Malcolm Layfield is innocent. What now?

Malcolm Layfield is innocent. What now?


norman lebrecht

June 09, 2015

Slipped Disc editorial

The former Chetham’s violin and head of strings at Royal Northern College of Music was cleared within 90 minutes by a jury of the single charge on which he was tried; the alleged rape of an 18 year-old female student some 30 years ago. Layfield, 63, is under British justice, cleared of all stigma and is free to resume his career.

But the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse at English music schools has not gone away.

In court, under oath, Layfield admitted with regret to having several affairs with his students at Chetham’s during the 1980s. He was not the only teacher to do so. Evidence was heard that Chetham’s was, at best, negligent during that period in exercising its duty of care towards vulnerable teenagers. Further evidence indicated that complaints by students against teachers who abused their authority in this way were not dealt with in an appropriate manner.

Sexual abuse in English music schools has been covered up for a full generation. Those who engaged in the cover-up – governors, headteachers, teachers – have not been called to account. There remains a strong case for a public inquiry to be held where both victims and those in authority can raise their voices and lay the wretched past to rest.

The law is a blunt instrument. Malcolm Layfield, innocent, will have to rebuild his practice from scratch. A public inquiry would obviate the need for further prosecutions and allow the healing process to begin.


UPDATE: More legal action here.




  • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

    There is a big gulf between ‘not guilty’ and ‘innocent’. This is a man who, by his own admission, repeatedly went after girls who were only a smidgen above the legal age of consent, and over whom he had a great deal of power. This is an immense abuse of the teacher’s role.

    It is extremely difficult to prove rape to the criminal standard, especially after thirty years and with no physical evidence. But it justice, at least, that his utterly disgraceful behaviour has been aired in public.

    • Asdfg says:

      Sorry but i have to respond to this circle jerking +1. I am equally shocked that we have reached a point where the narrative of bigots seems to be regurgitated word for word by naive but no doubt well meaning individuals.

      Power difference does not imply abuse of power difference. A parent has immense power over their young child, for example, but that does not mean they cannot give their child a genuinely free choice about something. Likewise, even if layfield were in such a position of power over his teenage pupils (a debateable point at best), the fact that he sought sex with them does not imply abuse of that power difference.

      I would even go so far as to raise the possibility that poisonous oversimplifications such as this one affect the views of consenting individuals to the point that they reinterpret themselves as victims. Not cool.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        A teacher is a person in authority whose opinion can affect any pupil’s future. That is simple truth, not a simplification.

        • Asdfg says:

          Are you suggesting that a teacher-student relationship inherently involves coersion because of the possibility that a refusal might lead to adverse consequence? That is only relevent if it is a deciding factor, and entirely moot in the case of a girl who would have consented regardless. Also, it surely depends on the individual (e.g. the attitudes and values they have been seen to uphold). I therefore maintain it is a simplification to say that a teacher-student relationship always involves abuse of power.

          I should add however, that I believe teacher-student relationships are generally socially problematic and therefore to be avoided. Frankly, a reference from Layfield would be as good as one from the girl’s mom. That said, it is not clear that Layfield ever did act inappropriately in light of their relationship (or if he did, how much so), so even in the individual case, grounds for condemnation are again shaky at best. Anyway, even of this did lead to some unscrupulous opportunities, there is a BIG difference between unscrupulous social engineering and being a rapist.

          Finally, I cannot help but think that the urge to condemn layfield stems at least in part from a belief that sexual relationships with large age gaps are “a bit icky”. What can I say; consensual sex is consensual sex. The fact that a girl came to regret it doesnt retroactively make it rape, any more than i could accuse burger king of maliciously coercing me into buying that double bacon with cheese meal cause I’m now feeling a bit bloated. We live, we learn. Sorry.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Not inherently, but potentially. Especially where sex is involved.

          • Anon says:

            The point that ASDFG is missing is that in the vast majority of situations the teacher / student relationship is, as stated, of minimal consequence – one can simply walk away. But in this case the professional consequence is immense, and, in the vulnerable eyes of these school children, absolute.

            The business of making a living through music is a network, and the social aspect is paramount. Musicians trade on two things; their talent and their ability to fit in. One word from a person in a position of authority and you don’t get the gig – end of story. Anyone who doesn’t have this at he forefront of their professional mind has either never worked as a musician or is unemployed.

            You only have to think about the audition process. This is the cut throat culture of the music world and these students were trained for it. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps in light of this it can be understood how they could be open to manipulation by someone who is handing out or potentially withholding work. Music is vocational, but there is also a business aspect. These young, inexperienced, naive, vulnerable students were entering the music profession on a freelance basis – it’s their life long dream – it’s their future livelihood – it’s the moment of truth – it’s everything – there isn’t a shakier or more manipulatable situation on the planet.

            In this case LUK VAES is right – There is a big gulf between ‘not guilty’ and ‘innocent’.

            And if your answer is that they should all go somewhere else to get work, then understand this, many many many of them did just that, to avoid the negative influence of just this individual. And if you can’t imagine that in a situation such as this rapes occurred, then you’re simply not trying.

            But thankfully some people are stepping forward to acknowledge and put an end to this abuse, and they should be applauded.

      • Phillip says:

        ‘poisonous oversimplifications such as this one affect the views of consenting individuals to the point that they reinterpret themselves as victims’.
        Well, the jury thankfully decided that it could not be simplified to that extent.

  • Luk Vaes says:

    +1: “There is a big gulf between ‘not guilty’ and ‘innocent’. This is a man who, by his own admission, repeatedly went after girls who were only a smidgen above the legal age of consent, and over whom he had a great deal of power. This is an immense abuse of the teacher’s role.”

  • Alexander says:

    A public enquiry and a prosecution are two different things. They serve different purposes and are not mutually exclusive. If people make complaints to the police and the CPS decide on the basis of the evidence gathered by the police that there is a public interest to be served by prosecuting and that there is a reasonably likelihood of conviction then people have to be prosecuted. Individual complaints should be dealt with by the police and CPS and should, where appropriate, result in prosecutions. A public enquiry, on the other hand, should be held to examine the systemic failures that have led to such widespread abuses.

  • Phillip says:

    It’s the correct verdict, I’m afraid, much as many people hate it. An 18yo adult was in some sense seduced or/and coerced, in the context of classical professional music relations and authority (the dynamics of which can mystify even those involved in the profession, let alone expecting a public jury to unravel 30 years thereafter). ‘Rape’ is not the word. That would hardly sit well with ‘sordid consensual 6 week affair’, a phrase even the prosecution concurred with, and the accuser’s admission that no actual violence ever occurred. It is not far from criminalizing sex itself on the say-so of one person’s regret. If people want to criminalize the type of behaviour demonstrated by Layfield, then they need to get the law refined to offer a satisfactory definition for ‘sexual coercion within a profession’, and then refine it further re the wonderfully unique classical music world. You might well ask ‘what then’? Floods of litigation-in-hindsight, probably.
    Perhaps have a civil tribunal body within the profession, where those found guilty of this ‘shameful behaviour’ as he admitted it (albeit with sarcasm I suspect) can be ostracised in some quantifiable way from the profession, plus (or instead) compensating the victim, as opposed to the variable pattern of support and alienation he’s probably going to receive as he resumes his career. The lack of infrastructure to encompass the profession is part of its problem, though. Hopefully this is where a public inquiry would generate something useful, besides never-ending competitiveness and back-stabbing. It’s needed, because the potential for abuses of power is always going to exist in a profession so heavily dependent on ‘who you know’.