[T]HE former owner of a South Cumbria private school who physically abused two boys during his time in charge has been jailed for 20 months.
Derrick Cooper, 77, was sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court today (THURS) for two crimes against youngsters at Underley Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale.
Cooper went on trial earlier this year having denied six actual bodily harm assault charges and two additional allegations of cruelty towards separate pupils at the school he opened for boys with troubled backgrounds. All charges dated back to the 1970s and 1980s.
A jury convicted Cooper of assaulting one boy, Henry Gow, from Scunthorpe; and cruelty to another, Sean Hann, from Heysham. Cooper was acquitted of six other charges.
Mr Gow had told jurors how the six foot-plus owner – a former England volleyball player – head-butted him and “gave me a few kicks”. Cooper, he said, also tried to gouge him, saying: “I’ll take your eyes out.”
Mr Hann told the jury how Cooper turned violent in a dining hall, “slamming” his head against a table and “smashing” it with a dinner tray. Mr Hann said his blood “got into the meal and all over my face”; and told how on other occasions he was forced to wear only a towel to sleep in sub-zero temperatures.
In a victim impact statement read to today’s hearing, Mr Hann described Underley Hall as an “evil, twisted place”.
Cooper, a man of previous good character of Hillberry Green, Douglas, Isle of Man, spoke of being “devastated” by the jury’s guilty verdicts. His barrister, Peter Wright QC, asked for Cooper, a man in “poor health”, to be sentenced “on the basis of isolated falls from grace”.
Sentence was passed by Judge James Adkin, who told Cooper: “Using violence towards these children was a “huge breach of trust”.
Jurors were unable to reach verdicts in respect of two other assault allegations faced by Cooper. As a result, they were discharged by Judge Adkin, who recorded two not guilty verdicts.
The sentence forms part of Operation Tweed, which launched in July 2014 when Cumbria Constabulary became aware of a number of people engaging in internet discussions, reporting that they had suffered abuse in residential children’s homes in south Cumbria.
Since the operation began, a dedicated team of up to 20 full-time officers have worked hard to investigate complaints made against a number of people – almost 100 of which reports were made about Underley Hall School.
Superintendent Doug Marshall, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Tweed, said: “I am pleased that Cooper has today answered for what he did to the very people who he was entrusted with.
“Child abuse is an appalling crime and its effects can stay with victims throughout their life. I hope that the conclusion of this case today will be the beginning of some form of closure for those who suffered – many who have suffered years of difficulties as a result of the offending.
“Every survivor of child abuse, no matter how long ago it was committed, deserves to have their case investigated, and the police will continue to take all such reports seriously.”
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “The two victims in this case have shown great courage in coming forward and giving evidence so that justice can finally be served on Cooper. At the time of the offences they were vulnerable children who were appallingly treated by the very person who had been entrusted to care for them.
“This school was home for these children and should have been a place where they felt safe and nurtured. Instead they were subjected to cruelty and assault. Such abuse can have a long-lasting emotional impact which lasts into adulthood and blights victims’ lives.
“Adults with any issues or concerns can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000. Children and young people can call Childline on 0800 1111, or get help online at www.childline.org.uk.”