Manchester

Liverpool Royal School for the Blind headmistress 'abused children'

Royal School for the Blind Liverpool Image copyright Royal School for the Blind Liverpool
Image caption The allegations at The Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool date back to the 1950s

A group of blind and vulnerable people have said they were physically and emotionally abused as children by their special primary school's headmistress.

Six former pupils of The Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool have told the BBC about abuse dating back to the 1950s when some of them were just five.

The headmistress at the time, Margaret McLenan, has since died.

The school said it was "saddened" to hear the allegations and said such behaviour would not be tolerated today.

The six former pupils have never before spoken publicly about their experiences at the boarding school in Wavertree, which accommodated pupils from across the north-west of England and the Isle of Man.

The alleged abuse has also never been reported to, or investigated by, police.

There is no suggestion any of it was of a sexual nature.

Victims described how being beaten and shamed deprived them of their childhood and led to problems in later life.

Image caption Rachael Alcock says her childhood was taken away from her

Rachael Alcock, from Bury, told BBC Radio Manchester: "That woman should have been brought to justice, she should have been horsewhipped. She was evil right from top to bottom."

Mrs Alcock, who was called Catherine Smith at the time, added: "I am angry because my childhood was taken away from me by that horrible woman."

Another ex-pupil, Stephen Kingsberry, 66, from Manchester, said he had suffered a breakdown and spent six months in hospital as a result of being abused by Miss McLenan.

He said the attacks were made more traumatic because of the fact the children were blind.

"It was so horrific we couldn't see where it was coming from or when it was going to happen," he said.

'Absolutely terrifying'

A third former pupil, 64-year-old Stephen Binns, described how children were assaulted.

"I was six years old," he said. "She would line every child up, walking from one end of the dormitory to the other, smacking or beating every one of us."

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Media captionVictims have described being beaten and shamed

Mr Binns is a community historian and honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University who was made MBE in 2004 in recognition of his contribution to heritage.

He said: "She would also humiliate them as if their crying was a serious offence."

Susan Todd, 65, also from Manchester, added: "It was absolutely terrifying... she would hit you on the head so your head would go back.

"It's a wonder we didn't suffer brain damage."

And David McWilliams, 71, from the Isle of Man, recalled another incident.

"Two boys were play fighting when she banged their heads together - you wouldn't get away with it now."

A sixth former pupil who spoke to the BBC and corroborated the accounts of abuse did not want to be identified.

Susan George, president of the Royal School for the Blind, told the BBC the charity was "saddened to hear of former pupils having such memories of their time at the school".

She added: "Such behaviour [as the former pupils allege] would not be tolerated in any school today."

Image caption The school remains open and was rated "excellent" by Ofsted following an inspection in 2016

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