A former Loretto pupil today tells of a ‘Lord Of The Flies’ environment at the boarding school, claiming he and others suffered long-lasting mental health issues due to a sickening litany of violence, abuse, humiliation and degradation carried out by fellow pupils

ALEC says his time at Loretto was “like living in the Lord Of The Flies”. Eight years of endless, violent, humiliating abuse and bullying drove him to three breakdowns while still a pupil at Scotland’s oldest boarding school, he says. After Alec left Loretto he moved to the other side of the world to escape the memories of what happened to him. He still wakes up every night tortured by bad dreams.

He is at the forefront of a groundswell of former pupils now speaking out for the first time with allegations about their experiences of physical, mental and sexual abuse at boarding schools across Britain. Scotland is now the epicentre of the scandal, following The Herald on Sunday’s investigation last weekend about the extent of violent bullying and sexual assault by older pupils on younger pupils at Loretto.

The boarding school abuse scandal bears all the hallmarks of a MeToo-style event. Like MeToo – which began with revelations about sexual offences suffered by women in Hollywood – the abuse of boarding school pupils has been an open secret but never subjected to scrutiny: victims weren’t listened to; offenders weren’t punished. However, a tipping point has come and survivors are now demanding justice.

More than a dozen survivors, from boarding schools across the UK, came forward to speak to The Herald on Sunday after our report last week recounting how former Loretto teacher David Stock uncovered evidence of violent and sexual abuse at the school in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr Stock said school authorities were informed, but claims the offences were “covered up”. Loretto issued an “unreserved apology” in the wake of his claims.

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Alec is one of the survivors who chose to speak to The Herald. He has already given evidence to the ongoing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry – as has former teacher Mr Stock. Alec was 10 when he arrived at Loretto. He claims he was subjected to appalling and sadistic abuse throughout his time at the school in the 1990s. In response to Alec’s allegations, Loretto issued an “unreserved apology”.

The years of violence

Most of the violence at Loretto was meted out by older pupils. Many were prefects aged 17-18 tasked by teachers to maintain discipline. “They put adolescents in charge of other kids. It was a recipe for disaster … Prefects were pretty much left to do what they wanted. A culture of violence was completely normalised,” Alec claimed. He says school authorities were aware of what was going on. “Staff couldn’t miss bullying. It was everywhere. They looked but they didn’t see.”

Alec says he feared for his life throughout his time at Loretto where fees run up to £11,900 a term. During his first months, he says: “I was thrown down the stairs … and landed on my ribs.” He struggled to breathe, coughed up blood, and was admitted to hospital.

Older pupils entered the dorms of young pupils “on an almost nightly basis for sadistic entertainment”. Alec described the culture as “Victorian”. He told of a gang of prefects holding him down, pulling his clothing up and taking turns to beat his body. A teacher walked in during the assault but allegedly did nothing.

Alec says he endured “an orchestrated campaign of bullying [which] infiltrated every aspect of my life”. He was hounded and humiliated constantly; his property was stolen and destroyed; his books were defaced with degrading and abusive insults; he was constantly mocked and isolated.

“There would be something each day,” he said. He says he was pushed to the ground, punched, kicked, spat on, hit with hockey sticks and cricket balls, strangled, forced into lockers, and his bed urinated on.

“When I was 12, I was beaten and bullied in my dorm every night for six months by an older boy while everyone laughed,” he said. “He was egged on by prefects. He beat me repeatedly with a belt – jumped on me and choked me. I cried myself to sleep every night. One night he threw me head first into the corner of my bed, causing a large black eye.”

Alec also told of being subjected to “ritual beatings” which he described as “like a war zone with kids in their final two years smashing [younger pupils] to the ground”. Younger pupils would be forced into lockers and deodorant sprayed through air holes “gassing us”, Alec said. “Some coughed up blood.”

Sixth-years “would kick us in the stomach or throw us face first into bed frames. We could be thrown against the wall, or choked”. Some nights, he claimed, older pupils “would get the younger boys to sneak up to my bed in the night and start punching me or hitting me with shoes”. He says it was “a scene copied from Full Metal Jacket”.

Sixth-formers also subjected younger pupils to “a game called ‘Head-B******s-Toes’”, Alec says. Boys were made to lie on the ground and then either hit in the face, genitals or feet with hockey sticks. “This would happen for about 10 minutes on almost a daily basis”.

“Often the fifth and sixth-years would beat us at random moments. They would kick us in the groin or the stomach as we walked past … or give us punishments [like] taking our trousers off … [or] do something humiliating.”

He went on: “Boys would urinate on your bed … that happened to me at least once a term.” Alec says he was forced into a chest and rolled to the top of a spiral staircase. When he was let out, another boy was forced in and pushed down the stairs. “I was also put inside a duvet cover and kicked and beaten with hockey sticks.”

On one birthday, six pupils broke into Alec’s bedroom and “beat me … in silence”. On other birthdays “about 15 people would grab me in the bed at night, punch me and then carry me through the building. They would throw me in a bath of cold water”. This was called “cold-tubbing”.

The violence was so intense that Alec compared it to movies like The Purge and Mad Max. Every night beds were upended while children lay in them. Alec says he was once crushed under an upended bed and his finger “almost severed”.

In his fourth year, a pupil strangled Alec with a sock until he fainted, he claims. Stones were thrown at him. He was thrown into puddles, dunked in a burn, pushed off eight-feet-high sand dunes, and subjected to death threats.“Every day was like living in the Lord Of The Flies,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of incidents over more than 1,000 days.”

Some incidents were sexual. A prefect tried to make Alec touch his genitals. Sixth-years regularly exposed themselves, or ordered boys to look at them naked in the bath. Older boys put their genitals in food. Alec says he knew of a boy who was held down by older pupils and sexually assaulted in front of his dorm. Fifth-years also ordered younger pupils to take part in group masturbation. “It was animalistic, like a pack of dogs,” he said.

Alec claims one of his closest friends was the victim of an appalling assault. Three older boys “threw him onto the floor. One kicked him as hard as he could between the legs five times”.Bloodied and in agony, the boy underwent an operation. “The school investigated,” says Alec, “but there was no expulsion for the perpetrator. He was free to carry on his attacks.”

Alec claims the same victim was attacked by a fourth-year who “punched out two of his front teeth”. The victim “pushed them back in but they went black the next day”. Alec says there was no suspension. The same boy allegedly had a dressing gown cord tied around him and was forced out of a third-floor window. A sixth-former “took one end of the dressing gown and trapped it in the window and closed it”. The perpetrator in this case went on to have a public profile.

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One boy who bullied Alec wrote an essay about it and read it out in front of the class “with the sole aim of causing me maximum humiliation, ridicule and distress”. The boy was given “full marks”. Alec said everyone “was laughing. The teacher found it hilarious”.

Alec claims a friend made an “innocent remark to a prefect” who then “smashed” the boy’s head “four times off the tile floor”. Alec added: “There was no punishment. The victim was told not to tell the prefect what to do.”

Alec was also subjected to the system known as ‘fagging’ in private schools – where older pupils use young pupils as servants. “It was sanctioned by the authorities and self-governed by the pupils.” If a pupil refused, they’d “be beaten up”.

“Fagging” often involved running errands at mealtimes. When he came back from errands, food would be gone, or his meal tampered with. That meant he and other boys went without. “It was The Hunger Games on every level,” he said. Younger pupils were sent on early-morning errands like getting papers from local shops at dawn. There were also dawn punishment exercises.

“You could be in the middle of the sports field, but if a sixth-year told you to get his watch from the other side of the campus, or eat 20 bananas in front of the dining room and then vomit it up, or hand over a personal possession, or money, for them to keep you had to do it. It was a form of slavery.”

This “rule by older pupils” meant “boys were ritualistically beaten and tortured … there was a huge list of very strange and sadistic rituals”, Alec said.

Alec told of a sixth-year terrorising younger pupils with a BB gun. “We sat in absolute terror with this gun pointed at us for two hours. Somebody was shot in the face. It missed his eye by about a centimetre.” Being punched or beaten over the head with a heavy book was common, as was being “fly-kicked” in the stomach.

A sixth-former made younger boys “lie on the floor … He spent an hour just walking all over our bodies – head, fingers”. Alec called his tormentors “sadists and psychopaths”.

Alec also said fifth-year boys used a lighter and deodorant as a flamethrower and set light to a young boy’s dressing gown.

When Alec was in third year, a sixth-year pupil allegedly made younger pupils stand in front of him, and used a hockey stick and ball to take shots at them. He would sometimes do the same with a cricket bat.

Alec claimed school authorities mostly dismissed what was happening as “boys being boys” – though some teachers did help. On other occasions, when staff stopped bullying, they would punish both attacker and victim. “You could get kicked between the legs then made to run a mile with your abuser while everyone sleeps at six in the morning.”

“The abuse was all-enveloping,” he says. “Seven days out of seven, 17 hours a day.” The children were “bound by a strange omerta”, he said – a code of silence preventing them fully reporting what was going on, although the abuse was clear to all. Without their parents, children were scared to speak up with nobody to turn to. “You’re there all night, every night. The older boys held this power over you because they were physically much stronger.”

Alec never told his parents what was happening.

The terrible aftermath

“I HAD breakdowns in fourth year, lower sixth and upper sixth,” he said. “I just couldn’t handle what was going on … When I studied psychology at university, we learned that if a guinea pig is repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, eventually it just sits still and takes it. I was very much like that at Loretto.”

Alec noted that religion played a big part in school life. “We were very much indoctrinated … In eight years, no amount of prayer ever stopped abuse.”

He suffered more nervous breakdowns after leaving Loretto and eventually moved overseas to get away from memories of his schooldays. He currently receives counselling. “I get panic attacks every day. I have nightmares every single night,” he said. “As a child, our lives were in danger every day.”

He drew comparisons to the infamous Stanford prison experiment – where psychologists set up a fake prison, making some volunteers prisoners and others guards. It descended rapidly into abuse. “The Stanford prison experiment lasted six days before it was shut down,” said Alec. “Loretto has been going for 193 years.”

Violence was handed down from generation to generation of pupils, Alec claims. It was institutionalised. “There was no chance of escape and nobody cared. You were in a dorm with sadists all night, every night.” He says the arrival of girls in the school began to improve the culture, together with better child welfare legislation.

Alec says he has chosen to speak out so that the truth about what happened in Scottish boarding schools can be told. “There needs to be a big awakening,” he said. He praised the Child Abuse Inquiry for helping victims tell their stories.

To older pupils, Alec says, victims were “disposable. We could be insulted, humiliated, used, beaten, then tossed aside. It could be done for many reasons – boredom, a thirst for violence, spectacle, laziness, humour, or to exercise hierarchy”. Alex said: “The ultimate aim was to have complete control over you.”

Alec, now a father and in a loving relationship, says he would never send his children to boarding school. “Children need to be with their families,” he said.

He worries that boys who abused him went on to have powerful, influential careers. “The legacy of this abuse must have a profound effect on British society,” he said. Alec believes those who assaulted him also need therapy.

“When I think of the underlying message throughout all these beatings and verbal assaults, what the abusers were saying – and it was a reflection of their own lives – was ‘you’ll never be loved’.

“The damage from boarding school is like asbestosis. There’s initial hurt, but you don’t really see the effects until much later.” Alec worries that wider society turned a blind eye to abuse because it happened in fee-paying schools.

The Herald on Sunday spoke to another man who was a pupil at the time Alec attended Loretto. He described a “savage” culture of bullying -– although he said he wasn’t a victim and enjoyed his own time at Loretto.

“The bullying was similar to what you’d get at a Young Offenders’ Institution,” he said. “The school prided itself on outsourcing discipline to prefects.”

He added: “Culpability has got to lie with the school as there’s a limited degree to which 16 to 18-year-olds are culpable for their behaviour in a culture which they were exposed to themselves a few years earlier.

“We need to remember that we were sent there by parents, who themselves were at the school, and for whom the appeal of Loretto was that it wasn’t a soft place.”

He described Loretto’s traditions in the 1980 and 1990s as “malign”. “I look back and think, ‘that was insane’. There was a real Lord Of The Flies sense to the place.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry said: “The inquiry’s investigations into the abuse of children in care in Scotland are ongoing. We encourage anyone with information relevant to the inquiry’s terms of reference to contact the Inquiry.”

Loretto’s response

“LORETTO School has made a full, open and active contribution to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to enable the inquiry to achieve its aims. We will continue to do so. We share the inquiry’s vision to ensure that all survivors of abuse have the right to be heard, so that boarding schools in Scotland can learn lessons from the past. To anyone who suffered abuse while attending Loretto, we deeply regret the distress caused and offer an unreserved apology.

“Out of respect to those who have stepped forward we would not discuss individual cases or specific testimony. Right from the very beginning of the inquiry we pledged our full support for the inquiry and will adhere to and follow any recommendations that Lady Smith [inquiry chair] makes.

“At Loretto School the care and wellbeing of our children and young people is of paramount importance. Loretto has a zero-tolerance approach towards anyone who fails to live up to these values and we have strict child protection policies and procedures with diligent and regular oversight by dedicated staff and the board of governors.”

Are you a survivor of abuse at boarding school? Contact Neil Mackay at neil.mackay@heraldandtimes.co.uk

The Inquiry can be contacted via the methods below:

By telephone at: Freephone 0800 0929 300

By email to: talktous@childabuseinquiry.scot

By post to:  PO BOX 24085, Edinburgh, EH7 9EA