Former pupils at elite private schools are stepping forward in what they describe as their ‘MeToo’ moment and revealing the brutality they suffered as child boarders. They want a complete overhaul of the boarding school system so what happened to them never happens again. Neil Mackay and Kathinka Mumme report

EARLIER this year, The Herald on Sunday began investigating horrific cases of “pupil-on-pupil” physical and sexual abuse in Scottish boarding schools.

Our initial investigations focused on Loretto, Scotland’s oldest boarding school. However, in the wake of our report, dozens of former pupils from boarding schools in Scotland and England contacted us telling how they were the victims of similar offences. Today, we tell just some of their stories.

The abuse involved older pupils, often tasked with maintaining discipline by teachers, abusing younger pupils.

Victims believe they’re beginning a “MeToo-style” movement. They hope their testimony today is a watershed moment, which shows the extent of abuse across the boarding school system.

Survivors hope that by speaking out they’ll start a national debate and begin a process of reform within boarding schools. Many are calling for an end, at the very least, to early-years boarding.


Alan attended Loretto in the 1990s. The abuse “started on the first night ... that set the tone for my entire life at Loretto. It was an absolute living hell”.

He recounts one 17-year-old telling him that a hockey stick was “black and blue because that’s the colour you’re going to be when I’m finished with you”. He forced Alan to play a “game” called “Head, Bollocks, Toes” in which boys were beaten with hockey sticks.

Alan said older boys were “complete nutcases, psychopaths who thrived on making our lives miserable. It was like the older boys were in the army and we were their prisoners of war”.

Beatings were brutal and regular. Seniors played a “game” called “Space Invaders” where boys had boots thrown at them and weren’t allowed to protect their bodies. Another game called “Run the Gauntlet” involved boys forced to sprint down a hallway while being hit.

Alan’s head was flushed down dirty toilets. The abuse was as regular as “brushing your teeth”. He told his parents but nothing was done. Staff “turned a blind eye – you’d actually be in more trouble for speaking up”.

If older pupils found anyone “grassing”, “that would have horrific consequences”.

Alan is in a WhatsApp group with other survivors. Boarding school abuse happened “nationwide”, he says. He believes everyone who went to boarding school when abuse was rife is “damaged goods” and came out “totally f****d up. They’re not normal people in society, they don’t come out of there well-rounded, mentally healthy individuals. I just can’t believe the people who come out of boarding schools are the ones we want in charge of the country”.


RONALD was 12 when he went to Keil in Dumbarton, which is now shut. Today, he’s a prominent figure in Scottish public life and has given testimony to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Ronald says there’s a real sense of a “MeToo” movement growing. He thinks society is approaching a “watershed moment”.

In his professional life, he’s encountered people who have been through the care system. “It shook me,” he says, how closely those experiences mirrored his time in boarding school. “The older boys ruled the school,” Ronald says. “The senior pupils, we called them the ‘chiefs’, they were prefects. Outwith class, you’d hardly have any contact with teachers, all the discipline was by the older boys. If a senior took a dislike to you they took a carpet slipper to you or a ruler.

“Lord Of The Flies was nothing compared to that place.”

During study, younger pupils were monitored by older pupils who would abuse them for entertainment. “They’d hit you with a duster or take a compass and run it through your fingers, you were literally tortured at school legally – and our parents were paying for it.”

Alongside physical abuse, life was grim – there was no heating, mattresses were made of horsehair and there was one bath weekly. “I can’t imagine sending my children to anything like that, it was a prison. At half-seven we were up cleaning the toilets aged 12.”

Ronald doesn’t want to see people jailed, but he believes a total overhaul of the boarding school system is necessary. He also says restorative justice should be established where abusers apologise to victims.

Tristan Aitchison

UNLIKE many survivors, Tristan, a filmmaker, wants to be named. He was 13 when he attended Loretto in the 1990s. He says reading The Herald’s previous investigations “struck home”. He hadn’t told friends or family what happened.

The “abuse and bullying” was “institutional”. He was subjected to the system known as “fagging” where younger boys act as servants for seniors. “If you didn’t do it there’d be physical abuse as a punishment. I remember cleaning rooms, making beds, having to clean up tissues other guys used to masturbate.”

He says: “Everything was sexualised.” He was so scared of showering his hair became filthy. “Senior boys would come into the dorms at night and see which boys had erections. They’d parade them around and humiliate them. It was a horrific place. Teachers knew what was going on and just allowed it.”

Tristan says he became “the first boy to successfully run away from Loretto”. One morning, when he was ordered to get up before everyone else and fetch newspapers from Musselburgh, he jumped on a bus and went home to Inverness. He told his parents he’d been bullied – though not in “detail” – and never went back.

Tristan has distanced himself from anyone who went to boarding school throughout his life. “I don’t want to be associated with people who did these things to others,” he says.

“Even 30 years later, the way [former boarders] speak to each other disgusts me. Maybe people just accept their privilege and look down on other people from other walks of life?”

He worries that although survivors are now pushing for their own “MeToo moment”, there’s not enough public understanding. “People are less sympathetic to ‘privileged kids’. There’s always been jokes about what’s gone on in the showers of boarding schools.

“Whole generations went through it with the mentality that ‘it made a man out of you’. I’d undoubtedly like to see this gain more momentum, and apologies should take place – not from the people who are headmasters and mistresses now but from those who were at the top of the school back then. They could have done such a better job at being caregivers.”


ALISON went to Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight (now closed) in the 1980s aged 11. The bullying started “soon after arriving”. Her brother was also a pupil and also bullied. She was constantly shamed and shunned and “ended up skipping meals because I’d no seat at the table”.

“There was no escape … The abuse continued until I decided to run away when I was 14.” She says “the final straw” came when she was in the shower and an older girl opened the door with two older boys. She was told “we’re coming to get you”.

Alison says in that moment she contemplated suicide. “I felt a failure, I couldn’t even do that. I just collapsed to the floor.”

Nobody offered her protection, she says. “Everyone was just trying to survive.”

She did tell teachers “that horrendous bullying was going on” but nothing was done. After Alison ran away, she told a staff member what was happening. “She basically said how dare I accuse them of not doing anything”. She also told her parents, but they said Alison “was upsetting them by saying these things”.

Alison recently suffered a breakdown due to the past. She says boarding for primary-aged children should stop and all boarders should be at least 13, though she would prefer 16. She’s in a support group with over 1,000 members. “People are joining daily,” she says.

Alison wants the outpouring of testimony from survivors to be seen as a “MeToo” moment.


Hamish is the son of a Scottish politician. He went to Ardvreck in Crieff and Strathallan in Perth. He says “abuse is built into the system … you’re essentially brought up by other boys who are equally traumatised”. He was once punched in the face simply for looking into the sixth form common room. “These things were completely standard.”

He was also shot in the cheek by a BB gun. “Anything we did that was considered disrespectful would result in physical punishment.” One friend was beaten by a gang of older pupils with soap and cricket balls inside socks for “talking back”.

Hamish says he became a teacher as “I felt voiceless as a child. I always wanted a teacher that listened”. He was also “conditioned” not to report what was happening as it “made you a target for bullies”. The bullying was “thought of as character building”. He says the teachers “failed in their duty of care … it was wilfully negligent”.

“Early boarding,” he says, “is really damaging and shouldn’t exist. If it was working-class people doing this to their kids it would be shut down … taking away children from their parents at this young age isn’t good … We’ll one day look back and just not believe what we did.”

He says boarding school leaves many men with a “very warped attitude towards women, attraction, sex and sexuality”, adding: “I was a mess when I left.” He underwent therapy for “a couple of years”.

Hamish looks at political leaders who went to boarding school and sees “messed-up grown-ups. My dad was a politician, so I’ve always been interested in politics. I feel people like Boris Johnson are such familiar characters to the sort of people I went to school with. I see the bluster and lack of empathy”.

He looks on the Catholic Church as a “good analogy because it’s similar in how the institutions really protected the abusers”. Hamish believes that with victims now stepping forward, society “can create a kind of reckoning, or at least some sort of reflection that this wasn’t the best system in terms of educating kids”.


SAM went to Cheltenham Junior School and College throughout the 1990s. There was some bullying in junior school, although there he suffered the pain of parental abandonment more. However, he adds: “Physical abuse definitely came in the senior school.” He recounted being hit with a cricket bat by seniors aged 17 or 18, and other regular assaults, like seniors putting a “juice carton on your head and throwing tennis balls as hard as they could to knock it off”.

He added: “Every Wednesday, a senior pupil would come in and throw punches until he got tired. Some people would be selected for that at random.”

There was no “support system”, he said. “You basically had to be a semi-adult at a very young age.” He does recall, however, when the system of using seniors to discipline young pupils stopped. “That was a watershed.”

Sam wants to see boarding for under-16s ended. The issue of abuse across UK boarding schools was “very prevalent”, he adds.

He wonders if the experience of boarding school “cut off empathy” for political leaders like Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Tony Blair. Britain, he says, has “developed this leader class that’s kind of cut off from their emotions and developed a sort of ruthlessness”. He says he can see boarding school traits in politicians, particularly when they “belittle” others.

Co-ordinated legal action is starting to be prepared in the UK, he says.


Anthony went to an English prep school and Mayfield College in Sussex (now closed) from the age of seven. “I was physically and psychologically abused by other boys and neglected by staff,” he says. “It started as soon as I arrived and continued until I left when I was 16 years old. I was horrendously bullied.”

“The violence,” he adds, “felt normal.” He rarely washed as he was afraid of the showers. “I’d even avoid going to the toilet and would have ‘accidents’ … I was a toy for some of the other boys, they’d do anything to make me cry … I couldn’t understand why it was so much fun to humiliate me.”

He now thinks his abusers were “really damaged too” – some were the children of diplomats, and so very isolated from their families. Most abuse centred around teachers outsourcing discipline to older pupils.

By the age of 10, Anthony was considering “killing myself”. He didn’t report abuse as the culture was “you didn’t sneak on other boys. The staff were absent or didn’t care or didn’t want to notice … ‘boys will be boys’ was the attitude”.

Anthony says that when he looks at many politicians: “I know exactly who they are because it was a facsimile of them that did this to me at school … They’re still doing a version of it as adults. These horrible people rise to the top and there’s something very British about looking up to them and them looking down on us.”

He says his parents offered “no affection”, and adds: “I’d like boarding schools, and all private schools, to be a thing of history and something we’re ashamed of.”

Phil Hunt

PHIL, who went to Loretto in the 1980s, wants to be named. He says bullying was “part of the culture”.

“By the end of my term there, I’d been shaped into an aggressor. I came in as a 13-year-old normal boy who was brought up with love … Everyone was picked on.” The psychological bullying was also intense. He was called “c*** all the time” and “stumpy” and “mutation” as he was small. “I remember being beaten up for no reason.”

He recalls seniors urinating into a bottle and forcing pupils to drink it. When he had bruises on his faces teachers didn’t ask him why. Teachers also “brushed off” violent bullying. His parents complained but nothing was done.

He remembers being made to do press-ups and kicked in the stomach by a senior. He was also slashed in the back by a senior with a knife, and subjected to a “brutal” beating by a senior for talking.

Younger pupils had their food taken at mealtimes and Phil says he often went “hungry”. He was a vegetarian but had to eat meat or starve.

“Loretto,” he says, “made me into a thug … a bit of a nutter … a really angry youth. It made me understand the brutalities of life and that I had to fend for myself and not rely on anyone.”

He believes the chances of anyone who went to boarding school from the 1950s through to the 1990s “not being abused is zero”.

Phil said that with boarding school survivors speaking out and making the issue a “MeToo-style” movement “we’re making sure this will never happen again”.


ADAM went to Lucton school in Herefordshire in the 1970s. “The prefects were allowed to beat us,” he says. Teachers turned a “blind eye”. He says: “We were beaten with shoes, boots, whatever.”

He recalls prefects making him stand at a dartboard while they threw darts. Boys were also made to play a “game” where they had to slam their hand down on a piece of paper with a tack underneath it.

As an adult, Adam once saw a member of staff crossing the road while he was driving. “I nearly put my foot on the accelerator. It really shocked me.”

Primary boarding should be abolished, he believes. “Boarding schools were designed,” he says, to make men who “could be sent off to the colonies … I look at my 21-year-old son and think ‘thank God I never sent you to boarding school”.


CATHERINE attended Loretto until 2002. “As soon as you were seen as weak you were attacked,” she says. “It was a cultural thing, everyone did it.”

For girls, she says, “people assumed we were treated better but that wasn’t the case.” Catherine feels “internal trauma gets passed down from parents who already experienced similar things” when they were boarders.

She adds that “some of the kids from more established families had more leverage in terms of bullying”.

Catherine’s victimisation started from “day one”. Prefects would unleash “bullying and terrorising”, making pupils sit on thumbtacks placed on chairs. “That was just banter to them.” Girls were rated by “how ugly they were”.

Bullying resulted in her having “issues around eating”. Senior boys would also bully girls and “ask aggressively sexual questions”.

The school, she says, “didn’t have a hold on what was going on, the kids ran the school”. Some teachers had gone through the same system of “bullying and fagging”.

She adds: “To say that only a few people were bullied is a lie, everyone was bullied, even the bullies.” Parents also knew what was going on. “Even if we reported it, nobody was taken seriously.”

Catherine is uncomfortable about blaming adults for offences committed as children. “How can we judge someone on their behaviour at 13? That person was a child and their behaviour had been taught by adults.”


CAMILLA went to Monkton Combe near Bath in the late 1990s. Bullying “started from the day I arrived”, she said. Other students wouldn’t talk to her unless she spoke in a Bath accent. They locked her in a shower for hours on end “most times a week. They stole my stuff and dumped it in puddles, while laughing”. In the dorm, she was made to sleep on “a mattress in a cupboard”.

When she reported what was happening, teachers said “I should have never told them. I just kept being told to shut up, ignore it, draw a line under it … I kept crying”. Teachers even said she was “imagining things”.

“When you’re trapped in that environment 24/7 for 18 weeks a term, it just gets horrific,” she said.


SOME survivors of boarding school abuse have given evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Here are some of their stories.

Witness one

HE attended Morrison’s Academy in Crieff from 1963. He studied Lord Of The Flies and recognised some of the behaviours he experienced at school. “Physical thuggery” was institutionalised. “I lived in a constant state of fear,” he said. Teenagers would “ambush” young boys and beat them, or drop a pencil, order a young pupil to pick it up and then kick them.

“There was no respite – the adult staff were remote,” he said. Teachers outsourced discipline to prefects. He says “fags” – juniors made to work for seniors – were treated like “slaves”.

Witness two

HE attended Morrison’s in the 1970s. His first memory of school is pupils being dunked in a bath of cold water. He recalled one teacher as a “enthusiastic psychopath” who enabled prefects to inflict punishments on younger pupils.

The witness was injured by a prefect hitting him in the chest with a long, heavy wooden T-square. Two bones still protrude from his chest.

Witness three

HE attended Morrison’s in the 1960s. Prefects made the lives of young pupils a misery, he says. When he arrived, a prefect forced him into a laundry basket, tied it shut and left him. He screamed for an hour before being freed. “I couldn’t move inside it and I just remember panicking.”

Prefects would also stand on either side of young pupils and punch them. At 14, an older pupil attempted to sexually assault him but he managed to escape. He recalls a member of staff – who would administer medical treatment to boys who had been badly beaten – “nodding off” when he recounted abuse.

Witness four

HE came from India to Morrison’s. “My horrific memory of my childhood has taken me from an innocent child to having a hatred towards white men and women. From that early age, I have many blanks, and knowing the way this country treated me, I do not wish to remember.”

He would flinch and stutter as a child because of constant beatings and bullying. He saw “hundreds” of assaults by prefects, and even wet himself sometimes in fear of one particular older pupil. The same older pupil would put his hands under the boy’s shorts and then beat him for wetting himself. There was “no clyping”, he says. When he did report bullying, “all the boys in the house lined up, smallest to tallest – and I had to walk up the line being hit by all the boys who had pillow cases filled with books. I never clyped on anyone after experiencing that.”


The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) praised victims’ bravery for speaking out and condemned what’s gone on in boarding schools.


Joanne Smith, NSPCC Scotland policy and public affairs manager, said: “The cruelty experienced by children in boarding schools, while away from their families and dependent on the institution for protection and care, is completely unacceptable.


“The courage and dignity shown by those who have come forward and spoken of the abuse they endured is immense. We must pay close attention to their experiences so that these systemic failings cannot happen again. They deserve to see a radical transformation in our institutional response to protecting children.”


Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a leading Scottish developmental psychologist, asked why “given what we know about the importance of attachment we’d want to continue with the practice of early boarding”.


Zeedyk said: “If a large proportion of our political leaders experienced early boarding - which creates emotional fragility - then does that mean we’re being led by emotionally damaged people and as a result our wider society ends up suffering? … The consequences of that are that we’re governed by people who don’t have the capacity to feel empathy for the lives of the people they govern. Their limited emotional capacities ripple out more trauma across society. Cruel outcomes result.”


Zeedyk says society needs to see boarding school “within the frame of Adverse Childhood Experiences” - or ACEs. “In terms of ACEs, we tend to think about people living in socially deprived communities, of drugs and poverty. But if the people who are going through the early boarding school system are experiencing relationships where they have to endure feelings of abandonment, fear, confusion - which is exactly what boarding school survivors are describing - then many powerful people in our society are experiencing the same.”


She added: “You could see British society itself is a victim of the ‘school bully’ … Boarding school is a medieval system - it’s based on ‘sending away’, its planned rejection by parents. The damage is done generationally. It’s been described as ‘privileged abandonment’ … Similarities have been pointed out to children who are removed by the care system … Boarding school survivors point out the terrible emotional conflict that comes from knowing your parents chose to ‘remove’ you from their care, and that you’re supposed to be grateful.”

Simon Partridge, a leading campaigner against boarding schools, described the system as “a form of neglect”. Partridge, who suffered abuse while a boarder himself, said “early boarding created attachment problems, could lead to PTSD in adulthood and was detrimental to “healthy child development”.

Partridge added that boarding schools “may have been timely in the age of the Victorian empire but they aren’t now … Boarding schools should be phased out as soon as possible on the grounds of infringing children’s right to family life. What we really need now is a well-informed national debate.”



TO anyone who suffered abuse while attending Loretto, we deeply regret the distress caused and offer an unreserved apology. Loretto School has made a full, open and active contribution to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. 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.


THESE allegations … took place a very long time ago and it is regrettable that these issues were not raised both at the time and directly with the school. Education practices have been transformed since the 1980s … and the school has a robust anti-bullying policy and any such behaviour is not tolerated.


THE safety and wellbeing of our pupils is our utmost priority… While we have to date received no allegations in relation to the historic incidents described in the article, we would not hesitate to investigate any such reports and take appropriate action.

Monkton Combe

We take all matters relating to the safeguarding of our pupils extremely seriously and upon receipt of any information from pupils, past or present, we will investigate the matter and consider any appropriate actions we need to take… Today, Monkton is known for its strong pastoral care and we take great care to provide an environment where our pupils feel safe and supported.

Lucton School

WE sympathise deeply with anyone who has suffered abuse, particularly if it has taken place here in the past. Unfortunately, we no longer have access to the previous school’s records to help with any further investigations from that period. The school in question closed in 1985 and a new school then reopened. Pupil wellbeing is central to the ethos of our new management team.


Whether historic or contemporary, schools have a moral obligation to take allegations of abuse, violence or exploitative culture seriously.

Strathallan School does not accept any form of harassment or bullying, and we condemn any incidents of bullying in the strongest possible terms. We expect school to be a safe space for students and have a zero-tolerance approach to abuse.


MORRISON’S was very grateful to the former pupils who gave evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and recognises the strength and courage that was required to talk about their experiences. Morrison’s Academy was saddened by these accounts of historical abuse and sincerely apologises to all of those affected for the historic failings during its time as a boarding school. Morrison’s Academy ceased to be a boarding school in 2007.

Morrison’s Academy is committed to learning from the past and ensuring the continued welfare and safeguarding of pupils.