Sex abuse teacher case: Pupils ‘drank washing up liquid’ to avoid being assaulted in lessons

Ronald Wotton is brought into Teesside Magistrates' Court. Picture by Tom Wilkinson/PA Wire.
Ronald Wotton is brought into Teesside Magistrates' Court. Picture by Tom Wilkinson/PA Wire.
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PRIMARY school pupils made themselves sick with washing up liquid to try to avoid lessons with a teacher who sexually abused them in front of the whole class, a court has heard.

Primary school pupils made themselves sick with washing up liquid to try to avoid lessons with a teacher who sexually abused them in front of the class, a court has heard.

When one child complained about Ronald Wotton, the headteacher at the Roman Catholic school did not believe the allegation and made the pupil apologise to the abuser.

Judge Howard Crowson, sitting at Teesside Crown Court, jailed the terminally-ill 73-year-old, from Murton, for five years.

Wotton, who uses a wheelchair, admitted 17 counts of indecent assault, three counts of indecency with a male and one of indecency with a child over a 12-year period from the late 1960s.

He was allowed to retire in 1980 when a new head, who could not ignore the mounting allegations against the teacher, took over.

Judge Crowson told Wotton, of Park Lane: “You were sadly operating at a time when, to most of the adult public, it was inconceivable for this type of offending to be committed by a teacher.”

Wotton’s wife left him when he was forced to retire and he has lived in miserable isolation for 30 years, fearful that one day he would be prosecuted, the court heard.

Wotton – who targeted both boys and girls – would rub his groin as he did so. Some complainants recalled almost daily abuse. He would make children bend over in PE classes and stare at them and watch them get changed for swimming.

It made for an “extremely abnormal” atmosphere in lessons, as children would keep their heads down to avoid making eye contact with him.

When one pupil “took the brave step” of informing the headteacher what was happening to her, the adult called her a “bold girl” and remonstrated with her, saying: “Mr Wotton would not do such things.”

Miss Kidd said: “She forced her to go back to the classroom and apologise to Mr Wotton in front of the whole class.”

Children would rarely tell their parents, but on occasions furious adults would go in to school and confront Wotton. But nothing was done and he carried on.

Miss Kidd said: “Many of the complainants began to feign illnesses and, in some cases, swallow washing up liquid in order to vomit and avoid having to go to school.”

The head told one parent who had complained that the behaviour was “just Mr Wotton’s way of being friendly”.

The judge said: “No doubt she believed it, unfortunately.”

The court heard the washing up liquid tip was passed down by older siblings to younger pupils who were warned about Wotton.

One pupil said his way of avoiding the abuse was truancy, and as a result he missed out on “a significant amount of basic education” which he never caught up, the prosecution said.

When he was arrested, Wotton said the abuse had not happened and he retired due to his deafness.

Tony Hawks, defending, said Wotton had been a pariah since he retired at a young age and had not worked again. He lived miserably and alone, the barrister said.

“The defendant is thoroughly ashamed and disgusted by his behaviour,” he said.

Wotton has cancer of the colon and groin which are inoperable and earlier this year, he had been expected to die.

He also has heart and digestive conditions and is profoundly deaf.

The judge said children had not been believed and that allowed Wotton’s offending to continue.

“That you felt able to operate in this manner in front of a classroom of children is reprehensible,” he said.

The abuse was aggravated by him continuing in the face of “direct challenge”, the judge said.

Wotton was jailed for five years and handed an indefinite Sexual Offences Prevention Order and a ban on him having contact with children without social services authority.

Jimmy Savile scandal saw case come to light

POLICE began investigating last year when one of his victims was inspired to speak out amid the publicity surrounding the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Detectives went to the school, which is not being identified to protect the anonymity of complainants, and traced Wotton’s pupils, kicking off an extensive investigation.

Joanne Kidd, prosecuting, said 27 made formal statements and 20 of them were represented on the indictment.

One victim, now middle-aged, said Wotton was an authoritarian, strict and a bully who set his classroom out so he was behind a “huge desk” in front of the children.

He would catch a child’s eye, ask them to come forward and while hidden behind the desk, he would sexually abuse them over their clothes while he asked in a low and sinister voice if their parents spanked them.

The judge was also handed statements from victims, two of which were read out in court.

One expressed bitterness towards the Catholic church, saying: “They should have been there for us and should have listened.”

She never told her staunchly Catholic parents as to have done so would have felt like betrayal.

Another said: “It was a Catholic school and the culture was teachers were right and you did what you were told.”