WHEN Jim walked into Horsham police station and said "I can't hack it any more" it ended 20 years' of silence concerning the sexual abuse he had suffered at school.

Those simple words led to a two-year police investigation which uncovered years of sustained sexual abuse by a ring of paedophiles at Muntham House boarding school near Horsham.

Yesterday at Lewes Crown Court, the house master that led the ring and his friends he brought in to share his evil lust were jailed for a total of 35-and-a-half years.

Today, 20 years on, the boys from Muntham House

School, near Horsham, were breathing sighs of relief as the three main members of the ring were starting their jail sentences.

They could now speak of years of fear at the school, where Nicholas Douglass was house master.

He would target boys he fancied, take them to his flat next to the dormitory, and ply them with alcohol, sweets and special favours, so he could sexually abuse them with his friends.

Jim said he spoke out and sparked off the investigation because he knew the procedures were now in place to nail the master that had abused him.

The 32-year-old, now working as a mini-cab driver in London, said: "Nobody would have believed it if we had told of what had gone on. I was 12 at the time and who would have believed a 12-year-old boy?

"I thought it was normal. I remember the first time it happened. The boy in the bed next to me did not think it unnatural.

"We could not tell our parents for fear of reprisals from the staff. I was in fear of the masters.

"The strange thing is that we were well looked after. We were kept very clean and the food was excellent."

Now he says: "I find it difficult to form friends. I am loner. I have had relationships but my experiences at Muntham have made it impossible for them to be successful."

Another victim, who was 13 at the time, and is too distressed to be named, said: "You were like a lamb to the slaughter.

"At the time I didn't have the strength to do anything about it. If I had a pound for every time it happened I would be a rich man.

"I was shared between the three. I was 13 at the time and it became a routine way of life.

"You kept quiet because you thought it was only happening to you. I was served up roast duck when I went for one meal at Douglass's flat.

"He was a house master in charge of us after school finished. He did care for us, took an interest in our work, but it was only because he wanted his evil way with us."

Athird victim, Scott, now in his thirties, living in Essex and married with five children, said: "It was a huge relief when the police came to me and told me that they were conducting an investigation in the school.

"When I told my mother about it, her first reaction was, 'Why didn't you tell me?', I told her 'You would not have believed me'.

"I am lucky that I have survived and have a young family. I have four boys and I can't bear to see them running around naked. Because of my experiences at the school, I am always telling them to put their clothes on."


Det Sgt Jeremy Graves, of Sussex Police, who headed the investigation, said: "The inquiry opened up when the first victim came into the police station. He was suicidal and had been burdened with the problems ever since he left.

"We interviewed dozens of boys who told us sickening tales of what Douglass had done to them."

Yesterday, Douglass, 45, of Cowdray Road, Easebourne, near Midhurst, was jailed at Lewes Crown for a total of 16 years after admitting seven offences and being found guilty of ten sex charges against the young boys he was supposed to be looking after.

There was a mixture of revulsion and sympathy last night in Midhurst as Douglass began his sentence.

Neighbours in Cowdray Road were glad he was behind bars. But there was sympathy for his 86-year-old mother, Dora, described by one woman as "a lovely old lady". She was not at the terraced home fronted by a neat and well kept garden yesterday.

The house is just 100 yards from Midhurst Intermediate School which teaches children aged eight to 12 years.

Resident Robin McCreedy, 64, said: "I feel sorry for the mother but even hanging would be too good for him. I am one of the old school."

Mr McCreedy, a retired workshop manager for Sussex Police, said residents would be shocked when they discovered what Douglass had been doing.

John Higgins, 45, of Heathcote Drive, East Grinstead, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years and Thomas Logan, 46, of Bury Road, Rochdale, was jailed for a total of 11 years.

The brother of convicted John Higgins refused to comment about his sentence. Speaking from his detached two-storey home in leafy Heathcote Drive, East Grinstead, Peter Higgins said he did not keep in contact with his brother and had not spoken to him for several years.

Sentencing the three, Mr Justice Gage said the case lifted the lid on the "appalling state of affairs" at the school in the late Seventies and the early Eighties.

Both West Sussex County County and the Department of Education insisted that inspection and procedures were now in place that would prevent a similar situation re-occuring.

Muntham House School in Barns Green, Horsham, is a non-maintained special school which was set up in the Fifties. The school is a non-profit making charity which is funded by fees paid by the local education authorities who refer boys there.

The school has between 30 and 40 boys aged between seven and 18. Most are boarders and last year the fee for each boy per term was £6,920. The youngsters all have emotional and behavioural problems, but none is mentally handicapped.

They are taught in small classes because of their problems and the curriculum is similar to that in mainstream schools.

Staff employed there now are vetted against a danger list supplied by the Department for Education and Employment and none was present at the time the paedophile ring activities took place.

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