Further allegations bring culture at Chet’s in 80s and 90s into question

- 11 February 2013

Following the conviction last week of Mike Brewer, former head of music at Chetham’s school of music, on sexual abuse charges, the Guardian has published allegations relating to two more former Chetham’s teachers: Malcolm Layfield, current head of strings at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Chris Ling, a freelance violin teacher at Chetham’s during the 1980s about whom allegations have been made to the newspaper by ten former pupils.

Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
Photo: David Dixon

On Friday evening the Guardian published lengthy correspondence principally between Martin Roscoe, then head of keyboard studies at the RNCM, and Edward Gregson, then the RNCM’s principal ‒ but including input from the RNCM’s unnamed director of resources, the RNCM’s then chairman of governors, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, violist and RNCM lecturer Vicci Wardman, and Frances Andrade, the victim of Mr Brewer who committed suicide during the trial which concluded last week. The correspondence detailed Mr Roscoe’s concerns about Malcolm Layfield’s suitability for a senior position such as head of strings, given the character of the allegations that he had heard.

In a resignation letter to Gregson, Mr Roscoe called Layfield’s appointment ‘disgraceful in itself and a disaster for the reputation of the RNCM’, and said that the management’s upholding of the appointment after he had brought the allegations to their attention ‘only serves to illustrate to me that the culture at the RNCM is one I do not wish to be a part of, and that you and they are completely out of touch with the musical profession, which is for the most part appalled by the appointment’. The dossier of correspondence is available here.

Last night the Guardian published six anonymised accounts of alleged abuse by Mr Ling after Guardian journalists had spoken to ten women ‘about what they claim is the abusive and predatory behaviour of Chris Ling’. The graphic accounts reveal a pattern of similar behaviour by the teacher ‒ ‘such as Ling asking them to play the violin naked or instigating a system of “punishment and reward” where the punishment would be anything from a smack on their bare bottom to serious sexual abuse’.

The accounts say that much of the alleged abuse happened at Ling’s house, where he would conduct private lessons and have pupils to stay after concerts, when alcohol would often be consumed by underage pupils. The Guardian has approached Ling, who stopped teaching at Chetham’s in the summer of 1990 and now lives in America, but he declined to comment.

In one account, it is said that one pupil of Ling’s compiled a notepad of allegations of her fellow pupils and presented it to the headmaster at the time, John Vallins, but that she did not hear of any subsequent action being taken. Vallins told the paper: ‘I am disturbed, extremely unhappy at the suggestion that I said I would look into something but nothing was done. My clear recollection was that the first time I knew of anything with Chris Ling was when the police came to the school. I am profoundly distressed at the suggestion that if I had good reason to suspect any improper behaviour towards any pupil, I would not have acted on it.’

The police were informed of certain allegations against Ling in December 1990 and say they are trying to find out why the investigation was closed without charges being brought. The Guardian has talked to a woman who said that Ling ‘missed his mother’s funeral because he was scared that he would be arrested if he set foot on UK soil’.

One account expresses dismay over the culture at Chetham’s at that time: ‘He [Ling] was so brazen about it. It was so out in the open. It was as though he didn’t see that he was doing anything wrong. He seemed to think it was one of the perks of the job to take advantage of these naïve girls shut up in this hot-house environment. It seemed to be open season for him. Now I think: how dare he do that to me? How dare he do that to my friends? How did the school not ask what was going on? I was always crying upstairs and yet my housemistress never asked what was wrong with me.’

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