Police used Friends Reunited to help jail teacher for child abuse

Colin Blackstock
Wednesday June 18, 2003
The Guardian

A former teacher who sexually abused schoolboys was jailed for eight years yesterday after he was caught by police using the Friends Reunited website.
Peter Hamilton-Leggett, 58, of Yelverton, Devon, admitted 54 sex offences against boys as young as eight at Swindon crown court.

The court heard that Hamilton-Leggett had twice before been the focus of police investigations into alleged sex abuse but it was not until one man came forward last year that the catalogue of offences carried out at two public schools in Wiltshire and Berkshire in the 1970s and 80s was uncovered.

Detectives investigating the case used the website - where past pupils of schools can leave information about themselves and contact old friends - to track down abused former pupils from the Old Ride preparatory school in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, which had closed, and Lambrook School in Bracknell, Berkshire.

Officers posted a message saying "do you have anything you want to tell the police?". They were contacted by a number of ex-pupils, 19 of whom pressed charges against their old science master.

Detective Sergeant David Martin of Wiltshire police was commended by Judge Thomas Longbotham for his "professional and persistent" work in the case, during which he contacted some 200 former pupils - many via the internet and email.

Hamilton-Leggett was accused of offences that had been carried out in rooms, corridors, dormitories and even when one teacher was banging on his door demanding to know what was going on.

He said he realised such abuse was wrong only when he saw the programmes made by Esther Rantzen about the effects of child abuse, and promptly stopped.

He moved in 1985 to a new school in Tavistock, Devon, where he taught without incident until retiring aged 57 in 2001. He married his wife Pauline that same year.

The court heard how he would entice the boys into his room with promises of sweets and letting them play on his computer. Once alone with them he would ask them to take a "bravery test" where he would touch them on their shoulders and move his hands down their bodies until they told him to stop.

Many of his victims have been left with a legacy of problems including failed relationships, sexual hang-ups, drinking problems and attempted suicide, the court was told.

Sentencing Hamilton-Leggett to eight years for buggery offences, four years for serious sexual assault and gross indecency and two years for indecent assault offences, to run concurrently, Judge Longbotham said he had shown "a complete abuse of trust".

He also ordered that he be put on the sex offenders register indefinitely and that he be banned from working with children.

He condemned Hamilton-Leggett's manipulation and grooming of the children as favourites saying: "It is not an attractive form of behaviour and is an aggravating feature, particularly when you picked on vulnerable pupils who were being bullied, or who were unhappy in their surroundings away from home, for whatever reason."

Although the defence said Hamilton-Leggett had shown real remorse and had produced some 31 testimonial letters, including the evidence of a part-time rector at Dartmoor prison, the Rev John Weir, the judge said the teacher had not admitted the most serious allegations until the last minute and had lied to a psychologist assessing him.

As he was led down to start his sentence, Hamilton-Leggett turned to his wife in court and said: "Bye, I love you, darling."

After the hearing, Det Sgt Martin said: "I think it is a heavy sentence with a satisfactory element of punishment and, hopefully, the victims will feel some justice has been served here today."

He said it was nice for police work to be recognised and said of his use of the website: "It is a vital tool that we used, without which we would not have been able to reach as many of the victims as we did, although I'm not sure we reached all of them."

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Thank heavens for that. Someone using there loaf at long last. :p

For our American cousins who do not understand Cockney rhyming slang: loaf of bread = head \:\)

And all that was left was hope \:\)

Kirk