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A former house master at a top private school has been jailed for four years for sexually abusing four of his pupils.
Peter Webb would sneak into dormitories to fondle the schoolboys while they slept at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, West Sussex.
The children would wake to find the teacher sitting on the edge of their beds, staring at them through the darkness with his hands in their pyjama bottoms.
Webb even pushed himself up against one of the boys during a woodwork class when he preyed on the pupils during the 1970s and 1980s.
Judge Christine Henson described his crimes as a “gross abuse of trust” when she sentenced the 74-year-old at Hove Crown Court on Friday.
Webb pleaded guilty to 11 counts of indecently assaulting the boys over a decade during the 1970s and 1980s.
His youngest victim was 11 years old. The court heard how one of the boys looked up to him as a father figure after losing his own at a young age.
Webb, who now lives in the south-western region of Authon-Ebeon in France, taught at the school between 1965 and 1984. He served as a house master from 1981 until his resignation three years later.
Judge Henson raised concerns that Webb drank as an “inhibitor” to commit the offences.
She said: “You used your good character, your status as a teacher and latterly as a house master to allow you to commit these sexual offences against young pupils.
“You prioritised your sexual needs and carried out this offending for your own sexual gratification with complete disregard for the victims.
“There’s a serious and repeated nature of your offending.”
Dressed in a striped shirt, burgundy tie, and green fleece, Webb held his head in his hands and shut his eyes while details of his crimes were read to the court. But during a brief recess in the hearing he made a joke with the dock officer.
Abigail Husbands, prosecuting, told how one of the victims described smelling alcohol and tobacco on Webb when he crouched by his bedside.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, one of the men said he has been mistrustful of authority figures throughout his adult life because of Webb’s breach of trust.
He told how he continued to wake up in the night in “sheer panic” convinced someone was standing in the darkness staring at him, adding: “It was as real to me as the walls of my room. I can think of no other reason for this than Peter Webb’s actions.”
He said: “In the aftermath of Peter Webb’s actions, I tried to put it in the past and get on with my life. I didn’t want this to define who I am. But I’ve never been able to shake the experience off completely.”
Another said: “I managed to cope throughout my seven years at Christ’s Hospital but it was not until I left the school (that I could) put it behind me.”
He came forward to support other victims and expose “systemic” problems which he felt were prevalent in some establishments, the court heard.
Webb has already served 18 months in jail in 2015 after admitting similar offences against another schoolboy.
These allegations took place after he targeted his other victims, but came to light while he was still working at the school. The revelation prompted his resignation, he confessed to the education department and left the school immediately, the court heard.
Police did not investigate those allegations in the 1980s but he was banned from teaching for four years and publicly disgraced by media reports at the time, the court heard.
He never returned to teaching.
The publicity around that case prompted more victims to come forward and led to his second prosecution. When questioned by police, Webb made no comment.
Simon Ray, defending, said Webb was unable to recall much detail of the offences and said he thought because the children were sleeping at the time, his actions would cause less distress.
A 12th charge against Webb was left to lie on file. He will serve half the sentence in custody and half on licence.
Christ’s Hospital charges boarders up to £31,500 a year and counts Sir Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb, and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge among its former pupils.
The school was founded in the 16th century and its pupils still wear a Tudor-style uniform of a long blue coat and high yellow socks.
Webb’s prosecution is part of a wider investigation by police into allegations of abuse by former teachers at the school.
Peter Burr, 72, of Dartmouth, has admitted indecently assaulting a pupil at the school in the 1970s and is due to be sentenced next week.
Ajaz Karim, 63, who lives in London, has denied nine charges of indecent assault and one attempted indecent assault against six female pupils at the school. He is due to stand trial in April next year.
James Husband, 67, of York, is accused of four counts of rape and five counts of indecent assault against a woman.
Gary Dobbie, 66, of Albi, France, is charged with seven counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault against two men, as well as three counts of indecent assault against two women.
Both deny the charges and are due to stand trial in May next year.
Commenting on Webb’s sentencing, Christ’s Hospital headmaster Simon Reid said: “As I said when this man originally admitted to these offences, my thoughts are very much with the victims whose lives have no doubt been deeply affected.
“Today’s sentencing is another reminder that there is no room for complacency where child protection is concerned.
“It will remain a priority for the school and we will continue to challenge ourselves to ensure that Christ’s Hospital provides the safest possible environment for our students.”
Webb is now a registered sex offender for life and was made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order which restricts his access to children.
Sussex Police, which is leading the investigations into teachers at the school, said Webb’s case was not connected to others due to come to court.
The school’s management had fully co-operated with the investigation into Webb, a police spokesman said.
Detective Constable Rebecca Wilde, of the force’s complex abuse unit, said: “Webb systematically targeted young boys while he was in a position of authority and trust.”
Source: The Argus