Suffolk

Stowmarket Oakwood School inquiry: Five deny abuse charges

Five men have pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse alleged to have taken place at a Suffolk boarding school.

They appeared at Ipswich Crown Court following an inquiry into physical and sexual abuse at Oakwood School, Stowmarket, over a 21-year period before it closed in 2000.

The five men, from Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Southampton and Lancaster are now aged between 57 and 74.

They were released on bail and are expected to stand trial next year.

Oakwood opened in 1974 and was a state school for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Former head teacher

The school, which was run by Suffolk County Council, closed temporarily in December 1999 and shut for good the following year.

Police investigated historical physical and sexual abuse of children at the school alleged to have covered a 21-year period in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Eric de Smith, 74, of Danes Close in Stowmarket denies 16 charges of indecent assault or gross indecency against boys.

His trial is expected to begin on 23 June at Ipswich Crown Court.

The other four men were charged with the assault, ill-treatment or neglect of boys.

Stephen Player, 59, formerly a head teacher at Spratton Hall school in Northamptonshire, denies six counts.

Michael Watts, 57, of Sellwood Road, Southampton denies seven counts.

Gerald West, 69, of Martins Meadow, Gislingham in Suffolk, pleaded not guilty to 10 counts.

Graham Hallett, 65, of Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster, denies one count.

Their trial is expected to begin on 4 August.

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