Charity admits abuse at school was covered up

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Britain's largest disabled charity last night admitted a cover-up over allegations of abuse at one of its residential schools.

The parents of 14 disabled children who were physically abused by one of Scope's staff now intend to take private legal action after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring prosecutions.

Scope - formerly the Spastics Society - admitted yesterday that allegations of abuse at one of its residential schools were covered up for more than two years. It said it was guilty of breaching parents' trust and conceded that its reputation had been seriously damaged.

The charity's admission centres on an internal investigation by Scope in 1993 at Hawksworth Hall School, in Guiseley, Leeds, West Yorkshire. It found that 14 handicapped pupils, aged between four and 12, had been physically abused and refused food by a member of staff over a 10-year period. The female care worker was dismissed, but the head teacher and a Scope education officer failed to tell social services, the school's governors, or parents.

The allegations came to light only after a parent complained about another matter in 1994 and an external inquiry was launched.

The police were called in and a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, but parents were informed in January that no action would be taken.

The scandal emerged after Kevin O'Toole, from Liverpool, who was a governor for four years, made a complaint about the head teacher in 1994. During the investigation, more serious issues were put forward.

Mr O'Toole, whose daughter, Sian, 14, attended Hawksworth Hall School, said many of the parents involved were now planning to sue Scope. He said he had lodged a formal complaint with the charity yesterday about the way officials handled the affair: "The parents are very angry, and they can't understand why the Crown Prosecution Service isn't prosecuting the care worker."

"At the time I was a lone voice in criticising what was happening at the school, and I had a nine-month battle with Scope to get them to look at my complaints.

"The only reason this has come to light is because I kept writing letters to Scope, and then the police, and they realised I wasn't going to go away.

"I feel sorry for a lot of the people who work at the school because they expressed concern about what was happening, but nothing was done about it. I have no sympathy at all for Scope officials, or for the governors."

Another parent, Margaret Granlund, whose son, Anders, was a victim, said: "I am very hurt and angry that this has been dropped. I know my son was abused and that is a great shock and very scary, because I will never know just what he went through."

It is alleged that Anders, who has cerebral palsy, can't speak and is also blind, was smacked in the mouth by the care worker.

John Adams, Scope's acting director of operations, said: "Parents placed their trust in us to care for their children and quite clearly we've breached that trust in a most serious way."