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Released On 9th Oct 2023

Sexual Abuse at Queen Ethelburga’s College

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate is a prestigious school set amidst more than 200 acres in Thorpe Underwood and near to York.

The school was opened in 1912 and until 1990 was an all girl’s school.  In 1990 the school was acquired by the Martin family and moved to Thorpe Underwood.  It has regularly featured in the top 20 for A level results. It is now a mixed sex school and offers a wealth of sporting facilities.

However, the school has grappled with a troubled past.

In January 2015, an emergency meeting was convened at Northallerton Town Hall in North Yorkshire. The police had important information to share with the county council schools’ liaison. They had received a tip-off relating to the self-styled ‘provost’ of Queen Ethelburga’s College, Brian Martin.

Five years previously, a pupil at the school had alleged she had been assaulted by Martin.  However, her evidence had been deemed insufficient for a prosecution.

The meeting at Northallerton set in motion a chain of events. The Independent Education and School Safeguarding Division of the Department for Education was informed.  Two inspectors arrived unannounced at Queen Ethelburga’s college.

Martin was not present, but what the inspectors found caused considerable concern.  There were around 700 CCTV cameras located about the college.  It initially claimed the CCTV was required for security reasons, however, the school was ordered to reduce the number of cameras, which it did in time for a follow-up inspection in June.

In July 2015 a new witness contacted police. Following her allegations, police interviewed a number of former teaching staff. 

In October 2015 Martin was arrested and interviewed on suspicion of indecent assault on a child and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and voyeurism.

By 2017, four further complainants and a hostile witness had been identified, and in 2018 Mr Martin was tried on twenty-four counts of historic sexual abuse.  He denied all charges and was acquitted of all but three counts on which the jury could not decide.

Pillars on a crown court buildingIn 2021, Martin returned to court to face trial over one final outstanding count, undecided from his first trial. Then, two former pupils alleged that, in 2010, Martin had sexually assaulted one. On this occasion, the jury found Martin guilty.

Martin, was sentenced at Leeds Crown Court and jailed for three years and three months following his conviction for a sexual assault on the boy in the late 2000’s.  Martin was also found guilty of indecent assault on a girl in the 1990’s at another retrial in 2019. 

North Yorkshire Police released a statement describing Martin as a ‘predatory paedophile.’ He served 19 months of his sentence and remains on the sex offender’s register.

In 2018, a senior housemaster at Queen Ethelburga's, Thomas Ball, installed a spy camera in a school bathroom.  Ball had asked a pupil to take a shower, but the boy noticed a wire beneath the sink with a flashing light and became suspicious.  The police were notified and spoke to Ball who he initially denied any responsibility.  Following an investigation, the police were able to prove that Ball purchased and installed the camera. Ball was charged with offences of voyeurism and possession of indecent images of children.  In March 2021, Ball was sentenced at York Crown Court to 1 year and 10 months imprisonment for child sex offences.

More recently Alexander Ralls a senior teacher, and former Child Protection Officer at Queen Ethelburga’s college has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after being found guilty of multiple charges of sexual assault against 20 victims. 

The court heard how, over a four-year-period while working as a Child Protection Officer and Safeguarding Lead Queen Ethelburga’s college, Ralls used his position of trust to exploit his victims, claiming to care for them and provide them with medical treatment while actually sexually assaulting them.  Both in the UK and on school trips abroad, Ralls posed as a person with medical knowledge, despite the fact he no medical qualifications.

The trial heard Ralls taken pupils on trips to The Gambia in 2012, and India in 2014 and 2015. He molested seven of his victims on the 2014 orphanage trip and sexually attacked nine girls in 2015.

Whilst on the foreign trips girls and boys would suffer heat stroke and diarrhoea and would seek Ralls for treatment. He would give the boys medicine, but the girls were treated differently.  Many were told to strip naked or down to their underwear and then Ralls would either pour cold water onto their bodies and pat them down with damp flannels.

They would also be told to shower naked, whilst he watched or he would rub their stomachs, often moving his hands to their genital area or breasts.

At Ralls trial, the CPS barrister commented that Ralls had not provided genuine medical treatment, `this was gratuitous touching for the sexual satisfaction of Ralls alone.  He manipulated a situation so that he could view a teenage girl naked for his own sexual pleasure'

On the trips Ralls would often share sleeping quarters with the girls and some of his victims woke up in the middle of the night to find him sexually assaulting them.

Ralls was found guilty at Bradford Crown Court of 31 charges of sexual assault.  10 charges related to causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent, 2 charges of assault by penetration and 1 charge of sexual assault of a child under 13.  

On 25 September 2023 Ralls was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment.  He was also made the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

Robsonshaw solicitors are already representing a number of former pupils of Queen Ethelburga's and have successfully obtained compensation against the school. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse at Queen Ethelburga’s College, please contact specialist abuse solicitor Robert Shaw for a no obligation, confidential and free initial discussion. Robert can be contacted on his direct dial, 01392 345332, or email robert@robsonshaw.uk.