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Stowmarket: Abuse claims from former Oakwood School pupils could reach 100

16:26 07 December 2012

Oakwood School in Stowmarket

Oakwood School in Stowmarket

Archant

THE number of former pupils alleging they were abused at a Stowmarket school could reach 100.

Suffolk County Council’s legal team is now in the process of agreeing a timetable to proceed in a civil claim involving Oakwood School, which closed in 2000.

If the claim is found to be valid any compensation payout could run into millions of pounds.

Meanwhile, Suffolk Constabulary confirmed it is now investigating abuse allegations made by 95 former pupils of Oakwood School, in what is the county’s largest criminal inquiry of its kind.

Suffolk County Council had until yesterday to decide whether it wished fight the claims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at Oakwood in the 1970s, 80s and 90s in court, after being granted an extension to the original deadline. That deadline has now been extended again.

Currently there are also 95 former pupils being represented in the civil action by Cambridge-based solicitor Andrew Grove & Co. However, it is understood there are a handful of other people whose claims are still being verified.

If the county council agrees to the proposed timetable it will have to hand over social care and education files for inspection by the claimants’ solicitors. By the end of next year the county council will be expected to set out its position on all the civil claims.

Failure to find agreement between the lawyers could see a court case in January 2014.

Police declined to state how many members of the school’s former employees are involved in the criminal investigation, describing it as “a number”.

It is understood that around 18 people have had abuse allegations made against them in the civil claim, but there are likely to be significantly less in the criminal inquiry. It is believed there are at least five former staff members who are under scrutiny, although no arrests have been made as yet.

Andrew Grove, acting for the claimants in the civil case, said: “We have proposed a timetable for the management of the claims and are waiting to hear from the county council.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “The parties involved have agreed an extension to the period within which Suffolk County Council must file its response to the civil claim brought by former pupils at Oakwood School and are currently preparing a timetable for managing these claims. Once agreed, the parties will submit the timetable to the court for approval. In the meantime, the separate police investigation continues.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the particulars of the allegations during a police investigation. We would however urge people who feel they have any relevant information to contact police to help with their inquiries.”

Lucy Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “We now have 95 people who have made allegations against a number of people in relation to Oakwood School, and our inquiries are continuing.”

Oakwood opened in 1974 as a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It closed temporarily in December 1999 after serious concerns were expressed.

Although it was re-opened, it closed for good the following year.

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