July 2010

Richard Whitfield jailed for child sex

A HEADTEACHER convicted of a catalogue of sex abuse against children was last night beginning a three-year prison sentence.

Yesterday, his victims urged anyone else who had suffered at his hands to come forward.

Richard Whitfield, 55, the former headteacher of Toft Hill Primary School, near Bishop Auckland, was found guilty of 20 counts of indecency with young girls. None of the offences took place at Toft Hill.

Judge Esmond Faulks said: “I have to sentence you for abusing your position, both as an intelligent adult and as a teacher.”

As Whitfield was led to the cells at Durham Crown Court, one of his victims shouted: “Rot in hell”, from the public gallery.

Whitfield, who has been a headteacher for 15 years, will be unable to work in the profession again.

Anne Richardson, prosecuting, said there was no need for the judge to disqualify Whitfield from working with children.

“The Independent Safeguarding Authority will automatically have his name passed to them.”

Last night, a spokesman for Durham County Council said: “We will now work with the staff and governors of the school to consider the impact of the verdict and help the school move forward.”

Whitfield, who must also sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for life, was convicted of 14 counts of indecent assault, three of indecency with a child, two of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity and one of sexual assault of a child under 13.

The offences took place over 23 years and involved five victims, mostly primary school children, but others up to 13 years old. Miss Richardson said he used his position as a trusted and popular teacher to single girls out for attention.

The offences were said to have taken place in the classroom, in school cupboards and after inviting girls to his home. He would give them pet names and lavish gifts on them, leaving some saying they were made to feel “special”.

Because they felt they would not be believed, none complained. The prosecution, however, described Whitfield as a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure.

Miss Richardson said: “On one hand, he was a highly-motivated, well-liked and respected teacher, and a fine upstanding member of the community. But, on the other, he picked out these girls, these ‘special’ girls, to prey on.”

She said there was a “darker predatory side to this wellloved and respected figure”.

The incidents only came to light after one of the victims broke down and told her boyfriend what had taken place.

He persuaded her to report the matters and she made a complaint to police on July 14 last year.

Whitfield was arrested the next day and suspended from his job at Toft Hill.

Subsequent inquiries and publicity led to other victims coming forward.

Whitfield, of Snowdrop Way, Etherley Dene, denied the charges, claiming that his tactile nature may have been misinterpreted as having a sexual intent.

The defence also suggested there may have been some element of collusion between some of the victims, who have communicated on Facebook since the allegations emerged.

But after deliberating for five hours over two days, the jury yesterday returned guilty verdicts on all charges, 16 of them unanimously and four by 11-1 majority verdicts.

Following the verdicts, Tom Moran, mitigating, told Judge Faulks he would not be asking for an adjournment for presentence reports.

Judge Faulks passed prison sentences of three years, two years, 18 months, six months and three months – one term for each of the five victims, but all to be served concurrently.

Whitfield will serve a maximum of 18 months behind bars, with the remainder on licence.