Ex-head charged with child cruelty

Stephen Player, former head teacher at Spratton Hall School
Stephen Player, former head teacher at Spratton Hall School

A former headteacher from Spratton has appeared in court charged with six historic allegations of child cruelty.

Stephen Player, aged 59, of Spratton, appeared before Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday where he was formally charged with the allegations, which date back to between 1977 and 1988. The allegations relate to when he was a teacher at the former Oakwood School in Stowmarket.

Player was headteacher at the £12,000-a-year Spratton Hall Primary School until he retired last month. None of the allegations relate to his time at the independent Northamptonshire school.

Player was a PE teacher at the former boarding school in Suffolk for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties, which was closed in 1999.

He appeared before magistrates today alongside four fellow defendants, who were all ex-teachers at the school. They included the school’s former headteacher.

The charges come following a two-year police investigation and a £1.5 million civil claim against Suffolk County Council.

Player is accused of six charges of having “wilfully assaulted, ill treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed” boys under the age of 16 causing them “unnecessary suffering or injury”.

The charges were described in court as relating to “child cruelty”.

Player spoke to confirm his name and address and to query one of the charges. Asked if he wanted to indicate how he would be pleading, he said: “Not guilty”.

He appeared alongside Eric De Smith, aged 74, of Stowmarket, who is charged with six counts of gross indecency and 10 counts of indecent assault.

Graham Hallett, aged 65, of Lancaster, faces one child cruelty charge, while Gerald West, aged 69, from Gislingham, Eye, in Suffolk, faces 10 charges of child cruelty.

Michael Watts, aged 57, of Southampton, faces six charges of child cruelty. All the allegations date back to the 1970s and 1980s.

No formal pleas were taken, although the other four men also indicated they would be entering not guilty pleas.

The case will be heard at Ipswich Crown Court later this month.