Shocking tale of disgraced headteacher

Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton -
Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton -
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If you pitched the tale of gambling, boozing headmaster James Stewart and his school sex dungeon as a film script you’d probably be told it was too far fetched.

But in a remarkable and sensational court case the appalling antics of the former principal at Sawtry Community College were laid bare.

It’s hard to stifle the “fnarr, fnarrs’’’ when reading reports of Stewart’s case and his staggeringly salacious behaviour.

There were moments of pure comedy, not least the time when he told staff he was leaving to go to a meeting only to be spotted on the telly at the horses.

Well, he wasn’t lying. It was a meeting – a race meeting!

However, the sniggers pretty soon turn to stoney-faced shock as you appreciate the damage this man did.

Staff described him as a “sexist, racist, fattist bully’ which does make you wonder how he convinced anyone to join him in his extra curricular activities.

The school is thankfully recovering, but make no bones about it, hundreds of children have suffered because of this excuse of a man and his outrageous behaviour.

The question many will be asking is how on earth did Stewart get away with his fraudulent and perverted behaviour for so long?

And how long might it have continued were it not for Sarah Wilson?

She was the deputy principal at Sawtry Community College who raised the alarm about Stewart. She is now principal of the school – now renamed Sawtry Village Academy – with the responsibility for repairing the immense damage done by her disgraced and jailed predecessor.

It is hard to believe that his behaviour was not the subject of staff room gossip for some time before Ms Wilson stepped forward.

Whistle blowing takes much courage, because people are putting their jobs and careers on the line, and by the nature of it are taking on powerful people in more senior positions. Stewart must have thought he was untouchable. Thanks to Ms Wilson, he wasn’t.

His namesake, Hollywood legend James Stewart, starred in one of the great est movies of all time It’s A Wonderful Life.

“Our’’ James Stewart must have thought it was too, but now, in his prison cell, he might not think so. It would make a good film though.

To err is human

Westcombe Industries and The Green Backyard are two unique organisations of which Peterborough is justifiably proud.

Westcombe, the engineering firm which provides work for disabled people, and the community green project have both featured in good news stories in the PT over the past few weeks, which suggests the future is rosy for both of them.

Not so long ago both organisations were under threat after decisions taken by Peterborough City Council.

Thankfully, in the end the city council supported both organisations and is helping them to thrive. The council deserves much credit, not least, for effectively admitting its first decisions were wrong.

Now about those brown bins...

Crossing over

The city council also deserves praise (Nurse, get the screens – Ed.) for its improvements to Bishop’s Road. I don’t use the route much as a driver, but often cross it as a pedestrian or cyclist. The relocated and redesigned pelican crossing is much improved and feels much safer. Countless motorists used to jump the red lights at the old one, possibly because they were focused on the nearby roundabout.

Now about that Rhubarb Bridge...