Nicky Campbell: Abuse would have crushed my parents

By James Gregory
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

For the first time Nicky Campbell discusses the abuse he received at school

Broadcaster Nicky Campbell has said he could not have revealed the scale of abuse at his private school while his parents were still alive.

Hundreds have contacted the BBC with messages of support and their own tales of abuse after Campbell, 61, revealed he witnessed and experienced sexual and physical abuse as a child in the 1970s.

He spoke about the abuse at his school on his BBC podcast Different this week.

More allegations have been made against a former teacher since the broadcast.

Campbell told BBC Radio 5 Live he was "badly beaten up" by a teacher at his school, Edinburgh Academy. He told his mother at the time, who got a "grovelling apology" before it was "hushed up".

But further incidents of abuse he and others experienced, including extreme cases of sexual abuse, were kept secret from his parents, he said.

"I couldn't have done this while mum and dad were still alive because they did everything to give me that education," Campbell told the BBC Radio 4's Today Programme earlier.

"We didn't have any money, they sacrificed everything for this education."

He told BBC Breakfast he would not have wanted to upset his "amazing" parents, adding schools like his festered a "culture of secrecy".

Edinburgh Academy said it "wholeheartedly" apologised and had helped police.

Image source, Nicky Campbell
Image caption,
Nicky Campbell has spoken for the first time about his experience of abuse at school in the 1970s

Campbell said he could never forget, when he was 10, seeing a teacher abuse his friend in the changing rooms after rugby.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live listeners: "This man was known to us all as a predator and a sadist but we never told anyone.

"My school friends and I talk about it now with each other with... contempt, disbelief and incomprehension that sort of thing happened in plain sight and nothing was done."

Campbell said he was never abused himself by this man but estimates he could have targeted "hundreds of boys" over the course of his career and be one of the most "prolific paedophiles in British history".

About 10 new criminal allegations have been made against the individual - referred to as "Edgar" on the podcast and in subsequent interviews - since the first programme, Campbell said.

'I thought I was special'

Clare (not her real name), from Surrey, said she was abused by her primary school PE teacher for two years. She then went on to become a teacher, and later a headteacher, motivated to be a better role model to future generations.

Her abuse ended when she was 11, she told Nicky Campbell. "I thought that I was special because he chose me to be a prefect," she said.

After two years of abuse, Clare decided to tell her sister, who told their mother. Her mother went to the school and told Clare "he won't be there tomorrow".

"That was the end of it," Clare said. But she added she got "no support and no help, and never have, and I've never really spoken about it again".

Four years later, Clare said, her abuser drove past her and offered her a lift. She said he was grinning as if to imply "I got away with it".

She was frightened and still has nightmares about that encounter. "I never talked about it," she said.

Campbell learned Edgar was still alive and living in South Africa after a conversation with journalist Alex Renton, whose own BBC podcast In Dark Corners prompted Campbell to reveal his own experience at the Edinburgh Academy.

The man cannot be charged until on British soil, said Campbell, who called it his "mission" to fight for Edgar's extradition.

'I just couldn't continue with my life anymore'

Haileigh Lamont, from Belfast, was abused by her stepfather during her childhood. Her abuser Tommy Harris was jailed last year when he was 48 and she was 30, after she decided to speak out more than a decade after the end of the abuse, and waived her right to anonymity. She spoke to Nicky Campbell about her experience.

"It got to a point where I just couldn't continue with my life anymore, with the young woman that I was, to allow for a paedophile to be living in my family home," she said.

"As I got older, my friends started to have children and I started to feel guilty that he was out there living in my family home.

"I knew what he was capable of, and only I could do something about it because it was a historic case and he showed no sign of coming forward or going to the police himself."

Read more about her story here.

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Academy said it "deeply regrets what has happened in the past and apologises wholeheartedly to those concerned".

The school has worked closely with authorities including the police and "things have dramatically changed since the 1970s", she said.

"The Academy has robust measures in place to safeguard children at the school with child protection training now core to the ethos of the Academy."

Listeners' messages to Nicky Campbell

  • As a 43-year-old man, I'm currently in the process of bringing my old primary school headmaster to court for physical and sexual abuse. As horrific as it is that things like this happened to young children, having someone like Nicky normalising talking about it can only be a positive thing
  • Dear Nicky, you have just read out a text from my husband who was abused by his brother when he was young. My husband has just called me in tears. Thanks so much for opening up this conversation
  • My abuser is dead and has been for 25 years but those disgusting and embarrassing memories have stayed with me, almost every day
  • For the first time in 46 years and after listening to you, I'd like to share that I too, was sexually abused by my grandad. I have not told a single soul. I am happily married, have family and friends that I am extremely close to but I have NEVER shared this, with anyone

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has heard evidence about abuse at the Edinburgh Academy and other Scottish private schools.

The inquiry was launched by the Scottish government in 2015. It will report the outcome of its investigations to ministers "and make recommendations" about policies and the law.

Listen to Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds here and find the In Dark Corners podcast series here.

Additional reporting by Malu Cursino.

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