Decades of abuse by Royal College of Music piano teacher Ian Lake boosts demands for inquiry

Victims demand to know why Ian Lake was employed by Royal College of Music for so long

Demands for a public inquiry into historical sex abuse at Britain’s elite music schools increased last night as it emerged a former professor of piano at London’s prestigious Royal College of Music (RCM) was a predatory offender who abused both male and female students over at least 30 years.

Ian Lake was convicted of sexually abusing children in 1995, the same year he was quietly removed from his teaching post at one of the world’s leading conservatoires, but his reputation never suffered. He carried on performing until his death in August 2004 aged 69.

One of his victims has now come forward to describe how Lake ruined his life having abused him over a four-year period at the Watford School of Music, run by Hertfordshire County Council, starting in the 1970s when he was just 10.

The man told The Independent: “Lake had been teaching part time at the school when I was there. My piano lessons were on Saturdays and I was very young at the time. I never breathed a word of what he did to anyone. One day he was there, then suddenly he was gone. My parents received a letter in the middle of term saying he was no longer a teacher and I was allocated to someone else. The abuse ended.”

The victim suffered for years, becoming withdrawn and unable to form healthy, intimate relationships. He said bouts of deep depression have been a regular feature of his life. He said “painful memories” had been awoken by the tragic case of Francis Andrade, the 48-year-old violinist driven to suicide during the trial of her abuser Michael Brewer. The ex-choirmaster of Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester was convicted for indecent assault.

He said: “I didn’t speak about the abuse to anyone until I was in my late 30s and told my parents. My father was absolutely gutted – they had paid for these lessons and driven me to them. I’m still wondering whether to contact the council, who had a duty of care to me as a child.

“The whole point for me is to try to come to terms with it all and find closure. I want to see if others come forward because as a victim you ask yourself: was I exaggerating? Did these events happen or did I make them up? The fact that Lake was allowed to teach at the Royal College of Music for so long is incredible. They must have known about him.”

Lake’s two marriages – to Jen Lien and Barbara Foster – were dissolved in 1975 and 1996 respectively. When he died he left behind five children and five grandchildren. He had managed to deceive his family and friends for so long that by the time he was caught, one person who knew him said many people felt sympathy for him – with the wider music community choosing to push what was seen as an “aberration” under the carpet.

A female victim of Lake’s attentions and a former RCM pupil, told The Independent: “I was 18 when I arrived at the RCM in 1987. When older students asked me who my piano teacher was and I replied ‘Ian Lake’ they warned me to always wear trousers – never skirts.

“In my second lesson he started inappropriately touching my thighs. I went straight to the principal at the time, Michael Gough Matthews, and told him what happened. He just switched me to another piano teacher and that was it. I was shocked that the Royal College of Music did nothing.”

It was not until 18 years after that Lake was finally convicted of sexual offences. It is not known whether he went to jail. Following his death in 2004, newspaper obituaries described him as “a distinguished pianist, teacher and composer” who had toured across Britain and abroad.

The Independent’s obituary added: “Ian Lake’s later years were clouded by a conviction for sexual offences in 1995. But he continued his  concert career.”

Questions were raised on Sunday night as to what those at the RCM, based in south Kensington, knew about Lake. Dame Janet Ritterman was director of the RCM from 1993 until 2005 and earlier this year was appointed Chancellor of Middlesex University.

Two of the other directors in charge during Lake’s time at the school – Sir Keith Falkner and Mr Matthews – are deceased. Sir David Willcocks, director between 1974 and 1984, is now 93 and The Independent was not able to reach him for comment.

Questions were sent to Dame Janet asking what was known by RCM staff regarding Lake’s history of abuse. She declined to respond.

A spokesman for the RCM said it had no record of “what might have happened in 1995” because all staff records are destroyed after they leave “for reasons of data protection”.

The Independent understands that Operation Kiso – investigating allegations of historical sex abuse at Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music, both in Manchester – is nearing its end. Four men who taught at the institutions remain on bail.

As police made clear it is not possible for them to investigate cases where the perpetrator is dead, MPs are supporting calls for a public inquiry.

Labour MP Lucy Powell, whose constituency covers Chetham’s and RNCM, said: “Given the cross-over nature of the offences, an inquiry under Operation Yewtree, looking at historical allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Savile and others, that could be specific to music schools would be welcome. Failing that I support the setting up of a separate public inquiry.”

Hundreds of former music school pupils have added their names to a petition calling for exactly that.  Leading campaigner Ian Pace, a former Chetham’s pupil, said: “Only a full public inquiry into sexual and other abuse in musical education is likely to get to the bottom of this alleged widespread corrosive abuse and ensure both that those who have suffered are heard in safety, and proper recommendations are made to ensure this could never happen again.

“Whilst having known for a while about various allegations concerning Lake, I also have friends who studied with him and would point out what an important figure he was in terms of encouraging and providing opportunities for young composers in particular.

“'It is hard for people to accept that musicians they know and admire - and sometimes have provided them with work and opportunities - might also have been responsible for very bad things; it is also hard for some unfamiliar with the music world to realise that some abusers can be charming, charismatic and artistic individuals.”

Operation Kiso: music schools probe

Four men are on police bail as part of the investigation into sex abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music:

Violin teacher Wen Zhou Li, 57, was held in February on suspicion of rape;

Double-bass teacher Duncan McTier, 58, was arrested in May over allegations of sex abuse against a woman;

Former Chetham’s teacher Malcolm Layfield, 61, was arrested in August on suspicion of raping three females. He was rearrested in October on suspicion of rape and indecent assault of a woman;

Conductor Nicholas Smith, 65, was arrested in July on suspicion of sexual offences against a 15-year-old girl.

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