In a landmark case that has brought some measure of closure to victims of horrific abuse, Keith Figes, a former “housefather” at Berrow Wood School in Worcestershire, has been sentenced to 27 years in prison for his vile crimes, as reported by BBC News on Tuesday, 03 October 2023.
Figes, responsible for a “campaign of rape against children,” used his position of trust to groom and abuse vulnerable pupils during the 1970s. His conviction, along with that of his co-accused Maurice Lambell, marks another step towards justice for the victims of the notorious boarding school.
The harrowing victim impact statements shared in court painted a stark picture of the profound and lasting effects of Figes’ abuse on his victims. One survivor even expressed feeling safer in prison than he did during his time at Berrow Wood. This heartbreaking testimony serves as a stark reminder of the importance of holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.
BBC News reported that Figes and Lambell’s convictions bring the total number of Berrow Wood staff members brought to justice for physical and sexual abuse of pupils to nine. The institution, which opened in 1966 to accommodate “maladjusted” boys sent by social services from across England, has become synonymous with tales of suffering and mistreatment.
Figes’ history of abuse did not start at Berrow Wood but extended to other institutions, including Badgeworth School in Cheltenham and two children’s homes in the West Midlands. The court heard that Figes preyed on vulnerable young boys, luring them into his bedroom at night where the abuse escalated over time. The case highlights a disturbing pattern of serial abuse by a man entrusted with the care and well-being of children.
Figes’ own defense barrister did not mince words, acknowledging the gravity of his client’s actions and characterizing his crimes as “abhorrent.” Figes’ return to court, having previously been convicted of sexually abusing children, reinforces the urgent need to protect society’s most vulnerable from repeat offenders.
One survivor, known as James, bravely shared his story, revealing how his life had been irrevocably altered by the abuse he suffered. His experience led to years spent in prison, where he sought the relative safety of an 8ft by 10ft shed filled with historical memorabilia—a stark contrast to the horrors he endured. James’ words underscore the lasting scars that child abuse inflicts on its victims and the profound impact it has on their lives.
Judge Martin Jackson left no room for ambiguity in his assessment of Figes’ actions, describing the environment at Berrow Wood as a “regime of brutality” and a “culture of abuse” in which Figes played a significant role. This verdict sends a powerful message that perpetrators of child abuse will face severe consequences for their actions, no matter how many years have passed since the crimes were committed.
Figes, residing in Bourton, Dorset, faced a total of 46 charges related to his abuse of four victims. On the first day of his trial, he pleaded guilty to 11 of these offenses, including indecent assault and buggery. His admission of guilt underscored the undeniable truth of his actions, and these convictions now ensure that he will face the full extent of the law.
Unfortunately, Maurice Lambell, Figes’ co-accused, who was found guilty by a jury of 30 offenses, including indecent assault, attempted to evade justice by failing to appear at his sentencing. The court issued a warrant for his arrest, highlighting the importance of holding all perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
Berrow Wood School, which finally closed its doors in 1992, had been the site of unimaginable suffering for generations of young boys. The first police investigations into abuse by staff began shortly after its closure. The recent convictions of Figes and Lambell reflect a determination to bring justice to survivors of institutionalized abuse, signaling to perpetrators that their actions will not go unpunished.
Detective Inspector Mark Walters, who led the investigation, expressed his satisfaction that justice had been served for the survivors. He emphasized that Figes and Lambell had “abused their positions of trust to commit abhorrent crimes against young and vulnerable boys who they were supposed to be caring for.” The psychological and physical trauma inflicted on the victims will stay with them forever, highlighting the need for ongoing support and care for survivors of such heinous crimes.
Walters also called on anyone who had been a victim of non-recent child abuse to come forward to the police, assuring them that their experiences would be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. This message reinforces the importance of seeking justice and closure for survivors who have endured unspeakable horrors.