Abuse in music schools: Chetham’s says sorry, Purcell won’t

Abuse in music schools: Chetham’s says sorry, Purcell won’t


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2019

The composer Dave Heath was present at Friday’s conclusion of part one of the independent inquiry into child sex abuse at English music schools.

Dave, a former Purcell parent, reports: ‘Big, unreserved apology from Chethams school for the shocking abuse there, but not word from the Purcell School, despite the ex- head of governors Graham Smallbone finally admitting that the ex-headmaster Peter Crook’s “sex” talk was ‘absolutely unacceptable!’

The school maintains a boarding house named after Graham Smallbone, MBE.

Not that saying sorry amounts to much.

Here’s some more harrowing independent testimony that Ian Pace has collected from Chet’s victims. These witnesses were not called by the independent inquiry:

AL24: I had barely heard of child abuse and certainly didn’t realise the term might apply in my case. To be clear, Ling manipulated, threatened and isolated me. It was never once consenting – he made my skin crawl. But the atmosphere that pervaded the string department; cello teachers ‘dating’ pupils, violin pupils being ‘girlfriends’, teachers generally sleazing over us girls, making crude comments and unwanted advances, had normalised what I had suffered. Horrifyingly I thought I had just been more unlucky than most, and that it was our lot to be treated as sexual game…

It was absolutely common knowledge at Chets during my time there, and subsequently, that there were ‘relationships’ happening between staff members and the children. This included the Head of Music  and many of the string staff. Ling was known for being the most blatant; taking girls out for drinks, keeping them late in practice rooms, taking them off site in his car…

AL21: Generally, they were not supposed to punish girls, but my friend and I were once locked in a cupboard in the 6th form block and incense sticks were lit through the key-hole until we were coughing so much, and screaming, that the head boy at the time [name redacted] let us out. I have always been a severe asthmatic but they thought it hilarious. [Head boy] refused to take part in any abuse.

I also remember being so hungry that one night, myself and 2 other girls crept into the kitchens and stole all the stale bread. (Naughty but desperate!) We developed quite a taste for it!

My personal sadness was that I had a boyfriend in the school. There was no sex education so we were both very naive. I fell pregnant at 15 yrs old, had a termination and we were both promptly expelled. 


I will tell just one story of my own. This concerns the teacher in junior school who made a point of singling out everyone else in the class for praise for what they had done, then holding me up alone in front of them all with that poisonous hatred behind her eyes just to ridicule me in comparison with everyone else. Now I also know that this same teacher, at school camp, actually slept with a sixth-form boy.

This school was a cesspit. It is a disgrace that John Vallins was ever let anywhere near a school, and he should feel nothing but shame and guilt for the rest of his days.

More here.



  • Anon says:

    I have a myriad of personal stories from both Chethams and Purcell, due to family members. Nothing has changed. The perpetrators know who they are. The music profession knows them.

  • Robert Freeman says:

    While there was a day, not so long ago, when such matters went unreported, swept under the rug, that day is now past. Heads of schools of music, where so much of the instruction is private, should see to it that well articulated policies are adopted and publicized that make it clear to faculty and staff that aberrant behavior will result, if proven, in the termination of the offender.

  • Observer says:

    It was pathetic to see former Chair of Governors, Graham Smallbone on the stand, and hear him take no responsibility for his shameful actions of appointing Peter Crook as the disgraced Head of The Purcell School. Smallbone was, at the time, advised by most of the Governors to re advertise the Headship as the applications were so poor.Smallbone in typical bullish, bullying manner, let his own ego take the decision to appoint a failed Director of Music at Rugby School, who, it was widely known, had been demoted due to incompetence, to assistant housemaster in a boys boarding house, and in charge of the Arts timetable & fixtures.
    It is conceivable that both knew each other as Rugby isn’t far from where Smallbone was Headmaster at Oakham, and they were both amateur organists in this area.
    Smallbone was former Director of Music at Eton (where he taught the current arrogant Prime Minister), who always crowed about how as a former Director of Music, he became a Headmaster himself, and took great pleasure in making a grave mistake (confirmed by the recent IICS investigation) in appointing Crook to any teaching or managerial role at this once distinguished music school.
    Smallbone shows no remorse or contrition for his misjudged actions, and should be held accountable for his actions. No apology? Not surprising for those of us who tried to work with this arrogant and pompous man.
    He should be stripped of his MBE for his part in this shameful exposure, and the Purcell School should not continue to allow a boys boarding house to be named in his memory. Neither should the Smallbone Library continue to be so named at Oakham School, where he was Headmaster before he retired.

  • Florestan83 says:

    Wouldn’t surprise me if it was Mrs Perkins. I had the exact same problem with her. She was a nightmare and a bully and my four years at chethams was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had to suffer and haunts me to this day.

  • Sharon says:

    What a pity.

  • current student says:

    Wow ok

    My school’s messed up