Seven teachers at one Welsh school ‘groomed pupils for sex’
A well-known freelance journalist who revealed how she was groomed for sex by a teacher at one of Wales’ most highly regarded schools has told Nation.Cymru that at least seven male teachers were grooming pupils at the school at the same time.
In the wake of allegations made against Russell Brand, who has been accused of grooming a 16 year-old school pupil when he was 30, Jaci Stephen wrote an article for The Times in which she said she had also been 16 when groomed by a teacher aged 30.
She has now confirmed that the school concerned was Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend – and that multiple fellow pupils had the same experience of grooming as she did in the mid-1970s..
Ms Stephen is now calling on Members of the Senedd to recognise grooming as a harmful form of abuse in schools and to improve safeguarding so that pupils are better protected.
In her Times article she said the grooming she was subjected to has damaged her life and made it difficult for her to have lasting relationships. She wrote: “I think it is no coincidence that I have never lived with anyone, never been married and have had no family of my own.”
Explaining how the relationship with the teacher began, she said that at 16 she looked like a 12 year-old, had never had any interest shown in her by the opposite sex and she felt flattered that the teacher had taken an interest in her.
In 2019, following the death of her mother – her father had died many years before – Ms Stephen made a criminal complaint. She has nothing but praise for the way the matter was handled by South Wales Police and says she felt relief at dictating her story into a microphone. The teacher, by now retired, admitted the relationship, but said it had been consensual.
Ms Stephen wrote: “I did develop feelings for Jim [not the teacher’s real name], undoubtedly, and continued to see him over many years, returning home from university twice a week to baby-sit for him, just to see him for 10 minutes during the lift home. But can a child really consent? I don’t believe so. I was groomed, coerced, and I remember two occasions when he force-fed me alcohol. I lost my virginity in his car and spent so many grubby occasions in the front seat, enduring yet another push on the back of my head as the signal to perform yet another sex act.
“When people ask, ‘What took you so long to report it?’ to me it’s very easy, and the reasons are many. I was very confused, and confusion turned to feeling flattered. My parents were having a bad time because Dad’s business was going under, and Jim provided an oasis away from the rows and stress at home.”
She decided not to pursue a case against the teacher, but now feels that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable young people.
Speaking to Nation.Cymru, Ms Stephen reeled off the names of seven teachers at the school she said she was aware had groomed fellow pupils.
She said: “I got in touch with other people when I knew that I was writing my story. One person who was involved with another teacher didn’t want to be involved at all, because she said that the relationship had benefitted her. But I heard that other people were less happy with what had happened to them.
“I also met up with one of the people who was involved with Clive Hally [a predatory art teacher at the school who took his own life in 2019] and it wrecked his life. The last time I spoke to him he was in a pretty bad way. He was one of the two 15 year-olds abused by Clive Hally in the school. He didn’t disclose this until a long time afterwards.
“It’s no accident that the person I was involved with went on to marry another pupil, but even when he was with her, he tried to be intimate with me again. And then I got a phone call out of the blue about him being in a state because another pupil had accused him of things and suddenly he was back in my life. This was a few years after I’d been involved with him. He was very upset, saying ‘you know me – I wouldn’t do such a thing,’ and I thought, ‘yes you would – you have!’ Apparently the pupil who accused him went on to university and had a breakdown.
“The interesting story for me is how many people were there at the school who were affected. We all brushed it under the carpet because we had no choice. In Brynteg all the teachers knew what was going on. I was caught in a room with him by another teacher.
“One of the heads of department was involved with several pupils over a number of years, one of whom I knew didn’t come out of it so well. He said to me, ’I blame you girls – if you didn’t dress so provocatively, showing yourselves, you wouldn’t be tempting.’ And this was an intelligent guy, a head of department. To be told that you’re the problem …I’m sorry – I was not dressed provocatively in my knee-length socks and my sandals and that ridiculous perm that my mother gave me. I looked 12 years old.
“Three of the teachers involved are now dead, and my friend who was involved with two of the teachers, she’s dead. We had a lot of conversations. She said to me that this man was one of the things that had wrecked her life. Every time we met we talked about how we were trapped as 16 year-olds. We stayed trapped in that emotional place.”
Asked whether she thought the issue of grooming hadn’t had sufficient attention, she said: “I would agree totally with that. I’ve just been writing a different piece this morning, and saying we didn’t know it was grooming then. I certainly felt flattered that anyone was interested in me, let alone a teacher. But what was key to me was the Russell Brand thing, the age thing was exactly the same. It was 30 and 16. I’m nearly 65 and now I look at 30 year-olds and think actually they’re very young. I made that excuse for him for years.
“But the thing is you’re an adult at 30. He was a head of department and I was a kid. There was stuff going on – there was excitement. I didn’t know about men or boys or whatever. And I remember that I turned down his advances in the car when he took me home. He lived near me, so he took me home. I rejected his advances. Then – I always remember because it was my 16th birthday – he called me to go down to the stock room. He took me down there and tried to kiss me again and said ‘I’ve got a present for you’. And it was two little pairs of panties – Marks and Spencer – one was brown with white lace and the other was blue with white lace. I was still practically in leggings at that age.
“It was so out of my comfort zone. I was going to church. I was studying. Things were difficult at home , so there was that huge comfort in having another – inappropriate – adult to go to and talk to, and that’s where I think the grooming comes in. It’s a very subtle form of grooming – it’s not just sexual. It led on to sexual things. I didn’t have full sex with him until I was 20, after I’d left. It was oral sex in his car, stopping off on Bridgend Trading Estate.
“I remember once the police came down the lane where we were. I’ve still got the diary – all the times he picked me up and took me home. It makes heartbreaking reading. When I went to the police, one of the reasons I dropped the case was I didn’t want everyone to see how stupid I’d been. You feel really stupid, but of course you’re looking at it in retrospect.”
Was there something specific about the culture at Brynteg at the time which led to what was going on or was it just coincidental?
Ms Stephen said: “It may have been happening at other schools – I don’t know, I only have Brynteg to go by. I was very well educated there. But early on, even when I was in the lower school I remember a teacher showing a bit too much attention to one pupil. Then when I was doing my O-levels there was another teacher who clearly had a bit of a thing about another pupil. She put a photo on Facebook of the class and you could see the particular teacher leering out at her.
“Perhaps it wasn’t just about teachers. There was something about men in the Seventies. I’ve got a friend who thinks that that Sixties culture which the Seventies teachers had grown up in when it was all ‘free love’ and ‘do what you like’ had an influence.
!And she thinks it’s affected them and they think they can just do what they like. So there was free rein, and I do find it astonishing that the teachers in authority and other people in authority allowed him to get away with it. He was investigated by the governors of the school – I know that, it’s in my diary, I remember it happening when he was involved with me. And I got really nervous.”
Asked how the governors had found out about it, she said: “It was an open secret about him. I remember a school dance. The first time I saw him I didn’t get on with him at the beginning. He was a very odd person. He was in a school dance and there was a pupil – she was 13 years-old, and he had his hands all over her in the school dance.”
Asked what should happen now, she said: “I think what needs to happen is that pupils need to be believed. They need to have a source possibly outside the school that they can go to and have a proper investigation. For me, going to the police was the most important thing I wrote in the piece – to be believed and listened to. And I think the biggest change would be, ‘yes, we believe you.’ It would have been so easy to investigate.
“There’s been debate after the Russell Brand revelations about whether the law should be changed to stop sex between 30 year-olds and 16 year-olds. I can’t believe the law is going to be as heavy handed as that. But I would recommend one legal reform – we’ve got mobile phones now – that pupils male or female tape the people, and that becomes legal. At the moment it’s not legal to record someone unless they know. If teachers knew they were being recorded, it would offer some protection. I think that’s one change that should be allowed, certainly in a school situation.”
What measures would she like to see the Senedd taking? Would she like a committee to look at the issue?
She said: “I think it’s probably too late for me. It’s more than 45 years ago. But I know it still happens today, although it’s even more under the carpet than it was back then. There should definitely be closer inspections in schools. I think teachers should be far more heavily scrutinised than they are. Passing an exam should not be the only thing that qualifies you to be a teacher. We’ve seen it in the priesthood, we’ve seen it in the church. I think people in positions of authority should be much more heavily scrutinised than they are, in Wales and elsewhere,”
Ms Stephen said she was by no means the only one of her cohort at school who had been harmed by grooming: “I know people who’ve suffered from severe depression. I self-harmed at one stage. I’ve suffered from depression all my life. And it never goes away. You remain trapped in that place. You remain as a 16 year-old. And I know that all my relationships have been affected by it, because I had only the crumbs from him. I spoke to someone from my school – we had a long conversation over the weekend. She’d read the piece and we talked about it. When you’ve been given only the crumbs, and you’ve been abused, that’s all you think you’re worthy of. I went for all the wrong men because I was grateful for every little crumb that they gave me, thinking I was special. But in actual fact, I’ve had nothing at all.”
Would it be valuable for other victims to be given the opportunity to give testimony?
Ms Stephen said: “That’s a really good point. I know it helped me. I think if there was something between the Senedd and the police, if there was some opportunity, if people knew they could go to the police, not have to report it about going to court, because I think that’s the big worry. People don’t necessarily want to go to court, but they want to be heard and believed. I can honestly say that for me it was invaluable, going to the police.
“When you’re very young and in that situation, everything’s very emotive, because you’re feeling everything, you’re not fully grown as an emotional adult, if you ever do achieve that. Your emotions are all over the place – you’ve just passed puberty, really, and there’s so much going on. What I felt was most valuable for me was sitting in that room with a microphone and bare walls in Cowbridge Police Station, going through it matter of factly, saying ‘and then he did that’, and it’s all so very calm and matter-of-fact. And it’s only when you hear those words coming out of your mouth that you realise that this wasn’t normal. This was bad behaviour. And you’re there saying, ‘and then he put my head in his lap, and then he unzipped his trousers …’ This isn’t normal behaviour from a teacher – what the hell! To be honest, it wasn’t normal behaviour for any man.
“I remember when he was touching me under the table, two girls in the class noticed. He used to put his hands in my pants while the lesson was happening. Now when I look back and I’m telling people this stuff, why did I not think it odd at the time? But there was no one to go to. I think the Senedd should talk with the police. I think the police do need some credit and perhaps they could talk to the Senedd about how they can participate in a safe place for boys and girls when there is inappropriate behaviour.”
Sarah Murphy, the Labour MS for Bridgend, said: “I want to thank Jaci for speaking out about her experience. As she said, to be believed and listened to is vital for victims and survivors of any form of abuse and discrimination.
“I am pleased that as a society, and as a culture, we are moving away from victim-blaming, and encouraging people to reflect on previous experiences and reach out for support.
“While criminal justice is not currently devolved, we have an ambition for Wales to be the safest place in Europe to be a woman. Those with lived experience, and specialist organisations, are front and centre of the policy and legislation that we are able to create in Wales like the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence strategy. Sexual abuse highlights the exploitation, grooming, manipulation and fear that coercive control involves, which Jaci has discussed, and I will raise Jaci’s other points and suggestions in our Senedd.
“If you are reading this and this has happened to you recently or historically, there is support available and you are not alone. You can go to the police, or you can access specialist support whatever your age, gender or where you live in Wales.”
Ex-pupils at Brynteg School, and in its former guise as Bridgend Grammar School, include former First Minister Carwyn Jones; former UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller; current Bridgend MP Jamie Wallis; Wales rugby internationals JPR Williams, Mike Hall, Rob Howley, Dafydd James, Gavin Henson, Josh Navidi; Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cooke; poet Robert Minhinnick; playwright Gary Owen; and novelist Maggie O’Farrell.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.