Following the conviction last week of Mike Brewer, former head of music at Chetham’s school of music, on sexual abuse charges, the Guardian has published allegations relating to two more former Chetham’s teachers: Malcolm Layfield, current head of strings at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Chris Ling, a freelance violin teacher at Chetham’s during the 1980s about whom allegations have been made to the newspaper by ten former pupils.
News sources have also reported that on 14 February violin teacher Wen Zhou Li, who has taught at Chetham’s and the RNCM, was arrested by Greater Manchester Police. Police have confirmed they are making enquiries into ‘at least 20’ allegations of sexual offences.
On 8 February the Guardian published lengthy correspondence principally between Martin Roscoe, then head of keyboard studies at the RNCM, and Edward Gregson, then the RNCM’s principal, which detailed Mr Roscoe’s concerns about Malcolm Layfield’s suitability for a senior position such as head of strings. In a resignation letter to Gregson, Mr Roscoe called Layfield’s appointment ‘disgraceful in itself and a disaster for the reputation of the RNCM’.
On 10 February the Guardian published six anonymised accounts of alleged abuse by Mr Ling after Guardian journalists had spoken to ten women ‘about what they claim is the abusive and predatory behaviour of Chris Ling’. The graphic accounts reveal a pattern of similar behaviour by the teacher ‒ ‘such as Ling asking them to play the violin naked or instigating a system of “punishment and reward” where the punishment would be anything from a smack on their bare bottom to serious sexual abuse’.
The police were informed of certain allegations against Ling in December 1990 and say they are trying to find out why the investigation was closed without charges being brought. The Guardian has talked to a woman who said that Ling ‘missed his mother’s funeral because he was scared that he would be arrested if he set foot on UK soil’.
One account expresses dismay over the culture at Chetham’s at that time: ‘He [Ling] was so brazen about it. It was so out in the open. It was as though he didn’t see that he was doing anything wrong. He seemed to think it was one of the perks of the job to take advantage of these naïve girls shut up in this hot-house environment. It seemed to be open season for him. Now I think: how dare he do that to me? How dare he do that to my friends? How did the school not ask what was going on? I was always crying upstairs and yet my housemistress never asked what was wrong with me.’
Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson of Greater Manchester Police said on 14 February: ‘We are aware of the widespread media coverage about our investigation into reports of historic sexual abuse at Chetham’s.
‘Continued speculation in the press about former teachers and incidents can be unhelpful to the victims and the investigation. This is therefore something we cannot comment on directly at present. That said, we understand the need for as much transparency as possible so what we can say is this investigation is looking into more than 20 individual reports of sexual offences reported by former pupils at the school.
‘In relation to allegations made, we have today arrested a 57-year-old man from Cheshire on suspicion of committing rape. This also relates to historic offences and he will be interviewed later today by detectives.
‘Various names have been mentioned in the press of people involved in offences, clearly we will use this information, comparing it against allegations made. If any of those publicly named wish to speak to police directly now, we will of course interview them to take their account.
‘In the meantime we will continue to interview witnesses and victims and take action following this. These are historic offences which involved a relatively small number of teachers. For obvious reasons there is a limited amount of information we can provide, but where we can provide information we will.’
‘It is also important to point out that given the number of people we need to speak to and the number of inquiries to be done, this is an investigation that could take some time. While we appreciate the anguish of victims who have waited years to come forward, it is only right and proper we do things robustly and comprehensively. Whilst we will work expeditiously, this cannot be rushed.’
Claire Moreland, Head of Chetham’s, said in a statement on 14 February: ‘The School has already made it clear that we are working with the police to get to the bottom of these serious allegations and it has encouraged, and continues to encourage, those with any relevant information to contact the police.
‘My team and I are working hard to ensure that students, staff and parents are given all the information and support they need at this time. I am happy to speak to anyone involved in the school with questions or concerns. It is a very challenging time for all of us and we are extremely heartened by all the messages of support we have had.
‘It would not be appropriate for me to make any further public statement on the current arrest or broader investigation into historic abuse.
‘We encourage anyone who has any relevant information to contact Greater Manchester Police on 101, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.’
Of the trial and conviction of Mike Brewer, Moreland had previously said: ‘What we have learned during the course of the last four weeks has shocked us to the core. The passage of time between the offences and now does not lessen this shock.
‘Having been the Head of the School for the last 14 years I can say that during my time child welfare has been at the heart of the school. This has been endorsed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Furthermore, the child protection measures we have in place are robust and extensive and reflect the huge improvements in child protection across the education sector.’