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Probe into school’s ‘anti-gay’ policy

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  • Apologetic headteacher blames ‘old policy’ on school website
  • Scandal follows PM’s 2009 “We got it wrong” apology

 

A HAVERFORDWEST school is being investigated by the Welsh Government after its website was found to carry an unlawful policy on teaching pupils about homosexuality.

Tasker Milward school in Haverfordwest, which has over 1000 students, was one of a number of schools in the UK identified as having a published policy which breached the 2010 Equality Act.

The policy statement echoed the notorious Section 28 brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988, which outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. In 2003, Section 28 was repealed and the 2010 Equality Act made discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation an offence.

Tasker Milward’s policy stated it: “[did] not prevent teachers from addressing issues of homosexuality in the classroom in a neutral and unbiased manner; however, the local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material which actively promotes homosexuality.”

The policy’s presence on the school’s website was described by campaigners as “simply unacceptable” and the Welsh Government confirmed it was “concerned” and investigating as “a matter of urgency”.

Stonewall advertising boardThe school has stated that the policy dated from 2008, was an old one that had not been in operation and that an oversight led to the policy not being deleted from the school’s website.

The school has not explained how a policy directly referring to legislation repealed in 2003 was placed on its website five years later. All bar one other policy accessible on the school website carry a date of 16 January 2013.

The school has apologised for any offence caused.

An investigation by the British Humanist Association led to the revelation that 45 schools either published policies that replicated Section 28 or had policy documents that were “overly vague” on the issue. The British Humanist Association (BHA), campaigns against faith education.

BHA spokeswoman Pavan Dhaliwal said schools in question must urgently review their policies to ensure all pupils were treated with equal respect and understanding.

She said: “It is simply unacceptable that over a decade after the repeal of the pernicious Section 28 that these schools continue to enforce similar policies, while others have statements which are overly vague on this matter.”

The BHA first started investigating after a policy at Colston Girls’ School in Bristol was brought to their attention.

In total, the BHA found 20 policies where it believes there is something clearly offensive, a further 22 that still seem to imply that Section 28 might some way be in force and three that are otherwise vague.

There are no national curriculum guidelines on sex education and details of lessons are left to individual schools to draw up. However schools are required to comply with the Equality Act, forbidding any discrimination.  There are fears that faith schools launched under the Coalition Government’s controversial ‘Academy’ system are seeking to circumvent the law and breach the Act.

After Tasker Milward School’s policy was made public, the Welsh Government said on Twitter: “We are investigating this as a matter of urgency.”

Introduced in 1988, Section 28 of the Local Government Act banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and said that schools “could not promote of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Section 28 was repealed in England and Wales in 2003 and in Scotland in 2000.

Officials at the UK Department for Education (DfE) launched a separate investigation from the Welsh Government yesterday.

On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Commons Education Committee urged for ministers to update SRE guidelines. Conservative MP Graham Stuart said: “It looks like an echo from the past. It looks as if schools have just copied that wording from years ago, before Section 28 was revoked, rather than with any deliberate intent.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “All children and young people in Wales should receive inclusive Sex and Relationships Education.

“It is extremely important that young people are taught in a way that does not subject them to discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 is very clear on this.

“Our guidance to schools provides definitive advice about the teaching of all aspects of relationships and specific sexual health and well-being issues such as sexual orientation.

“Teachers should deal with sexual orientation honestly, sensitively and in a non-judgemental way. The needs of every learner must be met and schools should encourage open discussion, promote inclusion and challenge inequalities.

“We will be reminding all schools of our guidance and their responsibilities.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesman said: “The Sex Education policy on the Tasker Milward school website was an old policy not in operation and which had not been deleted.

“The school does have a current Strategic Equality Plan, further details of which can be obtained directly from the school.

“The headteacher, Maggie Haynes, apologises for any distress that the failure to remove the old policy from the website may have caused.”

Tasker Milward is the same school where WikiLeaks whistle blower Bradley Manning attended while living in Wales with his mother. As a 13-year-old pupil at the school, he is said to have questioned his sexuality before later coming out as openly gay.

Wes Steeting, head of education at Stonewall, said: “We need to see very clear guidance about the importance of tackling homophobic bullying and the promotion of a curriculum that is inclusive.”

Former pupil Hywel ap Dafydd, 34, said: “It’s thoroughly disheartening that some two decades after I first came out my old secondary school still advertises Section 28 on its website almost a decade after it was repealed.

“In the 7 years I attended Tasker Milward I was constantly victimised about my sexuality, often in front of teachers who ignored it, receiving little support with the exception of my friends and a few notable teachers. My distress was clearly visible and even though I was once discovered crying with a knife at my wrist, no real effort was made to address my problems.

“I would like to believe that in the 20 years since,, the school might have understood the concept of Pastoral Care but in light of this latest oversight I wonder just how much has changed and how many other pupils have suffered the same neglect that I did?”

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Alcohol sale restrictions come into force

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ALL LICENSED premises in Pembrokeshire must now stop selling alcohol at 10pm.

The move is part of further Welsh Government restrictions introduced yesterday (Thursday) to prevent the spread of coronavirus across Wales.

The main points of the legislation are:
• All licensed premises must stop serving alcohol at 10pm.
• Pubs, bars and restaurants must close to the public at 10.20pm and not re-open until 6am.
• All businesses with a licence to serve alcohol must now serve customers sitting at a table. Customers must order, consume and pay for food and drink at that table.
• Supermarkets, off-licences and convenience stores must stop selling alcohol in-store from 10pm but can remain open beyond 10.20pm.

Further information relating to the new restrictions and hospitality and retail businesses is available at: https://gov.wales/hospitality-and-retail-businesses-frequently-asked-questions

The rules on the wearing of face coverings in hospitality premises has also changed.

Customers entering and leaving restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes and walking around the premises are now required to wear a face covering.

Customers are permitted to remove face coverings when seated at a table to eat and drink.

Staff working at restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes must now wear a face covering.

Face coverings are mandatory for everyone aged 11 and over in all indoor public spaces, unless you have a reasonable excuse not to wear one.

Members of the public are also encouraged to download and use the NHS Covid-19 app.

The app was launched yesterday and is available for both Android and Apple IOS operating systems.

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Former RAF sergeant jailed for historical sexual offences against junior officer

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A FORMER RAF sergeant has been jailed for sexual offences more than 40 years after abusing a junior officer.

Kenneth John Preston, formerly of Crundale in Haverfordwest, was found guilty of indecently assaulting a young recruit at a former RAF base in Pembrokeshire, following a three year investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

Despite more than 40 years having passed since the offences took place, detectives successfully overcame challenges in the investigation to secure charges against the now 77-year-old.

He was found guilty of five charges following a trial at Swansea Crown Court.

Officer in case Detective Constable Ben Staniforth said: “This case was brought to our attention by another police force after the victim reported non-recent sexual offences which took place in Pembrokeshire.

“He had reported being assaulted on numerous occasions while stationed at an RAF base in the 1970s by Kenneth Preston, who was an officer senior to him.

“He had carried the weight of these incidents for 40 years, and had found the strength and confidence to come forward and report what had happened to him.”

Officers learned that Preston had targeted the victim while he was a teenager, taking him to secluded areas to sexually abuse him, and threatening to ‘make his life hell’ if he reported the assaults.

Both the suspect and the victim were discharged from the military, but no allegations were made to police until 2017.

CID officers immediately commenced enquiries, but with no CCTV, no forensic opportunities, and military documents no longer available, the scope for investigation was narrow.

DC Staniforth explained: “There are many reasons victims do not come forward until many years have passed. In this case, going against the military rank system and accusing a senior officer.

“Allegations of non-recent offences require a different approach to recent incidents as the passing of time means many routes of enquiry are unavailable.

“Before our investigation could fully get underway, we had to establish if the suspect was alive, as we were aware he would be in his late 70s. While we can investigate complaints against people who are deceased, no charges can be made against them.

“We discovered that Preston was indeed alive and living in the Cornwall area, and arrangements were made to interview him.”

He provided a prepared statement admitting to sexual activity with the victim, but stating it was with consent. This prepared statement – along with consistent disclosures made by the victim to family, friends and a GP in the years before reporting to police – was a key factor in the defendant being charged.

Preston was summonsed to appear at court charged with five counts of indecent assault in May 2019, however delays meant the trial did not take place until September 2020, when he was found guilty of all charges.

He was sentenced on September 18 at Swansea Crown Court, where he was handed an 18-month prison sentence, must continue to register as a sex offender – he is registered after admitting to offences in a separate case – and will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order.

DC Staniforth said: “I hope this conviction gives confidence to other victims of sexual abuse that they can still come forward and report offences many years after they have taken place, and encourages them to take the first step.

“There are people who have struggled to cope with this kind of abuse for many years, but times have changed and there are a number of support networks out there for people who feel it is time to speak – whether they report the matter to police or not.

“I would like to commend the victim for his bravery in speaking out against a senior who abused his position and caused him to lose his military career, and for his patience and cooperation during the investigation.”

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‘Predatory paedophile’ sentenced to life imprisonment

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A 58-YEAR-OLD man described as a “predatory paedophile” who abused children over a period of three decades has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Anthony Lewis appeared at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday (Sept 24) where he pleaded guilty to non-recent offences of rape, sexual assault and indecent assaults.

Lewis admitted nine counts of rape, 10 indecent assaults and one count of sexual assault committed against girls aged from four and 17 between 1987 and 2007. The charges involve multiple offences against each victim and were committed in Norfolk, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and London.

However the police force dealing with the case have asked local newspapers to publicise the case in every area, in case there are other victims which need to come forward.

Lewis, who also goes by the names Chaz, Chas, Charlie and Tony, worked as an entertainer and would target his victims by setting up talent show companies, preying on young children under the guise of getting them gigs and making them famous. The court heard he would befriend the parents of vulnerable children and make links with the likes of church and charity groups, where he knew children would be present.

The investigation began in September 2017 when one of his victims went to the police to report the historic abuse and Lewis was arrested in connection with the allegations the following month. Devices seized at his home address, following his arrest, were found to contain indecent images of children and he was further arrested for these offences. Lewis was later charged with four offences of making/possessing of indecent images which he pleaded guilty to and was convicted of in May 2018. In October that year, he was given a 17-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, a five-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order and placed on the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely.

The historic allegations continued to be investigated and Lewis was later charged with multiple offences in May this year.

Lewis, of Yeomans Court, Meeting Lane, Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire, was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve a minimum of 11 years before being considered for release.

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Verity Holmes, from the Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, said: “I welcome the significant sentence passed at court today but it’s important not to lose sight that even though Lewis will now spend a considerable time in prison, his victims will have to live with the impact of his abuse for the rest of their lives.

“Lewis was a predatory paedophile who would target children’s talent shows, music festivals, church and charity groups, where he knew children would be present and have opportunity to abuse them.

“Lewis’ offending spanned over three decades and we know his work in entertainment took him across the country.

“Every allegation of child abuse is fully investigated by Norfolk Police, with specialist officers guiding victims through the process. Support and advice is available from a range of agencies we work closely with towards the successful prosecution of offenders.”

Statements from all of Lewis’ victims were read out to the court, with each describing how the abuse has affected their lives and relationships. Many of them revealed their struggles in later life with alcohol and drug abuse as well as mental health issues.

After being abused, one victim described how her relationships with boys and men have never been the same since. She said: “I felt I couldn’t be around boys or men at all, including my own brother. I couldn’t trust him. The relationship with my brother has never been the same since.”

She also described the relief of finding out Lewis was being brought to justice. “I felt I could breathe again, I didn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder anymore…. he’ll go away for a long time and can’t hurt anyone else.”

Another victim said: “He took away my innocence, my childhood and my ability to form relationships with others.”

Describing the impact of his offending, another victim said: “The long-term impact on me has been horrendous… I struggle to be able to trust anybody. Life experiences I have should have enjoyed were all tainted by what Lewis did to me.”

In another statement read out to court, his victim said: “I don’t trust anybody, not even my own family. I’ve had nightmares for as long as I can remember. I would be chased by a shadowy figure. I would be running, screaming, but no one could hear. That room – it’s always in that room but now as an adult I feel stuck in there and can’t get out. I don’t know how to feel about him being convicted. I do know I want him to feel fear about going to prison, even for a second, so he feels the fear that I felt.”

Sentencing Lewis, His Honour Judge Andrew Shaw said: “You have admitted the most egregious and appalling campaign of sexual abuse over 20 years. Each one of your five victims was a child you owed a duty of care to…you abused your position of trust.

“The five victim personal statements were among the saddest and most upsetting I’ve ever heard. No underestimation you have ruined their lives. They have suffered the most severe psychological harm at your hands.”

Hendrika Tatam, a specialist RASSO prosecutor, said: “This case demonstrates that where there is sufficient evidence we will not shy away from prosecuting perpetrators of sexual abuse no matter how long ago the offences were committed and we worked closely with the police to ensure that he was brought to justice for his despicable conduct.

“We want every victim to have the confidence to report what happens to them to the police. The police will investigate and gather evidence, and where there is sufficient evidence, the CPS will proceed to prosecution.”

Anyone who may have been affected by anything raised in this case can contact police in their local area on 101.

The freephone NSPCC helpline 0808 800 5000 is available for anyone to report or seek advice about non-recent abuse. Calls can be made anonymously.

Norfolk Sexual Assault Referral Centre, The Harbour Centre, operates a 24-hour service for victims of sexual abuse and can be contacted on 0845 456 4810.

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is the UK’s only children’s charity dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and runs a Freephone confidential helpline 0808 1000 900.

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