A prestigious private girls’ school, which asked former pupils to contribute to a drama project about sexual harassment inspired by the #MeToo campaign, has found itself at the centre of historical allegations of sexual abuse.
St Paul’s Girls’ school in west London contacted former pupils, known as Old Paulinas (OPs), inviting them to help the drama department create a piece of documentary theatre about sexual harassment to take to the Edinburgh festival fringe next year.
The school had hoped to interview people about experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. After receiving the letter, a small number of OPs responded by making allegations of sexual abuse while they were at the school.
Two women made claims relating to personal experiences, while others notified the school about alleged abuse described to them by friends. The allegations, first reported in Huff Post UK, focus on a period from the 1970s to the 90s.
The high mistress, Sarah Fletcher, has since written to alumni urging any other former pupils with allegations of sexual abuse to come forward, adding: “There can never be any excuse for an adult, particularly one in a position of trust, to abuse that position and to take advantage of a pupil to commit what is a terrible crime.”
She said the school now had strict protocols governing interactions between staff and students and clear safeguarding policies. Given recent allegations, however, she has requested an independent safeguarding inspection by the local authority to ensure best practice.
The allegations surfaced after the school’s director of drama, Isabel Foley, wrote to former pupils requesting help for the Edinburgh production. The email began: “Shocked by the Weinstein stories in the press? Surprised? Not surprised? Did you post #MeToo? Then we need your help.
“We are looking to interview women and men from all sectors and age groups to gain a greater insight into what seems to be commonplace sexual harassment in the workplace by men in a position of power, be it low level ‘banter’ or more extreme cases of physical abuse.”
Fletcher’s subsequent letter this week explained: “The email we sent, in conjunction with #MeToo and the stories about abuse currently in the press, prompted a small number of OPs to get in touch with the school.
“They have told us of past sexual abuse at St Paul’s. Two wrote from personal experience, others about what they had heard from friends. The allegations relate to a period spanning from the 1970s to 1990s.”
The former pupils who contacted the school appear to have chosen not to identify any alleged perpetrator. The high mistress’s letter states: “The police can only do their job, however, if they have a name.
“I have, therefore, asked these OPs to consider whether they would feel able to identify the individual(s), so that they can be held to account. I realise this is a big and difficult step to take, and we shall do all we can to support anyone who decides to go to the police.
“It is only through proper reflection on what went wrong that we as a school can ensure that present and future students are as safe as possible.
“This is the power of #MeToo, and of the stories of these OPs who contacted us.
If you suffered abuse at St Paul’s and would like to report a crime, our local authority have advised us that you should call 101.If you would like to get in touch with the school to talk to us, please let me know.”
The Metropolitan police were unable to confirm reports. A statement from the £24,000-a-year school said, however: “We can confirm that the school recently received some allegations of past abuse.
“While these refer to events in the 1970s and 1990s, we take any information of this nature extremely seriously and have passed all the details immediately to the relevant authorities, with whom we remain in close contact.”
Former pupils include the novelist and playwright Dodie Smith, scientist Rosalind Franklin, broadcast journalist Stephanie Raworth and actor Rachel Weisz.