Ex-school workers jailed for historic abuse of pupils

Two ex-employees of a residential school have been jailed for a total of 28 years for multiple charges of physical and sexual abuse of former pupils.

Matthew George, 73, and John Muldoon, 69, physically and sexually abused children in their care while they were both employed at Kerelaw Residential School in Stevenston, North Ayrshire, which was then known as a “List D” secure establishment for vulnerable or troubled youngsters.

The pair, both from Ayrshire, were found guilty after a six-week trial in Glasgow.

George, a former art teacher, was sentenced to 16 years in prison at the High Court in Dundee on Friday while Muldoon, an ex-care worker, was jailed for 12 years, the Crown Office said.

The offending occurred while the pair worked at Kerelaw Residential School in Stevenston, North Ayrshire (COPFS/PA)
The offending occurred while the pair worked at Kerelaw Residential School in Stevenston, North Ayrshire (COPFS/PA)

None of the 28 victims, all of whom are now adults, appeared in court in person during the trial.

Instead, lawyers presented their pre-recorded video testimony.

George and Muldoon had previously been jailed in 2006 having been found guilty of a number of similar offences in relation to pupils at the same school.

After more complainers came forward, they stood trial again, appearing at the High Court in Glasgow at the end of last year.

The men were found guilty of a total of 55 new charges – George of 39 of these while Muldoon was convicted on 16.

The offending covered a 28-year period from 1975 to 2004, with 20 male victims and eight females.

Twenty-one complainers gave “evidence by commissioner”, a special measure which enables vulnerable witnesses to have their evidence filmed in advance of the trial under judicial supervision.

The court heard 29 hours of video testimony from these victims over the course of the trial. Some victims spoke for more than three hours as they recounted their experiences.

Six victims died before having the opportunity to take part in the filming process and another was too unwell to give pre-recorded evidence.

Prosecutors, however, were able to use their police statements, which were read to the court to ensure their evidence was also available for the jury.

The Crown said lawyers reviewed nearly 13,000 pieces of documentary evidence in preparation for trial.

Both George and Muldoon had worked for many years at Kerelaw, and their offending continued until they were suspended from work, a short time prior to the school’s eventual closure, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said.

Fraser Gibson, Scotland’s procurator fiscal for high court sexual offences, said the case demonstrates the Crown’s commitment to ensuring the voices of victims are heard.

He said: “The two accused were in positions of trust for many years. They abused that trust over and over again.

“The victims bravely came forward to tell what happened to them in childhood within a school environment where they should have been safe. They endured traumatising experiences which damaged their adult lives.

“Our skilled prosecutors were able to use special measures for these vulnerable witnesses, to ease as much as possible the process of giving evidence.

“At COPFS we are determined to use every tool at our disposal in the pursuit of justice and to support victims through the system in every way we can.

“I would urge any victim of similar offending, no matter how long ago, to come forward, report it and seek help.”

An NSPCC Scotland spokesperson said: “As a teacher and a care worker at Kerelaw Residential School, George and Muldoon’s roles were to nurture and protect the residents – many of whom were very vulnerable. Instead, they exploited their positions of trust to physically and sexually abuse these young people, inflicting immense suffering.

“The men and women who were victims in this case have lived with the impact of this cruelty for decades and it is testament to the courage of those who bravely spoke out that these two men have faced justice for these crimes.

“Child sexual and physical abuse can have a devastating and long-lasting effect on a person’s life, and we hope that the victims are receiving the support they need so that they can go forward with their lives.

“It is so important that those who have experienced abuse are empowered to speak out regardless of who the perpetrator is or how many years have passed.”