I’m desperately sorry, says head who hired paedophile William Vahey

Vahey drugged and abused boys while working at Southbank International, where he had been hired by Terry Hedger
Southbank International
Terry Hedger employed the US-born Vahey in 2009 to work as a humanities teacher at the £25,000-a-year Southbank International school in central London. Photograph: Mary Turner/Getty Images
The headteacher who hired the serial paedophile William Vahey has said he is “desperately sorry” about what happened.
Terry Hedger employed the US-born Vahey in 2009 to work as a humanities teacher at the £25,000-a-year Southbank International school in central London.
But Vahey went on to drug and abuse 60 teenage boys on field trips in the UK and abroad. Hedger was this week singled out for severe criticism in an independent report into the teacher’s criminality.
Hugh Davies QC, appointed by Sir Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools who now heads Southbank’s board, found Hedger had received complaints about Vahey’s conduct but did nothing beyond interviewing him – and in one case assuring him he would protect his “fine reputation and standing”. Hedger also rubbished a complaint about Vahey from a family as unfair pressure from “vindictive parents”.
Davies said parents, children and teachers have suffered “enduring, damaging” emotions as a result of Vahey’s crimes.
Hedger said on Thursday: “I accept that we were not sufficiently experienced, trained and structured to deal with someone like Vahey. If I knew then what I know now I would have done a lot of things differently at the time.”
Scotland Yard and the FBI are investigating Vahey’s targeting of adolescent boys at international schools from Indonesia to Venezuela. He secured the jobs despite being jailed for child sex abuse in California in 1969. Vahey, 64, killed himself in March after hundreds of indecent images of child abuse were found on his computer in Nicaragua, where he was teaching.
“My heart goes out to the parents and students who were targeted by Vahey,” said Hedger. “What he did was one of everybody’s worst nightmares and I am desperately sorry that it happened in our school. I am also concerned for all the fine, hard-working and dedicated senior staff and teachers who were at Southbank with Vahey and who have inadvertently been caught up in the subsequent investigation. They are all ‘victims of Vahey’ as well.”
Referring to background checks on Vahey which included references, an enhanced criminal records bureau check and police clearance that only went as far back as his previous job in Venezuela, he said: “We trusted the validity of this information. After his appointment he proved to be a good, very popular teacher and I trusted him to do his job professionally. That was a mistake.”
Hedger was head of the school from 2006 to 2012 and was warned about Vahey’s behaviour on one school trip by the school’s child protection officer, after a student complained that Vahey was “creepy”, would tickle pupils awake in their beds and tell them to sleep in only their pants. The officer voiced concern at Vahey moving an unwell child to a different room, a tactic he used to mask his abuse, and reported the incident to Hedger – who called Vahey in.
“Vahey said he could see it might look bad but that it was entirely innocent,” the officer told Davies’s inquiry. “He had simply been caring for a sick student.” No further investigations were made, even though Hedger felt the need to warn a teacher running a later trip with Vahey to keep an eye on the children and make sure their rooms were not switched around.
“We didn’t investigate the matter far enough or ask Vahey hard-edged questions,” the child protection officer admitted.
That next trip resulted in a complaint from a parent. Several children had fallen ill and Vahey actively discouraged another teacher from informing parents. A parent later told Hedger about an unspecified “inappropriate comment” Vahey made to students that Davies said was sufficiently concerning that it should have been reported to the local authority’s child safe-guarding officer.
Hedger decided to take Vahey off the next trip but went no further and when Vahey challenged the decision he said told Vahey “don’t worry” and attributed the complaint to “vindictive parents”.
While Hedger was singled out in the report, there were also stern criticisms of the oversight of the school which is owned by Cognita, which was chaired by Woodhead. “The structures of governance did not deliver effective supervision of those with operational responsibility for child protection,” said Davies.
He found that while Vahey was working for the school, Southbank’s safeguarding policy was “arguably not compliant” in terms of the procedures for reporting child abuse concerns, internally, to the social services and parents.
Cognita’s safeguarding policy was also not compliant in terms of when concerns should be raised with social services and what the threshold for a concern is, nor for parental involvement and the definition of a sexual offence. The policy has since been rectified.

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