Lindsay Brown: School was criticised by officials

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Bangor authorities have been strongly criticised by government officials

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BANGOR Grammar authorities were strongly criticised by government officials for trying to keep
secret, parts of a damning report into the actions of the school’s pervert viceprincipal, Lindsay Brown. The criticism is contained in Northern Ireland Office documents from 1998 that have only just been declassified, in which the officials accuse the head of the grammar’s board of governors of being concerned about deflecting bad publicity
about the school. And that very attitude, say state officials, is part of the reason why paedophile Brown was able to get away with his sex offending for years, despite multiple allegations laid against him by pupils, parents and
teachers. The documents also allege that then-principal, Tom Patton, approached the family of one
pupil who had complained to the police about Brown, asking them to drop the charges and voicing his ‘disappointment that they had chosen to involve police rather than approaching the school first’ – allegations that Patton denied.
In 1998 Brown was convicted of multiple sexual assaults against boys who had been pupils at the grammar. Last
year he was before the courts again, pleading guilty to more historical sex offences after other victims came forward. After his initial convictions the Department of Education launched an inquiry into the school’s handling of Brown’s behaviour and the allegations against him. The inquiry exposed that despite complaints from pupils and concerns being raised by both parents and staff, Brown was promoted to a position in which he was responsible for dealing with any abuse claims made by schoolboys. Teachers had voiced their unease at Brown’s behaviour on school trips and during swimming activities, and the inquiry report makes mention of ‘rumours and innuendo [circulating] among staff, pupils and former pupils’ about the paedophile as far back as the 1980s. A 12 year-old boy went to the police about Brown in 1991; although those allegations ultimately didn’t come before the courts, Brown was allowed
to remain in position at the grammar while investigations were carried out – and two years later was promoted to vice principal. The inquiry found there was also ‘concern about the emphasis on sex education topics’ in the religious studies classes Brown was teaching to P7s at Connor House, the school’s preparatory department, where he was said
to be going into graphic detail that was above pupils’ maturity level. The inquiry only looked at Brown’s behaviour from 1989 until his arrest in 1996, as 1989 was the year of a change in Department of Education policies on child protection and tackling allegations of sex offending in schools. But the newly declassified documents show that
authorities at the grammar wanted to see much of the inquiry report go unpublished, with the chairman of the board
of governors stating in a letter to the then-Education Minister that the board disputes parts of the evidence.
He queried the anonymity granted to some of those interviewed by the inquiry team, and also questioned why the
scope of the inquiry went beyond the bounds of the offences Brown had been convicted of in court. As a result, he said, the board wanted parts of the report to be treated as ‘working papers’, meaning that they wouldn’t be
released to the general public. That idea was rejected by officials in briefing documents prepared for the minister,
stating that the chairman appeared to be concerned with trying ‘to protect the school as far as possible from further
adverse publicity’. The officials also point out that the inquiry was only set up after a group of between 20 and
25 parents of past, current and prospective Bangor Grammar pupils voiced fears that the school’s board of governors ‘had not appreciated the implications for past and present pupils of the serious charges against Brown, and might not be prepared to take positive action to effect necessary changes’. Those fears resulted in the parents’ group telling the inquiry team that they ‘lack[ed] confidence in the headmaster’s handling of complaints since 1991’ and felt an independent inquiry was needed ‘to establish how a paedophile could exist, apparently undetected, for more
than 20 years at the school’. According to the newly declassified documents, the parents went on to write to the
Education Minister stating that they felt the grammar hadn’t adequately dealt with the complaints against Brown, and
had been slow to correct misinformation that the criminal charges faced by the disgraced teacher did not
involve former pupils. The inquiry went on to conclude that from 1989 until early 1998, the grammar’s headmaster and board of governors ‘failed to ensure the school had a systematic, readily accessible and easily motioned system of recording complaints about individual teachers’. That failure, it added, ‘resulted in a haphazard, hitand- miss approach to identifying patterns of complaint, and had the effect of allowing Brown’s aberrant behaviour to go undetected’. The inquiry also found that the school had ‘failed to take appropriately stringent action’ over complaints that Brown had sexually touched a 12 year-old boy in 1991 at an ‘induction camp’ for new pupils he ran in
Castlerock, and complaints he had been inappropriate in conversation with another 12 year-old in 1995. Brown’s arrest in 1996 resulted in his eventual conviction for sexual offences against nine boys. Now aged 81 and living in France, he was extradited back to Northern Ireland last year to stand trial for crimes dating back to the
1970s after two more of his victims came forward in adulthood.