Scale of child abuse at King Charles' former school Gordonstoun laid bare after Scottish inquiry

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chair delivers verdict on Gordonstoun failures

Children were abused over many years at the Scottish boarding school attended by King Charles and other members of the Royal family, an inquiry has found. Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, said leadership failures at Gordonstoun, in Moray, and its associated junior school, Aberlour, were only addressed after 1990.

She concluded that children who boarded at both establishments were exposed to risks of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and for many those risks materialised.

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Lady Smith said: “I have no difficulty in finding that children were abused at Gordonstoun and Aberlour in a variety of ways over a long period of time. It was assumed the declaration of good intentions by founder Kurt Hahn was enough to ensure the school could be entrusted to provided appropriate residential care.

“At Gordonstoun, the assumption proved to be ill-founded, largely due to poor leadership. It was only after 1990 and the appointment of a headmaster who understood the importance of pastoral care that abuse eventually began to be addressed and a measure of trust was restored.

“A dreadfully abusive and, in some houses, extremely violent culture was allowed to take root. Abuse was also perpetrated by staff. The evidence of abuse was clear from the accounts of many applicants.

“Similarly, at Aberlour, the 1960s to 1990s were marked by a similar culture of assumption and naivety, exacerbated by the long and unchallenged leadership. There was a significant failure of governance, with no interest in child protection or pastoral care until the 1990s.”

Charles III attended the school at Duffus in the 1960s, on the recommendation of his father Prince Philip, who was one of the school’s first pupils. Lady Smith added: “There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where abuse was allowed to be normalised for decades. It seems clear, however, that for the last 30 years or so, some good leaders have sought to recover the position.

“The risk of children being abused will, however, always be present. I recognise that Gordonstoun has now made real efforts to be aware of the risk of abuse, to protect against it, and, if abuse occurs, to respond appropriately, but the school must never become complacent.”

Lady Smith has now published 12 sets of findings, most recently in relation to Morrison’s Academy.

In an open letter to the Gordonstoun community, Principal Lisa Kerr, writing jointly with chair of governors David White, apologised to all those who suffered at the school.

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They said: “Today’s report is upsetting and it is shocking to read of the abuse that children in the past experienced and the enduring impact on their lives 30, 40 or even 50 years later. We respect and thank those who have spoken up about their experiences and those who gave evidence to the Inquiry. 

“The lack of care and the abuse they experienced, which the inquiry identifies as being mainly in ‘the period from the 1970s to the early 1990s’ reflects that, as Lady Smith states ‘there have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where the vision and ethos that formed the basis of Kurt Hahn‘s founding of the school was allowed to wither’.

“Those who were abused deserved better and we are sorry they were so badly let down. Since reports of historic abuse came to our attention in 2013, we have taken a pro-active approach, addressing matters openly and offering whatever support possible.”