principle Terry Hedger and other material witnesses."

The school's owners Cognita said in a statement: "Cognita initiated this independent review by the QC Hugh Davies OBE and is already implementing a number of the recommendations contained in his interim report.

"It would be inappropriate to give specific comment at this stage as the police investigation of William Vahey is still underway and these are interim findings."

In May the FBI revealed it had been contacted by "several hundred" people either alleging they were abused by Vahey or providing information for the police investigation.

Images of between 50 and 60 students at Southbank were found by police on his computer drive. Many parents at the school have said they do not want to be informed of any details relating to possible offences against their children.

The investigation into Vahey is being led by the FBI, with help from the Metropolitan Police.

On 22 April 2014 officers executed a search warrant at Vahey's address in north London, where officers recovered a laptop and 11 memory sticks.

He was found dead in Luverne, Minnesota, on 21 March 2014.