A man who was awarded a record £1.1m damages after suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of his schoolteacher as a teenager has spoken out about the trauma of his experiences and the effect on his mental health.
The man, known as “James” – the courts ordered he should not be identified – told the BBC the legacy of his abuse had left him mentally damaged in adult life, leading to two breakdowns and in effect ending a successful career in the IT industry.
He was abused by Andrew Adams, a PE teacher at Highgate Wood school in Crouch End, London, in the 1980s. Adams admitted charges of indecent assault and serious sexual assault in 2014 and was jailed for eight years.
James subsequently sued Haringey council, Adams’s employer, for damages and in 2019, after a five-year legal battle, was awarded £1,112,390, the highest ever UK court award for a child sexual abuse survivor. An appeal against the award by the council and its insurer failed earlier this year.
In his first interview, James told the BBC that Adams had groomed him after he had confided in him that he had been raped. Adams had told him the rape proved he was gay and people would hate him, but that he would be his friend.
“Adams assaulted me in the school changing rooms, the gym and outside of term time in the school’s VW van. He was admired, no one questioned him.” James said Adams had taken him to the home he shared with his mother and raped him while she had been in the house.
The abuse continued until he was 21, and the legacy took its toll, the BBC reported. James had been unable to form close relationships. After disclosing the abuse to a psychiatrist, James went to police, leading to the arrest and conviction of Adams.
The trauma of the case left James unable to work and he sued Adams and Haringey for damages. He spent two days in the witness box, where it was put to him that it was he who had groomed Adams.
“The idea that I, as a 13-year-old pre-pubescent boy, could somehow instigate or groom a 35-year-old teacher – I was shocked,” he said.
At the appeal hearing it was claimed by Haringey and its insurers that the years of assaults could not have caused any long-term trauma to James because they had not been violent.
James said he felt let down by Haringey council. “I thought they were dishonest in pretending to the public that they actually care, because when they are confronted with someone who has suffered from abuse from one of their staff, and the long-term consequences of that, they want to say it’s nothing to do with them.”
James’s solicitor, David McClenaghan of Bolt Burdon Kemp, told BBC News: “I am delighted that my client’s bravery in pursuing his case has been vindicated in the high court and the court of appeal and he can be proud that his victory and the precedent set will pave an easier pathway for all other victims of abuse in the civil courts.”
A Haringey spokesperson said the council had “sincere sympathies” for James. “We have previously strongly condemned the actions of Andrew Adams, and that position has not changed. To be clear, Andrew Adams was jailed in 2014 for admitted criminal acts. This civil case was an appeal brought by our insurers’ legal team – not the council – in order to decide the level of damages to be awarded.”