Former head teacher convicted of historical sexual abuse at Kent public school

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July 2023

A former head teacher at the prestigious Tonbridge School in Kent is facing jail time after being convicted of abusing two pupils following a trial which concluded at Maidstone Crown Court earlier this month.

Throughout the hearing Jurors heard how Russell Tillson, 73, had taken advantage of his position of power at the boarding and day school to molest boys in one-to-one tuition sessions, as well as at social occasions which he hosted and where he served alcohol to the students.

Tillson, who has also served as a Councillor, and as the chairman of the Folkestone and Hythe Conservative Association, denied the offences which included grabbing the genitals of two boys, and touching one boy's penis.

However, he was eventually found guilty thanks to the bravery of the survivors of the abuse who gave evidence during the trial. He will return to court on September 1st, 2023, to be sentenced, and has been told by the Judge that he will likely serve a prison sentence.

While Tillson has now been convicted and will face criminal sanctions, abuse lawyers say they are ‘deeply concerned’ by evidence which came to light during the trial which found that the school had been made aware of allegations of abuse as early as 1984.

A further allegation of abuse was reportedly made in 2001, after which the former head teacher left the school following an internal investigation, but the matter was not then picked up by the police until 2019, following which Tillson was arrested in 2020.

Speaking following the outcome of the hearing Jacob Shaw, an abuse law expert at Simpson Millar, paid tribute to those involved in bringing about the conviction and who had helped to secure justice on behalf of those who had suffered abuse by Russell Tillson.

He went on to say that this tragic case highlights the importance of the recommendation made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual abuse (IICSA) in its final report for a legal requirement for certain people to report child sexual abuse when they become aware of it, or it is disclosed to them.

The Inquiry heard testimonies from over 7,300 victims and survivors and considered evidence from historical and contemporary accounts, which demonstrated that in some cases where abuse was disclosed, reputational concerns were prioritised over the safety of children. In other cases, a culture of indifference led to a succession of missed opportunities to intervene in the life of a vulnerable child.

Jacob said: “This is another horrific example of a person in power taking advantage of the children that he was supposed to care for and protect. What is also particularly concerning in this case, is that the school was made aware of the abuse as early as 1984, but it took almost 20 years for them to take action.

“Furthermore, the police were still not involved in the matter until 2019, despite the school carrying out an internal investigation in 2001, and while that ultimately resulted in Tillson leaving Tonbridge School we know he went on to work in other positions of power.

“Those institutions had a duty of care to protect those who may have come into contact with him, and we applaud the bravery of those men who were instrumental in bringing about this conviction.

“We are pleased that the Government has accepted IICSA’s recommendations in respect of mandatory reporting which will ensure prompt action is taken against perpetrators of abuse and that they are not allowed to go undetected for many years, leaving vulnerable children at risk.

  • "What is important is that the government act quicky in its implementation of the recommendation and that the resources are put in place to deal with reports of abuse in a timely, prioritised, and efficient way."

    Jacob Shaw

    Abuse law expert

Simpson Millar’s Abuse Team has been helping survivors of abuse for more than 30 years to bring civil claims for abuse and assault against their attacker’s employer, and Criminal Injuries Compensation Claims.

The firm has helped many survivors bring a successful claim including against public schools, even if the abuse happened many years ago, allowing them to get the closure and justice they deserve.

If you suffered abuse as a result of the actions of Russell Tillson, or in a school setting, you can contact Simpson Millar for free confidential advice. Legal Aid may be available, depending on your financial situation or we could deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis.

You can read more about bringing a sexual abuse claim here: Physical and Sexual Abuse Claims | Simpson Millar Solicitors


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