The Prosecutors: Terra Nova

Last night’s television programme, The Prosecutors, which aired at 9pm on BBC Four, detailed the case of a man named Keith Cavendish-Coulson, who taught French at a private school, named Terra Nova in Cheshire, during the 1970s.

There was a total of 13 original complainants – 12 of those were from the Terra Nova preparatory school and the 13th happened 10 years later, whilst he was being privately tutored by Coulson. Allegations against Coulson were that he indecently assaulted the boys. One said he was kind and befriended him when he was missing home, but ended up taking advantage of his neediness. The victim stated he knew was Coulson was doing was wrong, but he was “completely unable to stop him”.

Another victim in the programme stated that he felt uncomfortable talking about Coulson and the horrific acts that he carried out on him. He stated that he hadn’t been able to confide in anyone “until now”, the main reason being because the teachers at the school appeared to have the “ultimate power” throughout the school, so making any kind of complaint was out of the question. When one pupil finally did, it was met with a “wall of silence” and it was this which enabled Coulson to continue his crimes and even continue teaching at other school, including Slindon College in Arundel, West Sussex, and St John’s Beaumont School in Windsor.

Coulson was a former French master, originally from Newbury in Berkshire. He resigned during the 1980s for “health reasons” rather than what turned out to be a cover up for his crimes. He would summon them to his desk in class where he would inappropriately touch them. He also allowed boys to visit him in his private dorms where he would befriend them. He has also been accused of visiting boys in their rooms where he would indecently assault them.

Coulson denied committing the crimes and his defence statement said that the victims have been able to collude information, due to the police giving away details about the case in the press which has allowed various people to come forward.

However, in examining the evidence, prosecution felt that is wasn’t possible for the victims to have any contact. They were now living all over the country and would have only had contact until age 13, as Terra Nova was a prep school, so collusion was deemed incomprehensible.

He took the chance that as a non-recent case relying on people’s memories in giving evidence can be different. Also, evidence at the scene, for example, was long gone so it would be difficult to link evidence in that way. But, it is possible to use other statements to support evidence in these cases. For example, in the Coulson case, parents submitted complaints to the school about Coulson, which eventually led to arrangements being made by the headmaster for Coulson to leave his post at the school. Both the parents’ statements of complaint and the headmaster would be valuable supporting witnesses to the case.

Coulson’s trial was to take place on 27th October 2014, but as investigations progressed, a further 13 victims came forward, which brought a total of 26. However, all 26 would not be tried at the same time, because if Coulson was successfully convicted at the first trial, the hope is that Coulson will see sense and plead guilty to the other 13 – that way, those victims from the second group won’t have to give evidence and face their past.

It worked and on the day of his trial, Coulson pleaded guilty to 42 counts of indecent assaults during the 70s and 80s.The Judge said that Coulson’s “catalogue of crimes” were “shocking” and that the boys should have been able to look to look to him to be treated with respect, not “wholesale sexual abuse”. He was jailed for 6 years and 9 months.

Victims are not just located by the police – they come forward of their own accord. This is recognised by the prosecutors involved with the case, but also the lawyers as well. I currently look after a quarter of the cases involved with the Coulson case and we are currently pursuing civil claims for compensation from the school. It will not mend the harm caused, but it will enable some of the victims to seek specialist professional help and obtain some justice and closure that they so deserve.

It’s clear that Coulson abused his position of trust, made worse by the fact that the school knew what was happening and covered up the situation to protect themselves, when they should have been protecting the children in their care.

If you have been affected by any information given here and you would like some legal advice, then you can call the Verisona Law team today – we’d be happy to help.


Lisa has more than 20 years’ experience of dealing with Personal Injury matters ranging from road traffic accidents to workplace injury and liability. She offers a sympathetic and professional approach to her clients’ problems and advises on funding options (including insurance and Conditional Fee Agreements.)

Her extensive knowledge of the Civil Procedure Rules, skills in evidence gathering and analysis of liability and causation, and experience in risk assessment and settlement negotiation make her a valuable asset to clients and colleagues alike.

She is also a member of Verisona Law’s Historic Abuse Team and undertakes documentary analysis, work relating to case evidence and the development of legal arguments to secure successful settlements. She is fluent in German and Persian.

Lisa also has experience in Civil Litigation regarding Debt Recovery, Breach of Contract, and Insolvency Law.

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Lisa studied ‘Contract Law, European Law and Employment Law’ as part of her degree in BA (Hons) Business Administration. She has also studied other business subjects, including accounting.

Having completed her degree, Lisa started work for Verisona Law in November 1999 in the Personal Injury department as a Trainee Litigation Clerk and since then has developed extensive skills in relation to personal injury litigation and case preparation.

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