VIDEO: Nottinghamshire man sexually abused at children’s home bravely speaks out

James Warner has bravely spoken out.
James Warner has bravely spoken out.

A male victim of sexual abuse has taken the unprecedented step to waive his anonymity in a bid to encourage others to speak out and stop the suffering.

James Warner, aged 52, was the catalyst for Norfolk Constabulary’s investigation into historical sexual offences at Sheringham Court School in the 1970s.

James started Sheringham Court in January 1976 at the age of just 12 and it was only a matter of weeks before he was first abused by Ken Wells, the school’s housefather, and later by Bryan Greenhalgh the headmaster.

Speaking of his ordeal James said: “I didn’t know they were doing it to anybody else at the time. I felt that I couldn’t tell my mum and dad, I was ashamed all the time.

“You think everybody knows, you think you have it tattooed across your forehead that you are dirty. I found it very difficult to trust anybody.”

James fully admits the trauma he suffered caused him to self-harm and tragically try to take his life on a couple of occasions and to make the emotive decision never to have children.

“It has affected my ability to have children because I was told at the time I would probably go on to abuse myself, I was so afraid of it happening that I chose not to have children and I feel like I have lost out now in a big way,” he said.

The abuse caused him to “never stop running” drifting from job to job including working as a yacht captain, a builder, a chef, a bodyguard and a doorman and even joining the French Foreign Legion.

“I was running all my life, running away from what happened to me, I was never settled,” he added.

“It was only very recently that I realised I’m not ashamed anymore and hopefully speaking out will help other people come forward, not necessarily just for this case but others as well.”

After more than 40 years of burying what happened to him at the school James took the courageous step to pick up the phone.

However, it wasn’t the police James first opted to call but the children’s charity Childline.

James explained one of the main reasons he decided to break his silence was the Jimmy Savile case.

“When it all came out about Jimmy Savile it brought it back into my mind, I started thinking a lot and getting angry,” he said.

“I was sat there sobbing, thinking all about it and I just picked up the phone and called Childline. They were very, very helpful and they asked whether it would be possible for them to call the police.

“Everything just comes rushing back when you have tried to bury something for that long. I was very surprised how much I had remembered...for years and years I have tried to bury it.

“I do believe something good has come out of the Jimmy Savile case, it has brought things out into the open now. Such massive abuse of trust by people in authority over children has to stop.”

James said he believed it was the “norm” for children not to be heard in the 1970s.

“Children weren’t listened to back then but children are listened to now,” he said.

“It is not too late to come forward. If you do get the courage up to come forward and speak to the police the help they will give you is amazing.

“The thought of other boys being abused was very upsetting but the justice makes you feel very good.

“I spent my life ashamed and blaming myself for what happened to me, but I’m not ashamed anymore.”

James’ decision to tell his story comes on the day Ken Wells, aged 78, and previously of Bracken Dale, Leicester, was found guilty at Ipswich Crown Court to indecent assault and buggery against a boy under the age of 16.

The offences took place in the mid 1970s in Norfolk, when Wells was housefather, and in the north of England after Wells left Sheringham Court.

He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life.

The victim came forward in June 2014 when Wells was previously convicted of three counts of indecent assault against James - for which he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Three months before, in March 2014, Bryan Greenhalgh, 65, previously of Suffield near North Walsham, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery.

Greenhalgh’s charges related to eight male victims under the age of 16 - the majority of the offences took place at Sheringham Court and Thurlby Manor in Norfolk and Lincolnshire between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. James was one of his victims.

Greenhalgh - also sentenced for possession of indecent images - was given a discretionary life sentence at Norwich Crown Court.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Tristan Coull, of Norfolk Constabulary’s Child Abuse Investigation Unit, said: “Both men exploited their positions headmaster and housefather to win over the trust of the boys in their care and subject them to horrendous abuse.

“They preyed on boys who were at their most vulnerable and who at the time of the abuse felt unable to speak out as they appeared to be upstanding pillars of the community.

“Through the positions they held, it would have been the most basic of expectations to protect these children, instead they chose to do the complete opposite.

“I would like to thank commend James not only for his bravery in coming forward to report the abuse, but also for taking the courageous decision to speak out in hope of helping other victims.

“There is no doubt James was the catalyst for the entire police investigation which would not have gained the momentum it did without him.”

Sheringham Court School was opened in 1975 as a boarding school for boys with behavioural issues.

The school closed in around 1980 when it was relocated to Lincolnshire and became Thurlby Manor operating until 1983. The vast majority of pupils at Sheringham Court were from out of the county. James came from Nottinghamshire.

The Constabulary’s Child Abuse Investigation Unit launched ‘Operation Alamo’ in November 2012 after being contacted by James alleging abuse at Sheringham Court by Greenhalgh and Wells.

Detective Inspector Andy Coller, who led the investigation, said: “It has taken an enormous amount of courage for each victim to talk about the abuse, abuse they have had to live with for decades.

“It is pleasing that the passing of some 40 years has not hindered the legal process and that Greenhalgh and Wells have both been jailed for these crimes.

“Time may make our investigations more complicated, but it will not stop them. We will robustly investigate any offences brought to our attention, however old they may be. It is to their credit that those boys, now men, have found the strength to speak up after so many years.

“Norfolk Constabulary will continue to work with our partners to ensure that children are kept safe in all environments. If people in positions of trust do abuse this trust, they can expect to be prosecuted.”