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Stowmarket: Former headteacher charged with child sex offences as part of Suffolk’s biggest school child abuse inquiry

16:05 11 September 2013

The former Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

The former Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

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The former headteacher of a Suffolk school has been charged in relation to what is believed to be county’s largest child abuse investigation.

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Eric De Smith, of Danes Close, Stowmarket, is accused of gross indecency and indecent assault following a long-running investigation prompted by allegations from former pupils of Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

Richard Jones, a spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “Suffolk Police have charged a man in relation to historic abuse at a school in Stowmarket.

“The investigation relates to alleged offences carried out between 1975 and 1999 at Oakwood School and officers have spoken with over 100 people since it began in 2011.

“As a result of the investigation a 74-year-old man was arrested in March 2013. Eric De Smith, of Danes Close, has subsequently been charged with gross indecency and indecent assault.

“He is now due to appear in Bury St Edmunds Magistrates Court on October 1.”

Suffolk Constabulary previously said it had received allegations of abuse from 95 former Oakwood pupils relating to staff at the school.

A special team working under a detective inspector was set up in the Newmarket area to work on the inquiry, which is codenamed Operation Oxenton.

Oakwood opened in 1974 as a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The school closed temporarily in December 1999 after serious concerns were expressed. Although it was re-opened, it shut permanently in 2000.

In addition to the criminal investigation a separate civil claim in relation to Oakwood is currently being pursued against Suffolk County Council by Cambridge-based solicitors Andrew Grove and Co.

The firm has said it working on behalf of 100 ex-pupils alleging abuse. The county council is facing claims for a compensation payout which could run into millions of pounds.

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