Ghosts from Brynteg’s past haunt the present following historic sex abuse bombshell

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Earlier this week, in two excellent pieces of journalism from BBC Wales’ Rebecca John (here and here), two separate allegations of historic sexual abuse – dating back to the 1980s – were revealed to have been made against former Brynteg Comprehensive art teacher, Clive Hally.

It’s reported that Hally died in May following an apparent suicide and before a charging decision was to be made by prosecutors, with an inquest into his death set to open in November.

These type of things always seemed to happen “to other people”; certainly not at a school of Brynteg’s supposed high standing or one of my own former teachers. It’s come as a real shock – but thinking back to my own time there, were there signs that something wasn’t quite right?

Some useful links: Survivors UK, BBC Action Line, Rape & Sexual Assault (South Wales Police)

The shark in the pond?

For anyone reading this from outside Bridgend, Brynteg is a huge school. When I was there it had around 2,000 pupils on roll. Numbers have fallen to around 1,400 since then as the demographics of the catchment area changed – though it’s still amongst the top 20 largest secondary schools in the country and just about remains the largest in Bridgend.

Like many former grammar schools (though it’s a former grammar and secondary modern), it often tried to maintain a grammar school ethos. As the school was so big and possibly difficult for teachers to police properly, both excellence and conformity were expected and enforced, while bringing glory to the school often seemed to be the be all and end all. There’s nothing wrong with pushing students to do their best, but at Brynteg it often crossed the line into arrogance, had very limited definitions of what success actually was and you were marked out for greatness (or not) fairly early on.

If you were in one of the senior rugby teams or a high-achiever in any other discipline you were one of the big fishes in a stiflingly overcrowded, often cliquey, pond; it often seemed the school would go the extra mile for some students (as long as they didn’t push it) at the expense of the rest of us – though attitudes were starting to change before I left and the school is apparently a very different place now to what it was then.

Hally was my art teacher for several years until Year 11. I was pretty crap but he would push you to do your best (he was particularly proud of his record of nobody ever getting below a C at GCSE, which I threatened at several points) and kept an open door for any student with a serious interest in the subject, letting you use the room during break times and after school.

When he was in the right mood he could be cheery and helpful. He expected a lot from you, but classes were often laid-back and were occasionally the highlight of the timetable….on a good day.

You catch him on a bad day though and he revealed sides to his personality that everyone knew were a bit “off” but nobody really challenged. He had “favourites” who he would shower with praise, one-to-one mentoring, anecdotes and advice – usually but not always boys – but I used to think it was just part of that Brynteg attitude towards high-achievers.

I usually stayed on the right side of him because I just got on with the work and kept quiet (though he would get annoyed if you were too quiet). Few teachers tolerate class clowns and alike, but those students he simply didn’t like (even some who were actually quite good at art) would be picked out for what verged on bullying. He wasn’t the only teacher to do that so, again, I didn’t think much of it.

His demeanour could change in an instant – one minute he was giving one-to-one feedback, the next there were spit goblets flying out of his mouth as he tore into a red-faced rage at an individual or the entire class….before withdrawing to one of the storerooms to calm down. His interest in masks also seems disturbingly symbolic with hindsight.

With that benefit of hindsight, behaviour that we all considered to be that of a highly-strung, old-school teacher a heart attack away from an early grave, was probably psychological manipulation. Clearly, for some, it reportedly went from mental to physical abuse.

I don’t want to believe the allegations, but sadly they’re completely believable. Everything that’s been reported about the attitude of the school and Hally’s behaviour in the classroom during the 1970s and 1980s equally applied to an extent into the 1990s and 00s.

One of the worst things to come out of this is that other teachers reportedly knew Hally was behaving inappropriately and confronted him about it, yet nothing was done. Some teachers did seem to drop in and out of his classroom fairly regularly and often for no reason. Were they keeping an eye on him? I always thought it was because of his health problems, but now….

Where next?

The men who’ve come forward deserve nothing but respect as it’s no doubt an incredibly difficult thing to deal with and talk about – even anonymously. Hopefully, it leads to some closure.

36 years is a fair old timespan. The bravery of these men is inevitably going to lead to others reporting their own abuse.

Although I don’t know of any cases, rumours or otherwise, of people my age being physically abused at Brynteg, as I’ve outlined there were similar patterns of behaviour during my time there and probably continued after I left – so the potential for it having happened is there, but I’d like to think it didn’t happen.

What everyone needs to realise though is that the current school leadership and staff can’t be blamed for this. It’s unfair that they’ll have to deal with the fallout despite not having anything to do with it. I don’t think parents sending their kids there in 2019 need to be concerned.

A lot of this happened before “child safeguarding” was even a thing and considering Hally left in 2011, the youngest pupils to have been taught by him will be around 20-years-old now.

Obviously, Hally can’t defend himself against these allegations so there can be no justice one way or another. But this is a potentially huge child protection breach that deserves a full, frank and completely independent investigation.

There are clear parallels with the abuse scandal which led to the Clywch Inquiry in 2001-2004. That’s probably the level of inquiry that needs to happen once it’s clear how many potential victims there were.

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