American teacher and prolific paedophile William Vahey drugged and preyed on up to 90 young teenage boys around the world

The scale of abuse carried out by a convicted paedophile on pupils at a private London school was described by its chair of governors as “the worst thing” he has ever been involved in during 40 years of education.

Sir Chris Woodhead, the former Ofsted Chief Inspector, confirmed ex-teacher William Vahey had preyed on children at the independent Southbank International School and said it made him feel physically sick when he heard what had happened.

American citizen Vahey, 64, killed himself last month, two days after investigators filed a warrant to search a computer drive containing pornographic images of at least 90 boys aged from 12 to 14 who appeared to be drugged and unconscious meaning many of the victims may still be unaware they were abused. It is believed that all of the boys in the images were his students going back to 2008 – Vahey taught history and geography to pupils at the London school from 2009 until last year.

It is not clear exactly how many children in England have been affected, although the FBI, which is working with the school to identify affected children, said it was searching for up to 90 potential victims from international schools around the world. Vahey also taught in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Athens, Venezuela, Iran and Lebanon, managing to slip through the net for decades despite being jailed for child sex offences in California in 1969.

Sir Chris said that parents at the London school, which teaches children aged three to 18, were very concerned and that it “beggars belief” Vahey was able to teach for so long while harbouring the conviction.

Photo issued by the FBI of American William Vahey Photo issued by the FBI of American William Vahey (PA)
He said: “Everyone at the school is deeply shocked by what we heard. Our two priorities now are to communicate as much information as we have as quickly as we can, and to help the police as much as we can in what is now an international police inquiry into the activities of this man.”

Sir Chris said Vahey, who mainly taught pupils aged between 11 and 14 but also took students out on trips, had an “immaculate record” and had never given any staff at the school any cause for concern. He said: “He was a very popular man, both with staff and students. He has managed to deceive his colleagues in schools all around the world for 30 years… This is the worst thing that I’ve ever been involved in in 40 years of education.”

A meeting at the school which police and other investigators will attend is due to be held next week. Special Agent Patrick Fransen from the FBI said: “I’ve never seen another case where an individual may have molested this many children over such a long period of time. I'm concerned that he may have preyed on many other students prior to 2008.”

Vahey’s abuse caught up with him when he was confronted about the images by a colleague at the American Nicaraguan School in Managua, Nicaragua, where he had most recently been teaching. He confessed that he was molested as a child and had preyed on boys all his life, plying them with sleeping pills before abusing them. The photos were catalogued with dates and locations that corresponded with overnight field trips that Vahey had taken with students since 2008, but he had led pupils on such outings for his entire career.

Vahey, who had a home in London as well as in South Carolina, was found dead in Luverne, Minnesota, on March 21.

Scotland Yard said it was helping the FBI with its inquiries. A spokesman said: “Officers from the sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse investigation team are assessing and evaluating intelligence passed to the Met by US authorities, and actively seeking any evidence whilst working with partner agencies to ensure that potential victims are supported.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent