Outrage at Banham Marshalls 'gagging order'

Students of a former Norfolk special school received a setback in their quest for justice after an attempt was made to 'silence' claimants in a multi-million pound compensation case.

Students of a former Norfolk special school received a setback in their quest for justice after an attempt was made to 'silence' claimants in a multi-million pound compensation case.

Representatives of 100 ex-pupils of Banham Marshalls College, which was the centre of Norfolk's worst child cruelty case, spoke of their disgust after it emerged that the defendants had asked claimants to sign a 'gagging order'.

News of the confidentiality clause comes after the insurers of Banham Marshalls Services made its first offers to settle the claims of a few students who attended the independent day and boarding school, near Attleborough, which accommodated children from 24 local authorities with special educational needs.

The ongoing civil case comes after owner and headmaster George Robson was sentenced to child cruelty offences committed in the 1970s and 80s. The 66-year-old died the day after his suspended sentence was handed out at Norwich Crown Court in November 2007.

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Ex-pupils, who attended the school between the 1970s and 2004, are seeking compensation of between �5,000 and �200,000 each following years of physical and psychological abuse.

Cambridge-based solicitor Andrew Grove, who represents 76 of the claimants, said the 'gagging order' was another obstruction in the long-running case.

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'We do not want to be silenced, there has been enough silence in this case. If this is the forerunner of the way these settlements are going to progress it is going to take years and we want closure as much as the clients.'

'It is another stumbling block to settle these claims and we do not want our clients gagged. It is against the principles of free speech. They want to talk about their experiences and not be constrained,' he said.

Mr Grove said the four claimants, who have so far been offered a settlement, were happy with the offer made by solicitors acting on behalf of Aviva - one of Banham Marshalls Services insurers - but rejected it following revelations of the confidentiality clause. He added that he hoped the defendants would have a change of heart.

The order asks claimants to not tell any person, company, organisation, apart from professional advisers, about the terms of their settlement.

Derek Jones, 36, of Kent, who attended Banham Marshalls College for three years in the late 1980s, said he had refused to sign the confidentially clause.

'I was horrified. Part of my recovery is about being open and honest with people. I took the first offer and I wanted to put it behind me and I am still waiting for a response from them,' he said.

Legal representatives for the claimants said they were still waiting to see 30 years worth of Banham Marshalls College paperwork after a judge ordered the disclosure of old punishment books, accident logs, complaint books, and medical records earlier this year.

A spokesman for Berryman Lace and Mawer, which made the settlement offer on behalf of Aviva, said the company could not comment on the ongoing compensation case.

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