Corn Laws

My history teacher from school has been found guilty of molesting his pupils, and sentenced to 4 years in jail. As far as I can tell from the newspaper stories, the incidents all happened while I was at the school, and probably involved boys in my class.

The teacher’s name, believe it or not, was Dick Small. He was probably Richard to his friends, but amongst his pupils he was known as “Small, Dick”. Happily I cannot speak to the anatomical accuracy of the description. I do clearly remember that he was a large rotund man with a prominent beer gut, a hair-trigger temper, a bellowing voice, and a face prone to flushes of redness. In fact, if you look up the word “beery” in an encyclopedia, you might find a picture of him.

His sexual proclivities were often the subject of discussion after classes. Those who were unlucky enough to sit at the front desks often had their comfort zones invaded as he rested his ample gut on their desktops and leaned over them to deliver invective to a student at the back who had offered a particularly lame answer to a question. It was commonly believed that Small Dick had inappropriate feelings towards his pupils.

I remember the lessons clearly, not so much because of Small’s behavior, but because they were so terrifying on an academic level. For homework most weeks, we would be told to go and research a particular topic, and put together an essay of a few hundred words on the subject. The authors of the best essays would be invited to read out parts of them. To ensure that this did not inadvertently reward underachievers, the poorest essays would also be read out, ridiculed, and the authors loudly berated. Desks would be pounded upon by large fists, sometimes gripping rulers.

It wasn’t always that much fun, though. Mr Small’s favorite academic innovation was the “Timed Essay”. We would be given a week to study, in our own time; then in the next classroom lesson, we would be made to sit and write an essay. We would know the approximate topic of the essay in advance, but not the specific title. The essay would be written under examination conditions—complete silence, and no access to any form of reference material. Imagine having to face that every month, and perhaps you can understand why I still have issues regarding exams.

At some point, several pupils were allegedly invited by Mr Small to visit a local pub and start work on beer guts of their own. It’s said that they felt flattered by the attention, and hoped that maybe he would go easy on them in class if they went along. One lad was singled out and invited to a wine bar, even.

After a while, Mr. Small began giving lifts to at least one of the boys. Soon the journeys began to involve diversions to quiet spots in the Chiltern Hills, and indecent assault. One boy reported what had happened to a teacher, who reported it to the headmaster. Not much happened, initially; the police were not informed, and neither were the education authorities. The boy attempted suicide by jumping from a railway bridge. He survived, and told his parents it was an accident.

Finally, in my last few weeks at the school Mr Small suddenly and very quietly “resigned”. There was no announcement; we found out because the pupils who would have been in his class the following term noticed that they had been assigned to a different teacher. A friend told me the actual story; I’m not sure how he found out, and I’ll never know now because he died a year later after drinking way too much and choking on his own vomit. He also told me other things that haven’t appeared in the newspaper reports, which I’m not going to write about here for legal reasons. (I’ve had enough trouble after posting public information.)

As to Mr Small, he took the obvious career path for a child molester with anger management problems: he got a job with the Conservative Party. He worked as campaign manager for anti-gay Tory MP David Lidington. However, the boy who had attempted suicide suffered a couple of decades of serious depression, which he attributed to his being abused. In 2002, he finally decided that he had to go public about the whole thing. In 2003 after a detailed police investigation Mr Small was arrested, there was a trial, and he plead guilty to five counts of indecent assault against three boys.

The sad thing is that when he wasn’t terrorizing or molesting his pupils, Mr Small was a very good teacher. He emphasized that history wasn’t about facts; it was about connections. He expected essays to discuss cause and effect, coincidences, the why of history. It’s not useful to know that Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin in 1793 unless you know why he invented it and how his invention changed things. He expected us to be resourceful and able to do our own research, like real historians, and if that left me in terrified tears after working until midnight to prepare for a timed essay, well, that was just an unfortunate means to an end.

And ultimately I did learn, and came to find history fascinating, and passed my “O”-Level exams with flying colors. For what it’s worth, Mr Small never touched me, inappropriately or otherwise, as far as I can recall. I sat in the far corner near the fire escape door, a row forward so as to make it clear I wasn’t one of the “won’t work don’t care” kids in the back row, and I worked like crazy.

There is one thing that I can’t believe about the whole business: it’s that the person who taught us about the disaster of the Victorian “Payment By Results” education system, and about the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the working poor, was secretly a loyal Tory the whole time. Still, I suppose if you live one big lie, it becomes a habit that’s hard to break.

[If you are reading this and happen to have relevant information regarding this specific case that you wish to share with police, I understand that you can reach the child protection and sexual crime unit on 08458 505505.]