Teacher from Northamptonshire denies charges of cruelty against pupils as eight-week trial starts

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A Northamptonshire man accused of child cruelty when he worked as a teacher at a boarding school for boys has today gone on trial.

Stephen Player, 61, of Spratton, has pleaded not guilty to six alleged offences of cruelty to a child aged under 16.

The trial at Ipswich Crown Court is expected to last for eight weeks and involves allegations made by former pupils at the Oakwood School in Stowmarket, Suffolk, which is now closed.

Jacqueline Carey, prosecuting, told the jury that 20 former pupils who were at the school between 1974 and 1997 had made allegations that they were punched, kicked, repeatedly slapped and restrained in head-locks by staff.

The school had catered for boys aged between eight and 16 with educational and behavioural difficulties.

Miss Carey said: “They were naughty young boys. Because of their problems they were also vulnerable.”

Addressing the jury, Miss Carey said: “The violence meted out to them was all an too prevalent part of life at Oakwood. You may consider that there was an abusive regime that existed.”

The jury is due to hear evidence from the 20 alleged victims of abuse at the hands of the four men on trial. Parents, friends and other teaching staff will also be giving evidence.

The four former teachers were arrested following a lengthy investigation by Suffolk Police and when interviewed denied any wrongdoing, said Miss Carey.

Player denied having physically assaulted any pupil during his time at Oakwood but said it was, on occasions, necessary to restrain pupils for the safety of others.

Also on trial are Gerald West, 70, of Gislingham, Suffolk; Michael Watts, 59, of Netley Abbey, Southampton and Graham Hallett, 65, Lancaster.

Between them the four face a total of 24 charges of cruelty to a person aged under 16 to which all have pleaded not guilty.

The trial continues.