‘He was a figurehead to those troubled young men’

THE judge in the trial of a former assistant head teacher accused of sexually abusing four pupils will begin his summing up of the evidence today.

The jury was told yesterday that Peter Merrick had been a ‘figurehead’ to pupils at the William Henry Smith School, Rastrick.

Merrick, 66, of Burton Road, Overseal, Derbyshire, has denied a series of allegations relating to his time at the residential school in the late 1970s and 80s.

The jury at Bradford Crown Court heard closing speeches from barristers for the defence and prosecution and Judge Robert Bartfield expects his summing up of the case to last about three hours.

The jury could retire to begin their deliberations this afternoon.

Merrick’s barrister Eleanor Laws QC highlighted aspects of the complainants’ accounts which she submitted had been completely different and she emphasised that the prosecution’s case rested entirely on the evidence of the complainants.

She pointed out that one man’s account that he told other people about the abuse had not been supported and that the complainants had not been “terribly convincing” when they were questioned about any contact between them or their claims for compensation.

Miss Laws said the jury could only find Merrick guilty if they were sure and she urged them to think very carefully about the reliability and credibility of the complainants.

She said her client was not just an educated man but he had subsequently given back to his community in his own time.

“He is a man who has looked after his family and has not provoked a single bad word or allegation against him from before or after his contact with these boys at the school,” said Miss Laws.

“Please bear that very much in mind because if the defendant for one minute did all these things he would be predatory, highly-sexed and prone to taking major risks and is that something that just disappears if you continue to work in education?

“He was in a position of great responsibility. He was a figurehead to those troubled young men, those young boys, and he’s not the only one they’re upset with.”

The court had earlier been told that police had been called in to probe allegations about the school several years ago.

The latest allegations came years after the former pupils had left the school.