Sexual abuse at County Durham approved school ‘among worst heard’


Sexual abuse at County Durham approved school ‘among worst heard’

Stanhope Castle Approved School Credit: ITV News

A major national inquiry says the sexual abuse of young boys at a former approved school in County Durham present “some of the worst cases” it has heard.

A report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse includes evidence from five men who were abused by staff and other pupils at Stanhope Castle Approved School in the 1960s and 1970s.

One man described how he was raped and sexually assaulted at least 35 times, by four members of staff and a former pupil. On several occasions, he was choked unconscious while being raped. He said that when he told a police officer in 1961, the officer punched him and said: “That’s our friends you’re talking about.”

Another witness detailed how he was sexually assaulted by two members of staff at the same time, when he was 11 years old.

The school, in Weardale, housed boys as young as nine, many of whom had committed minor offences or couldn’t be looked after by their parents.

The inquiry heard how there was a degrading atmosphere at Stanhope Castle, with daily violence inflicted upon boys. It opened during the Second World War, and closed in 1981.

“The harrowing accounts of non-recent child sexual abuse within custodial institutions were some of the worst cases this Inquiry has heard.

But I am also deeply disturbed by the continuing problem of child sexual abuse in these institutions over the last decade. It is clear these children, who are some of the most vulnerable in society, are still at risk of sexual abuse.”


The abuse at the school had taken place in the 1960s and 70s Credit: ITV News

“We recognise the importance of supporting victims and survivors of sexual abuse. We have cooperated fully with and provided evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

“We are continuing to work with those who have reported abuse while at Stanhope Castle Approved School and are reviewing whether further police investigation is required.

“We would urge anyone who believes they have been a victim of abuse of this nature to come forward and speak to us.”


The Home Office, which was responsible for overseeing Stanhope Castle Approved School, did not respond to our request for comment.

The Ministry of Justice responded to the investigation’s findings as a whole, saying: “the details in this report are shocking and we will urgently consider the inquiry’s findings.”

Watch Tom Sheldrick’s report:

  • Aycliffe Secure Centre

The inquiry’s investigation looked at current child protection standards in custodial institutions, including a secure children’s home in Newton Aycliffe.

There were 13 allegations of abuse at Aycliffe Secure Centre between 2009 and 2016, included a 15-year-old female resident who said that a member of staff touched her inappropriately while restraining her.

Aycliffe Secure Centre Credit: ITV News

The report highlights a wide range of positive work at Aycliffe, reflecting recent feedback from Ofsted which highlighted its outstanding leadership and rated it as good.

We accept the report’s comments in relation to language used when recording complaints at Aycliffe and planning post-disclosure and have already taken steps to address these.


The report noted that procedures for responding to allegations of abuse are “generally better” in secure children’s homes like Aycliffe.

The unit was rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted in January 2018.

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