Harrowing details of the abuse carried out on young boys by a former teacher at a London private school have been revealed in a document released by US authorities, as distraught parents waited to discover whether their children were involved.
American citizen William Vahey, 64, a convicted paedophile, was able to drug and abuse up to 60 boys aged between 12 and 14 at London’s Southbank International School (SIS). He killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room last month, two days after the FBI filed a warrant asking for permission to formally search a USB drive which he used to store images of his crimes.
Vahey worked as a history and geography teacher at SIS from 2009 until 2013. He was employed by nine other international schools from 1972 and US authorities fear he may have abused many other boys all over the world. The USB drive shows he had at least 90 victims since 2008 alone, and as he appears to have drugged them with sleeping pills, some may not even know what happened to them.
According to the FBI search warrant, Vahey’s crimes were only discovered last month while he was teaching at the American Nicaraguan School in Managua, which hired him after he left SIS. A maid employed to clean his apartment stole the USB stick and gave it to the school after discovering it contained explicit images of teenage boys, arranged under folders entitled “Panama Trip”, “Costa Rica Trip” and “Basketball Trip”.
When an employee at the school reviewed the contents of the drive and confronted Vahey about the images, he told them: “I was molested as a boy, that is why I do this. I have been doing this my whole life.” He added that he “never hurt any of the boys” and that “they did not know what had happened to them” as they were “completely asleep”, the document says.
Natalie Salmon, a former pupil of Vahey’s at Escuela Campo Alegre, an international school in Caracas, Venezuela, said she was in “complete shock” at the “disgusting” revelations. “I remember him as being just quite a nice, shy sort of guy – there was nothing sinister about him,” she told Sky News.
“My mum’s friends who have sons at the school have been calling her, saying things like ‘You’re really lucky to have girls because I’m so worried about my sons.’ A lot of friends of mine did go on his trips, but obviously nobody wants to talk about it. Some of them want to know… some of them don’t want to know at all. It’s the first time I’ve thought to myself, as a girl, I’m safer than being a boy.”
It is understood that SIS is focusing its investigation on school trips that Vahey led to destinations including Jordan, Venezuela and Nepal. Lists of participating pupils have been passed to the Metropolitan Police, with parents asked to come forward if their children “recall any disturbing incident”.
At a meeting on Monday, the school’s directors will attempt to explain to parents why Vahey’s 1969 conviction for child molestation in California was not picked up by its vetting procedures. The meeting is also due to be attended by police and other investigators. It is understood that another incident involving Vahey was reported to the school’s management, but the investigation was dropped after the parents of the child involved said they did not want to pursue it any further.
All lessons at the school were cancelled yesterday to allow parents to meet senior managers and discuss their concerns. Sir Chris Woodhead, the school’s chair of governors, said it was fully cooperating with the police investigation and that “the matter is in their hands”.
He added that parents of current pupils have been written to and urged to come forward with any concerns, while the families of past students are in the process of being contacted by police.
Some parents have previously said they felt “upset and betrayed” by the school. The mother of a child who was in Vahey’s class and had gone with him on a field trip told The Guardian: “Even if they find my son in the photos, I would rather not know and just forget about it.” Another added: “Every teenage kid who went on those trips is asking: ‘Was it me?’ Chances are that some of our kids have been victimised, but we don’t know anything.”
Yesterday, three employees at the American Nicaraguan School posted an anonymous open letter on the website Nicaragua Dispatch. They claim that the school mishandled the initial investigation into Vahey after discovering his USB stick, adding that after he was dismissed he was taken to the airport in a school van, where pupils “hugged him goodbye”, unaware of the reason he was leaving.