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UK Boys' Reformatories

The Court Lees Approved School Affair

by C. Farrell

"The school discipline is entirely negative, reinforced by a savage use of the cane that would horrify anyone not inured to it. It is not pleasant to hear a boy screaming (this is not exaggeration; it happens at this school every week; sometimes day by day). After such treatment the boys' buttocks are covered with green and black bruises, extending from one side to the other in a band perhaps eight inches in width. I have known such bruising still to be visible six weeks after the caning that caused it, although in most cases the bruises have gone within a month."

Thus a letter signed "Approved School Teacher" which appeared in the London paper The Guardian on 2 March 1967. It marked the beginning of a flap which proved to have more far-reaching consequences than its writer can have imagined -- not excluding the closing-down, at least in that form, of the entire Approved School system within the following five years. These residential schools were basically reformatories for offending or out-of-control teenagers.

At first, however, nothing happened; so "Approved School Teacher" secretly photographed some boys' bottoms just after they had been caned, and wrote to the press enclosing the photographs.

On 5 May the Daily Mail went public with a long front-page article about the photographs, Approved school beatings: The facts. It didn't reproduce any of the pictures, but it described them, with enough background detail for the Home Office [Interior Ministry] to be able to identify the school. It is interesting to note that the 'experts' invited by the Mail to comment on the pictures disagreed as to whether or not the canings shown had been unduly excessive, one 'eminent pathologist' remarking that they were "not much worse than we used to get at school".

Only many months later was the general public able to take a view on that, when the London Sunday Times at last published one of the famous pictures in its colour magazine in its retrospective of the year on 31 December 1967.

Three days after its initial exposé, the Daily Mail followed up with an editorial comment explaining that it was not opposed to corporal punishment, only to "inexcusable brutality", and calling for an inquiry not just into Court Lees but into the entire Approved School system, which, it felt, seemed to be failing in its reforming purpose (A sure way to make criminals, Daily Mail, 8 May 1967).

The Home Office was responsible at the time for what since the 1930s had been euphemistically called Approved Schools -- actually residential reformatories for troubled teens, the great majority sent there by the courts for persistent crime.

Never can the civil service have moved so quickly: on 6 May, the very day after the Daily Mail's exposé, Home Office inspectors had arrived at the school, Court Lees at South Godstone in Surrey. Just a few days later it was announced that the Home Secretary had set up an official inquiry under a leading lawyer (Home office probes approved school canings, Daily Mail, 10 May 1967). The chairman was to be Mr E.B. Gibbens QC, the Recorder of Oxford (Q.C. to probe approved school, Daily Mail, 16 May 1967).

The anonymous letter-writer turned out to be one Ivor Cook; it emerged that his relationships with colleagues were going from bad to worse, though he always claimed that Court Lees was no worse than many other approved schools, and that he had nothing personally against the staff there. In his opinion, it was the whole system that was rotten, a view which the Daily Mail's 8 May editorial largely echoed.

Cook was thus 'outed' as a radical dissident within the system, and it is hardly surprising that he was not getting on with other staff. As we shall see, he himself did not emerge unscathed from the inquiry, which found him to be a neurotic and obsessive personality, whose action sprang from bitterness that he had been passed over for the headmastership, and prone to great exaggeration (of which his letter which started the whole row, reproduced at the top of this page, seems an obvious example).

Despite Cook's and the Daily Mail's call for a wide-ranging inquiry into the entire approved school system, the official investigation's remit was much narrower: it was to report specifically on the allegations of excessive caning at Court Lees. It did so in August 1967 and it is from that report, Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School (Cmnd 3367, HMSO) - colloquially, "the Gibbens Report" - that all quotes in this article are taken unless otherwise stated.

Picture of Court Lees Approved School

Court Lees was opened in 1937 as the Boys Farm Home, Court Lees, in new purpose-built premises "remotely situated in pleasant rural surroundings". In 1967 it had 121 boys on roll, making it the largest approved school in the country. It was an intermediate school, meaning that it took boys aged between 13 and 15 on admission, who might be there until they were 17 or even 18.

The inquiry considered a long list of allegations of irregular and excessive punishments in the light of the Approved School Rules and also of the common law, since

"It will be appreciated ... that the Approved School Rules do not attempt to describe the amount of force which may be used when administering corporal punishment, but, of course, the Common Law governs this. The Common Law rule is that corporal punishment is lawful only if it is moderate in manner, quantity and severity, and I consider that a breach of that rule would be within the Terms of Reference [of the Inquiry]." (Para. 26)

The claims investigated were summarised as follows:

"(1) that corporal punishment was administered without first having resort to other punishments, contrary to Rule 34(iv);

(2) that the cane used was not of a type approved by th e Secretary of State, contrary to Rule 35(a);

(3) that boys were caned when they were not wearing their ordinary cloth trousers, contrary to Rule 35(c);

(4) that .... seven boys ... had been caned with excessive severity; [here follows a list of boys -- all referred to by number -- and dates, all between January and April 1967]

(5) that too many strokes of the cane had been inflicted on boys Nos. 3 and 13 on the dates above-mentioned, contrary to Rule 35(c);

(6) that boys suffering from a mental disability had been given corporal punishment (particularly boys Nos. 13 and 20), contrary to Rule 35(d);

(7) that boys had been caned in the presence of other boys, contrary to Rule 35(f);

(8) that corporal punishment had not been immediately recorded in the Punishment Book, contrary to Rule 37;

(9) that boys had been given corporal punishment without there being an adult witness present, or, in some instances, a master had signed as witness though he had not in truth been present when the punishment had been given;

(10) that in two instances masters had administered prohibited corporal punishment, contrary to Rule 38 .....;

(11) that in one instance, the deputy headmaster, Mr. R.W. Draycon, publicly humiliated one of the boys, boy No 11, after he had been caned and that the same boy as well as others had been given an additional punishment of down-grading as well as corporal punishment for the same offence." (Para. 27)

Gibbens heard evidence from 18 boys and all relevant staff. He states that "I thought most of the boys were trying to be truthful in the witness box. However, appearances are deceptive, not least the demeanour of children, and I consider that I ought not to accept the evidence of any boy, if contradicted by a member of the staff, unless it was particularly convincing or corroborated by other evidence" (Para. 28).

Equally, he was not going to allow any of the staff to walk over him either. But he reserves his strongest scepticism for Ivor Cook, the original whistle-blower, whom he found "very emotional and intense, apt to exaggerate greatly, sometimes irresponsible in his behaviour ...." (Para. 29).

Gibbens then sets out his findings on each of the allegations, noting that "where I speak of caning I refer to caning on the posterior, unless otherwise stated" (Para. 36). He began by finding several respects in which resort to corporal punishment appeared excessive:

"I have formed the impression that the regime of Court Lees School was robust and that the cane was used freely, sometimes as the first punishment .... It is the punishment not uncommonly meted out for absconding, even on the first occasion. I do not think, however, that it is any more freely administered than in many ordinary or public schools up to the end of the last war, though I understand that schools are resorting to corporal punishment less and less in these days ..... I can .... report that I do not find any departures from the provisions of Rule 34(iv) save in the following respects:-

"(a) In the case of the boys Nos. 2 and 23 I feel that other sanctions ought to have been tried before corporal punishment, particularly as they had been at the school only a very short time before being caned.

"(b) It is standard practice at this school to administer corporal punishment immediately after the offence has been committed, even in the night, e.g. for talking in the dormitory after 'lights out'. It is not for me to comment on this practice except to say that it may explain some of the omissions to record individual punishments in the Punishment Book and also that it tends to result in a breach of Rule 35(c) as the boys may be caned when not wearing their ordinary cloth trousers but only their pyjama trousers.

"It was disturbing to hear a housemaster, Mr Wright, testify that if a boy was taken from his dormitory at night to be caned in the office downstairs the normal course was to make him put on slippers and a jacket over his pyjamas, and that he did not know that it was contrary to the Rules for the lad to be caned wearing merely his pyjama trousers.

"(c) Further, in accordance with the practice I have mentioned in subparagraph (b) above, boys brought back to the school after absconding, if they are to be caned, are caned forthwith upon their return, whatever the hour. Thus it often happens that a boy who arrives at the school late at night disconsolate, tired after a long journey and probably emotionally upset, is immediately caned. Any preliminary enquiry by the headmaster as to the reason for the absconding is probably cursory.

"It was submitted that boys prefer immediate punishment to the alternative of having to wait until the following day, but I believe the practice is contrary to the spirit of the Rules for, in the circumstances described, it is not to be expected that the headmaster or his deputy will always have the patience carefully to enquire into the reason for absconding or to consider what punishment is the most appropriate, nor will the boy be in a proper state to explain himself clearly or to sustain the punishment as he should.

"(d) The number of strokes of the cane to be administered is necessarily left to the discretion of the headmaster giving the punishment, but I take the view that, to comply with the spirit of Rule 34(iv), that discretion must be deliberately and judiciously exercised. Mr Haydon has inflicted six strokes on almost every occasion, whatever the offence and whatever the boy's record. The punishment book shows that, whereas in the year 1964 there were recorded 31 punishments of six strokes and 33 of four or less, between 1st January and 8th May 1967 six strokes were inflicted on 36 occasions and four strokes on only ten occasions. Mr Fidoe's punishments varied between three strokes and six.

"Mr Haydon's explanation is that, being a newly appointed headmaster, he must impress on the boys that they cannot take advantage of him: I accept that it was essential for him to give that impression and to avoid any appearance of weakness, but I doubt whether such a consideration warrants a decision to make no discrimination in the quality of the punishment." (Para. 37)

Evidently the practices uncovered here were to be regarded more seriously -- for those inclined to view such things seriously at all -- than is at first suggested by the report's curiously negative wording ("do not find any departures from the provisions .... save in the following respects"). Note also that Gibbens takes an exactly opposite view, in the last paragraph quoted above, to that of the 1951 Franklin Committee on approved-school punishments. Franklin commended those approved schools whose canings were mostly of the maximum number of strokes, and criticised those meting out a large number of lesser punishments, implying that the greater deterrent effect of a 6- or 8- stroke caning would result in fewer offences being committed and hence less caning overall.

Gibbens seems to be on rather surer ground when he turns to the allegation that the canes used at Court Lees were not of the correct type:

"I am satisfied that at all times since the end of 1961 an unauthorised cane has been used at this school in breach of Rule 35(a). The cane approved by the Secretary of State is 36 inches long and between eight and ten millimetres in diameter. By an Approved Schools Bulletin (No. 38 of 1947, re-publicised in 1952) approved schools were reminded that only the authorised canes might be used and that such canes could be obtained free of charge from the Home Office. Until December 1961 supplies of canes were ordered on behalf of Mr Fidoe from the Home Office at the rate of about four per year.

"However, on several occasions in 1963 Mr Fidoe complained to his then deputy headmaster, Mr E.K. Garlick, that theses canes were unsatisfactory because they tended to break easily. .... Mr Garlick ... ordered a supply of six canes from the Eric A. Wildman tutelage supply company, of Chingford, London E4, on 2 October 1963. He admits he knew it was wrong to do so ....

"In July 1965 Mrs Violet Thompson, the headmaster's secretary, was told by Mr Fidoe to order some more canes. She found in a drawer where such things were kept a price list for canes issued by the Eric A. Wildman Tutelage Supply Company. ... in good faith she ... sent out an order ... for six canes. These canes were half an inch in diameter and were the same as had been used since Mr Garlick's order in October 1963, and have been used ever since. On making his preliminary investigations the Treasury Solicitor found in a recess of the headmaster's desk a supply of 16 unused half-inch diameter canes, and the cane obviously in current use was of similar dimensions." (Para. 38)

The name of Eric A. Wildman will ring bells with the better-read students of this subject. He it was whose national campaign for corporal punishment and his canes-by-mail-order operation, the "Corpun Educational Organisation", caused a minor scandal in 1953, culminating in his conviction for going rather over the top in describing, in leaflets publicising his wares, how they should best be put to use. What a triumph for him, all those years later, to find his canes once again enjoying a blaze of publicity, this time in an official government enquiry!

But back to the report, and to the allegation that boys were often caned in their pyjamas. Gibbens looks into several such cases and finds some of the alleged cases not proved, but in one case at least he is in no doubt:

"Boy No. 23 is now 15 years and ten months old, and came to the school on 7th March 1966. Shortly after his arrival, the housemaster of Hale House, Mr John Walter Wright, found him and another boy, boy No 9, talking in the dormitory after lights out. He gave them a warning, but they repeated the offence, so at about 10 p.m. he made them get out of their beds and took them down to his office. Mr Wright sent for the deputy headmaster, Mr Draycon, who caned each boy there and then. According to both Mr Wright and boy No. 23, when caned each boy was wearing no more than a jacket and his pyjama trousers." (Para. 41)

The report also discovers a different kind of breach of the same rule:

"It is clear that in the case of boy No. 23 (which I find is proved) there was a breach of Rule 35(c), which stipulates that if corporal punishment is applied on the posterior with a cane it shall be applied over the boy's ordinary cloth trousers. I take this to mean the boy's ordinary day trousers, and, in my opinion, the rule is clearly intended to lay down that the cane may be applied only over the boy's ordinary clothing (though it does not expressly say so).

Note that Gibbens is making his own interpretation of the rules here; he admits that they do not "expressly" convey the meaning he wishes to ascribe to them. Similarly, he "takes" the rule about 'ordinary cloth trousers' "to mean" the boy's day trousers. Pyjama trousers are trousers, they are ordinary, and they are made of cloth, so when he states that caning boys in their pyjama trousers is contrary to the spirit of the rules, he is only expressing an opinion. It was an opinion which others clearly did not share.

"Several boys, boys Nos. 3, 11, 13, 20 and 22, alleged that when they were caned by Mr Haydon, he had pulled their shirt tails out of their trousers before commencing the punishment. Mr Wright was present when boys Nos. 3, 11 and 20 were punished, and Mr Davey was present at the punishment of boy No. 22: they both said that the boy's shirts were not taken out of their trousers, that no more was done than to lift the bottom of the boys' jackets out of the way or to remove anything in the trousers which might cut the boy when the cane was applied.

"On the other hand, Mr Haydon himself candidly admitted that he pulled out the shirt of boy No. 22 before caning him and that from time to time he does pull a boy's shirt out of his trousers in order to make the caning more severe. He thinks that this act also lends a certain drama to the occasion which impresses the boy. I cannot accept the evidence of Mr Wright and Mr Davey in this respect and I have no doubt that all these allegations by the boys referred to above are true....." (Para. 44)

Britain's brief period of mildly liberal rule from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s was in some ways welcome and valuable, but here it seems to be going right off the graph. What could be more absurd than the spectacle of an eminent QC, in a report printed and published by central government at much expense to the taxpayer, solemnly and earnestly striving to determine whether particular boys on particular dates did, or did not, have their shirt tails pulled out of their trousers before being whacked?

It is when Gibbens turns to the question of excessive severity of punishment that we feel he is at last reaching the nub of his report -- the more serious allegations originally made in that rather intemperate Guardian letter by Ivor Cook. The following paragraphs give the flavour of the report's approach and, perhaps, of the regime at the school:

BOY No. 3

"This lad is now aged 15 years and four months .... He has been punished with the cane three times, though only one occasion is recorded in the Punishment Book. I accept his evidence that one of those unrecorded was in 1966 when he was caned by Mr Draycon. He says the caning hurt much more than when he was later caned by Mr Haydon, and that his buttocks were extensively bruised. There is no other evidence that this punishment was excessive in severity and I find it is not proved.

"On 2nd January 1967 this boy was caned by Mr Haydon ... the headmaster pulled the lad's shirt out of his trousers to make the caning more severe. After receiving five strokes of the cane, boy No. 3 says, he fell to the floor, probably trying to avoid more, and while on his hands and knees, attempting to crawl out of the way, he received two more strokes. By chance Mr Cook was at that moment outside the door of the headmaster's room and he estimates that about eight or nine strokes were administered. The boy says that, having fallen to the floor, Mr Wright (who was present as a witness) held his (the boy's) head between his (Wright's) legs while the punishment was completed .... There is no evidence that Mr Haydon used excessive force in punishing this boy and I am not satisfied that more than six strokes were inflicted.

"Mr Wright denied holding the boy's head as described between his knees, but I accept that this allegation is established and I think that it is an irregular method of controlling a boy during corporal punishment." (Paras. 46, 47, 48)

BOY No. 13

"Boy No. 13 is a small boy, now 14 years and nine months .... He was at Court Lees School from October 1966 to April 1977, and was there caned twice for absconding. On the first occasion, 19th January 1967, he was brought back from Bow Street police station and on his arrival at Court Lees School was caned forthwith by Mr Haydon, receiving six strokes. He says that after the first two strokes he had to be held down by a master, and Mr Haydon recalls that the lad was held down over a table by either Mr Wright or Mr Thompson because he would not keep still ....

"On 16th February 1967, boy No. 13, having absconded, was again caned by Mr Haydon promptly upon being brought back to the school. On this occasion, Mr Haydon pulled the boy's shirt out of his trousers and Mr Pope, who was present, held him down, one hand on his neck and one holding his hands. The boy alleges that having had six strokes, Mr Haydon said 'one didn't hit you' and he received two more, making a total of eight strokes, which (if true) would have been contrary to Rule 35(c) since the boy was not yet 15 years of age. The Punishment Book records only six strokes, and I accept Mr Haydon's evidence that he has never inflicted more.

"Mr Cook describes the injuries consequent on the punishment ... as 'far and away the worst I have ever seen in my life ....'. He says that there was one rectangular bruise extending from the small of the back down to the lower part of the buttocks, and extending the full width of the buttocks. I think this is to some extent an exaggeration but Mr David James Ellison, the housemaster of Gillum House, who impressed me as an excellent and entirely reliable witness, not given to exaggeration, described the bruising he saw on the buttocks of boy No. 13 as the worst he had ever seen, comparable to that shown in the colour photographs of the buttocks of boy No. 2 .....

"I find proved the allegation of excessive severity in the punishment of this boy on 16th February 1967." (Paras 49, 50, 51, 52)

BOYS Nos 2, 7, 8, and 20

"These four boys are aged 14.5, 14, 14, and 15 .... The evidence concerning them .... centres on colour photographs of their buttocks taken surreptitiously (with their consent) by Mr Cook on 6th April 1967 ...

"Boy No 2 had been given six strokes of the cane by Mr Haydon on 4th April for smoking in the dormitory. The boy describes the caning as a lot harder than he had previously experienced in a secondary modern school. After receiving two strokes he fell down but, he says, Mr Haydon then pulled him up and gave him four more strokes.

"The three other boys were caned on 5th April, for having absconded together. Boy No. 20 had his shirt pulled out of his trousers and Mr Wright held his head between his knees. Each received six strokes.

"On the following day, 6th April, Mr Cook took colour photographs of the buttocks of these four boys, and immediately sent the undeveloped spool of film to Mr Driver of The Guardian newspaper ... The colour transparencies were admitted by all concerned to be genuine photographs of the four named boys and an expert witness, Mr J Rytina, ... declared that they were untouched and that the colour was true to life. There was no suggestion that the marks on the boy's buttocks had in any way been artificially emphasised or altered.

"Medical witnesses of great eminence in their profession .... gave evidence before me. They were unanimous in saying that the photograph of boy No. 2 revealed injuries of quite unusual severity. Professor Simpson and Dr Teare declared that if such cases as boys Nos 2 and 8 had been brought to them in their hospitals they would have felt bound to call for an investigation by the police or other authority. Professor Simpson would add the case of boy No. 20. Dr Paul and Mr Rytina think that the injuries of boy No. 2 alone were outside the limits of normal caning by schoolmasters.

"One must be very careful in judging the severity of caning by the consequent weals and bruising, particularly because few people can say what marks are created on buttocks after a properly moderate caning. But after careful consideration of the evidence ... I have come to the conclusion that excessive force was used in the caning of boys Nos 2, 8 and 20. I would categorise the punishment of boy No. 2 as greatly excessive in severity, and of boy No. 8 as almost of the same degree." (Paras. 53 to 58)

The inquiry held that the allegation that caned boys were mentally unfit was "not well founded". On the question of canings in the presence of other boys, this turned out to refer to boys waiting their turn outside the headmaster's room, "where they could hear (and often see through the arctic glass panelling) the punishment being given" inside the room to those ahead of them in the queue. "It was easy to hear voices and even the swish of the cane. It seems to me that this cannot be said to be a breach of Rule 35(f) ...." (Para. 67).

As for failure to record punishments in the punishment book, Gibbens has "no doubt that there have been many instances" of such failure. (This will be no surprise to anybody familiar with the topic.)

In summary, then, the Gibbens report, although quite a few of its assertions seem to be rather arbitrary expressions of opinion, finds many of the allegations proven to some extent, and in particular that canings of excessive severity did take place on certain occasions. The ordinary reader-between-the-lines might conclude from the accounts of these proven occasions that in fact they took place on a great many other occasions besides -- may, indeed, have been the norm at that institution in those years.

Perhaps the Government thought so too, for the school was summarily closed down. Did they, one wonders, really imagine that Court Lees was just an exception that had somehow evaded what the Home Office no doubt liked to think was its rigorous inspection system, not realising that such things were going on in dozens of similar institutions?

At all events, many observers were not satisfied that justice had been done. The Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, moving with what his opponents felt was indecent haste (although The Guardian described it as "commendable speed"), announced the closure of Court Lees on the very day that the Gibbens report was published ('Caning' school is shut by Jenkins, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 1967). The school authorities reacted with shock and indignation, describing the decision as a "gross injustice" (Penalty on school 'too severe', Daily Telegraph, 8 August 1967). The 40 staff were described as "bewildered", one housemaster going so far as to say that "the beatings, if anything, were on the mild side."

The headmaster himself, Mr Denis Haydon, said he could not believe he had used excessive force in his canings. He was shocked by the pictures of bruised buttocks and half implied that they must be faked. He added that all the boys had given him their full support (Inspectors move in to wind up school, Daily Mail, 9 August 1967).

Some editorialists were equally unhappy. The Telegraph thought the regime described in the report was "old-fashioned rather than brutal" and took particular issue with the Home Secretary's "pious and complacent advice" about the need to phase out corporal punishment in all approved schools: "It is an offence to common sense to suggest that the same ban should extend to everything from a sadistic flogging to a good spanking" (Unspared Rods, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 1967).

Even the left-liberal Guardian, though it naturally welcomed the decision, was obliged to report that 32 boys had signed a letter to the Home Secretary, protesting about the closure, warmly supporting Mr Haydon, and stating that in their view it was Mr Cook who should be got rid of (Boys in tears as they leave approved school, The Guardian, 10 August 1967).

But if anything this just seems to have spurred the Home Office to act even more quickly, announcing that the school "is to be emptied of boys by the weekend if possible". Some were to be released, others moved to other establishments. Boys' parents had by this time got involved in the argument: one boy's mother said "I have never heard such rubbish as this talk of brutal treatment. My boy has told me when he has had a caning and he's admitted he's deserved it" (Cane school gets 'quick close' order, Daily Telegraph, 11 August 1967).

Letters to newspaper editors were, as always when the underlying topic is corporal punishment, deeply divided; one came from the gardener at Court Lees, applauding the school's friendly atmosphere and Mr Haydon's undoubted integrity and ability ("Court Lees School", Letters, The Times, 12 August 1967). Many others focused on the sudden closure's devastating effect on troubled boys finding themselves cast out so abruptly from the only stable home they had known.

Sir Thomas Moore wrote to say he was "sorely puzzled and disturbed" at the Home Secretary's action, and called for a public inquiry. And an approved school medical officer said he too had had "photogenic weals" on his bottom when he was a schoolboy, but some boys respect only physical punishment, and he was amazed that other doctors "took such a gloomy view of a coloured print" (Puzzle of Court Lees, Daily Telegraph, 24 August 1967).

Another letter was from a man claiming to have been himself an approved school inmate. Any beatings, he felt, were fully deserved, and if it had not been for the approved school teachers he would have grown up a criminal: "I haven't got an old school tie, but if I had I would be proud to wear it" (The pride of a boy who took to crime, News of the World, 20 August 1967).

The staff's campaign to save the school marshalled wide support, from the four main teachers' trade unions to the Bishop of Southwark, as well as, more predictably perhaps, various opposition Conservative politicians and a crisis meeting of 30 headmasters of other approved schools. It was also revealed that lawyers for Mr Haydon and his deputy had taken statements from three boys aimed at discrediting the photographic and other evidence put to the Gibbens inquiry. But perhaps the staff's most telling point was that the inquiry's terms of reference had been much too narrow to justify such a drastic and hasty measure (Court Lees boys seen by solicitors, The Guardian, 19 August 1967).

In one of the long, magisterial editorials for which it used to be famous when, pre-Murdoch, it was still a respectable newspaper whose opinions were worthy of consideration, The Times strongly supported this view (The Court Lees Affair, The Times, 19 August 1967).

Thus the campaign rumbled on, with a determined effort to show either that the colour transparencies of bruised buttocks were not genuine (Court Lees pictures disputed, The Guardian, 22 August 1967) or that the 'expert' comments on them had been misguided: a doctor from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary urged that, in any further inquiry, the forensic pathologist witnesses should be asked "when previously they had studied coloured transparencies of boys beaten by a cane", and that the transparencies should be compared with others showing the results of normal caning (Court Lees questions by doctor, Daily Telegraph, 31 August 1967).

That would have made a fascinating task for someone -- were these normal canings, I wonder, to be inflicted especially for the purpose of the control photographs, and if so on what boys? -- but sadly it all came to naught. The Home Office got its way: there was no new inquiry and the school remained shut.

Later there was a debate in the House of Lords, during which the Bishop of Southwark used his parliamentary privilege to criticise Mr Cook as a hypocrite and cast further doubt on the authenticity of the photographs (Bishop hits at teacher who told of Court Lees beatings, Daily Mirror, 26 October 1967).

And on 17 October, in a speech entitled Injustice at Court Lees, the Hon. Secretary of the South East Branch of the Association of Headmasters, Headmistresses and Matrons of Approved Schools, Mr Frank Ebert, set out a considered yet forceful overview of the whole saga which I have reproduced in full on another page since it includes a fairly persuasive rebuttal of most of Gibbens's key findings. Mr Ebert goes into some detail about the specific canings that were investigated in the report. I believe his remarks deserve to be read carefully, though they seem to have gone unreported at the time except in the Approved Schools Gazette.

The mystery of the photographs appears never to have been solved to general satisfaction. Mr Ebert says they were never positively identified; he also quotes a member of staff who claimed to have seen Boy No 2's bare bottom (the alleged subject of the worst picture, which we may suppose is probably the one belatedly published in the Sunday Times Magazine on 31 December 1967) a few days after the caning and who stated that the markings were normal and not like the photograph. Yet the Sunday Times Magazine reported in its caption to the photo: "The Sunday Times has had the pictures examined by the manufacturers and processors of the film and independent photographic and make-up experts. All affirmed in writing that the pictures were genuine."

The one that has been published certainly looks genuine to me, and cannot be anything except the backside of a recently caned boy. Where could Mr Cook conceivably have got it from, if he did not in fact photograph a Court Lees inmate? Mr Ebert says it is nonsense to suggest, as Gibbens does, that staff might not know what a caned bottom looks like; yet Mr Haydon himself was shocked by the picture and could not believe it was the result of a caning he administered. Perhaps a headmaster would be less likely to see the results of his own handiwork than more junior members of staff, who have to do things like supervising showers and bedtime.

I think we have to conclude that the photos are what they purported to be but that since, as Mr Ebert points out, some boys bruise very easily, and since a close-up in a colour transparency can look more lurid than real life, the caning in question may not have been nearly as exceptional, and arguably not as worryingly brutal, as it might appear to the uninitiated outside observer of the photograph.

Ivor Cook, meanwhile, after expressing amazement that his action had led to the school being closed down, thus throwing 40 people out of work including himself, was already back on the attack, with new allegations about canings about a different institution altogether, Harrietsham remand home in Kent (Teacher in cane row tells of 'more beatings', The People, 20 August 1967).

I have heard differing opinions from former approved-school staff as to how much effect the Court Lees affair had on other establishments in the system; according to some, most were inclined to carry on whacking away just the same as ever. On this view, the undoubted later decline in corporal punishment was due to other factors, not least the fact that by 1970 the whole system was being shaken up in readiness for the 1972 decentralisation to local authority control, when approved schools were reborn as "Community Homes".

But Ivor Cook, still getting his name into the papers years later, produced evidence which, from his own anti-caning point of view, must have seemed to vindicate his 1967 behaviour:

"Statistics of caning incidents are misleading, for while they record the frequency of caning, they can say nothing about severity .... However, I do possess approved school statistics which have never been published, and these do reveal a decided trend. The following figures are of recorded canings in all approved schools from January 1966 until December 1971:

1966 ... 3,006

1967 ... 2,199

1968 ... 1,189

1969 ..... 809

1970 ..... 739

1971 ..... 779."

('Counting up the canings', Letter from Ivor R.W. Cook, Times Educational Supplement, London, 10 May 1974).

blob Related: 1971 statistical study of the caning of Approved School absconders  Main menu page

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