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Charles Spencer says he was sexually and physically abused at elite boy’s boarding school

‘We were like lambs to the slaughter’, he said of his abuse at the hands of a sexually depraved teacher in the 1970s

Maira Butt
Tuesday 12 March 2024 15:05 GMT
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Princess Diana's brother Earl Spencer attends Queen's funeral service

Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, has said he was beaten and sexually abused at an elite boarding school as a boy.

In a frank account of his childhood at one of Britain’s top independent schools, Maidwell Hall, which caters for children aged 4-13, he said the traumatic experience “killed” a part of him.

Now, Spencer hopes the book will expose what he considers to be a “great conspiracy” of the upper classes.

In his memoir, A Very Private School, Spencer, who is godson of the late Queen Elizabeth II, opened up about the physical and sexual abuse he was subjected to in the 1970s.

“We were like lambs led to the slaughter,” the former television journalist told The Times.

“It was all about making the boys as frightened as possible. The whole process of being punished was ritualistic and barbaric. When a boy lost bowel and bladder control and had to go and clean himself up, one of my friends who was there as a witness was taken in and beaten in his place.”

During his research for the book, he found that the effects on the emotional development of the brain of children is the same for boarding schools as it is for children in care.

Spencer, who joined the school when he was eight, was inflicted with beatings to the point of drawing blood and shares that he witnessed punishments including “cutting buttocks [of young children] several times with a cane and carrying on”.

Other former students he interviewed revealed that they had been raped multiple times at the school, while some had lost their siblings to “self-neglect”. One terminally ill man stipulated a refusal to see his parents in his living will, as he could not forgive them for his experience.

Charles Spencer with sister Diana (Family Handout/Earl Spencer)

The experience of being beaten by a “sadistic” headmaster who inflicted punishments with “sexual undercurrents” left a permanent mark on the Earl who says: “We had demons sewn into the linings of our souls”.

When he was just 11-years-old, Spencer was groomed and sexually abused by a female assistant matron, an experience he recalls as “incredibly traumatising” and which led him to hire a prostitute while on holiday in Spain at the age of 12 to “finish the grooming”.

He notes that the experience of abuse can be dealt with differently for men as they often react with a “laddish thumbs up” when he recalls the incident.

“What would you say if the genders were reversed?” he asks.

The ninth Earl of Spencer has spoken out about his experience at a boarding school (Getty Images)

After living with bullimia as a child at the school, he says he feels the experience was “a cry for help”. Boys who had “already been shorn of our mothers and sisters” had nobody to give them a hug.

“I thought if I presented my vomit in a bowl that somebody would be maternal towards me and look after me. But, of course, I was just rejected as a time-wasting little hypochondriac.”

Although he hopes that the book will be “redemptive” for him and those who have suffered in silence like him, for Spencer, the impact is long-lasting.

“It killed a part of me; it killed the gentler part of me. For us to survive in that environment, a small but important part of us had to die. I think that is the essence of it. Sensitivity, empathy, those sort of things must suffer, because otherwise it’s too raw. You can choose to make the most of it, which I think is admirable if you can do it, but the damage is still inside.”

Maidwell Hall School told The Independent in a statement: “It is sobering to read about the experiences Charles Spencer, and some of his fellow alumni, had at the school, and we are sorry that was their experience. It is difficult to read about practices which were, sadly, sometimes believed to be normal and acceptable at that time. Within education today, almost every facet of school life has evolved significantly since the 1970s. At the heart of the changes is the safeguarding of children, and promotion of their welfare.

“We have been dismayed to read about the allegations of the abuse Charles Spencer suffered by an assistant matron in the 1970s. Although we have not directly received any claims from ex-pupils, considering what has been reported, the school has followed the statutory process and made a referral to the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer). We would encourage anyone with similar experiences to come forward and contact either Maidwell Hall, the LADO or the police.”

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