A FORMER member of staff at a Wyre Forest school has been jailed for 13 years for sexually abusing pupils in his care during the 1980s.
Jonathan O’Brien, 56, had been a teacher at Winterfold House School, where offences were committed against six boys between 1980 and 1985. Offences were also committed against three pupils at The Oratory School, near Reading, between 1985 and 1989.
O'Brien, of Fairfield Road, Bosham, West Sussex, was sentenced by Judge Richard Fraser at Chichester Crown Court after being convicted in December, 2013, of 15 counts of indecent assault. He had denied all the charges but was found guilty after a four-week trial.
Passing sentence Judge Fraser spoke of the suffering recounted in victim impact statements. He said: “The sentiments expressed reflect the evidence that each of them gave in court - a number of them unable to hold back tears as they were forced to relive your abuse.”
“It was abundantly clear from the understandably emotional evidence they gave during your trial that your actions have left a very dark shadow, which each them has had to find ways to deal with.”
O’Brien was placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life and also made the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), under which he will be banned on release from living or sleeping in the same household as a child under the age of 16 unless with the express approval of his managing Public Protection Officer (PPO).
He will also be prohibited from having any unsupervised contact or communication with anyone aged under 16 unless it is inadvertent or not reasonably avoidable in the course of normal daily life or it is with the consent and approval of the PPO.
Det Sgt Steve Cook, who led the investigation for North Worcestershire CID, said that inquiries began in November, 2012, when a man came forward to say he had been sexually abused at Winterfold House School by O’Brien, who taught subjects including sports and photography there in the early 1980s.
The victim informed former school friends about the investigation and that led to other victims coming forward, including some who had attended The Oratory School. Further victims, including some now living abroad, contacted the police after O’Brien was initially arrested and charged in February last year.
The trial heard that the offences had involved pupils who were boarding at both schools and some had taken place at O’Brien’s private residence in Oxfordshire while he was teaching at The Oratory.
Det Sgt Cook said: “O’Brien engaged in the systematic abuse of boys over a long period of time. In doing so he also disgracefully abused the position of trust he was in and that was particularly relevant in this case, as he was teaching in boarding schools, where the children were away from their families and had nowhere else to go.
“He exploited their vulnerability and they did not feel at that time that they could come forward because ‘it wasn’t the thing to do’ and that they wouldn’t be believed. Now they are extremely relieved that this has come out into the open.
“O’Brien refused to comment when we questioned him about these matters, despite the growing weight of the evidence against him. It has been a further aggravating feature of the case that his denials forced his victims to go through the ordeal of testifying in court.
“The fact that some of them were prepared to travel long distances from abroad in order to do so illustrates how determined they were to expose O’Brien and I would also like to echo the judge’s remarks during sentencing by paying tribute to all the witnesses for the amazing courage they have shown in coming forward.
“Let us also not forget the wider impact this has had on friends and family and the wider community around the schools where this happened.”
Det Sgt Cook said that it had been harrowing and logistically difficult case to investigate and he praised the dedication of the officers from North Worcestershire, who had worked on it with help from colleagues at Sussex Police.
He added: “These were extremely serious offences and that is reflected by the sentence handed down by the court...Hopefully the victims can now put this behind them, knowing that O’Brien is paying for his crimes.
“We hope that if there are other victims of O’Brien we are not aware of, this will give them the confidence to come forward as well as reassuring victims of similar offences that even if these matters are reported many years later we will still investigate thoroughly and bring those responsible to justice.”