Police launch probe into Bishops sex claims

03 August 2014 - 02:12 By Bobby Jordan

Police are investigating complaints of sexual abuse at Bishops Diocesan College, Cape Town, one of South Africa's top boys' schools.

Western Cape police spokesman Novela Potelwa this week confirmed the investigation by a unit that deals with child protection and sexual offences.

A senior investigator has held a meeting with the school's headmaster, Guy Pearson, and spoken to the father of a schoolboy who reported a teacher for "inappropriate behaviour" in 2009.

It is understood that a prosecution will ensue only if further complainants come forward.

The pupil who reported abuse was not physically molested and did not make a formal complaint. However, the officer handling the investigation said it was possible that there were former pupils too afraid or embarrassed to speak out.

The investigation relates to allegations against teacher Leonard Kaplan, who resigned from the school in 2009 before having to face a disciplinary hearing related to accusations of "inappropriate and unprofessional" behaviour with a pupil. It later emerged that similar allegations had been made against Kaplan 19 years earlier but he had been allowed to stay on at the school.

Although the school has declined to give details of the allegations against Kaplan, several former pupils have told the Sunday Times that he shared alcohol and pornography with favoured pupils.

In one instance he allegedly developed an "inappropriate attachment" to a pupil in his care.

Kaplan has refused to comment on the allegations and this week could not be contacted.

F ormer pupils and school administrators met on Thursday to discuss the allegations of misconduct at the school, although the Kaplan incident was not specifically discussed. The meeting was characterised by harsh words and belly laughs.

The meeting culminated in an appeal by Pick n Pay founder and Bishops old boy Raymond Ackerman for reconciliation in the wake of a series of embarrassing revelations, including a sex scandal from more than 30 years ago.

"Everybody felt that the key factor is that Bishops is a wonderful school," Ackerman said. "All the legal issues are being dropped."

Nevertheless, there were some heated exchanges at Thursday's meeting and at one stage a speaker's microphone was switched off when he refused to stop reading from a prepared statement. He continued reading until he was heckled off the stage.

The current imbroglio began three years ago when a former boarding school pupil claimed he was repeatedly sexually abused by an older boy in 1983.

The pupil, now a businessman in the US, demanded an apology from his former housemaster, Tim Hamilton-Smith, and threatened the school with media exposure if his demand was not met.

The pupil claimed he was forced into oral sex with a senior pupil and punished by the school when he complained.

Attempts by school administrators to avoid damage to the school's reputation backfired when internal correspondence regarding the matter was leaked to the media earlier this year.

The resultant publicity led to other allegations of abuse, spanning many years, being made.

Despite the police inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse of pupils at the school, last week's meeting focused on the treatment of Hamilton-Smith.

The well-known housemaster and rugby coach was advised to step down as secretary of the Old Diocesan Union because of the oral sex allegations involving a junior boy and a prefect. Hamilton-Smith said he had known nothing about the sexual nature of the abuse.

Many old boys believe that Hamilton-Smith was being made a scapegoat.

The Old Diocesan Union described Thursday's meeting as a success.

"Mutual respect and a wish for reconciliation rather than recrimination showed just how good we as the products of this fine institution can be when called upon to make critical decisions of a sensitive nature," the union said.

jordanb@sundaytimes.co.za

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