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Exposed: Schumann’s great-grandson was a serial abuser at English public school

Among the ripples of the police investigations into 1980s student rape at Chethams, the RNCM, Guildhall and other music schools, a private school reached a quiet settlement this week with a former student who had been sexually abused by a teacher between 1976 and 1983.

He was not the only victim at Sevenoaks School. Stuart Neilson, an ex-pupil, has come forward to tell Slipped Disc that he was abused by the same teacher. He is not seeking damages, but has formed a support group. So far, eight ex-pupils have said they were abused by five teachers at the school during the period concerned. Stuart Neilson wants Seveoaks School to acknowledge responsibility for the abuse, rather than passing the buck to its insurers.

sommerhoff

The chief abuser, says Stuart Neilson, was a technology teacher called Gerd Sommerhoff, a minor celebrity who once presented science programmes on the BBC. Sommerhoff, described in his Wiki entry as a ‘pioneer of theoretical neuroscience’, went on to teach at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was awarded the OBE. He was the grandson of Elise Schumann, third child of Robert and Clara Schumann, and had been brought to England as a child in 1931. Sommerhoff died in April 2002. Stuart Neilson is concerned that his offences should not be forgotten.

He wonders if there are wider ramifications to the case. During the time of these abuses, there was a chaplain and housemaster at Sevenoaks School called Peter Hullah.

Bishop Peter Hullah_ Canon of Yatesbury_

 

The Rev. (later Bishop) Hullah went on to become head of Chetham’s. He once walked in on the convicted rapist Mike Brewer while he was fondling a naked girl. At Chetham’s, as at Sevenoaks, the Rev. Hullah turned a blind eye.

Stuart Neilson tells us that, as a pupil, he discussed sexual bullying and abuse with Hullah.  ’I am absolutely certain that he was aware of the nature and extent of the sexual abuse, and that he was both chaplain and a housemaster,’ he attests. At Mike Brewer’s trial, Hullah admitted being party to ‘a cover-up’ to arrange Brewer’s removal from the school. Except for his evidence at the trial, Hullah has maintained total media silence and refused requests for interview.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. So much for being a ‘Reverend’. It’s important to point out there are many conscientious and committed people within their ranks, but this is yet another reminder that for a sizeable proportion the ‘calling’ means precisely Jack-shit when push comes to shove. Regardless of religious belief, status, privilege or intellect, empathy (and the courage to act on it) comes from within or comes not.
    Not so sure Schumann’s name should be associated so boldly with serial abuse, though. As if the classics need any help in having an eccentric and perverse public image. The average Joe will remember this fact about Schumann, but will never in a month of Sundays come to learn that that he wrote ‘Carnaval’ much less ever listen to it or understand it. By all means, point out the fascinating fact that Sommerhoff was the great-grandson within the text, but why put Schumann’s name up in lights? – except to make a grabbing headline of course. A touch of the tabloids methinks.

  2. What the Hell have 19th century Robert and Clara Schumann to do with this 20th century filth?
    Nothing.

    • How old was Clara Wieck when she first started a romantic (maybe sexual?) relationship with Robert?

      • Clara and Robert were, respectively, 8 and 9 years old when they met. They married when she was 21. It involves none of the imbalances of power, systemic abuse within a residential institution and complicity by adults who chose to do nothing when they had the authority and power to intervene. The Revd Hullah (if he was indeed aware of serial paedophile amongst his teaching colleagues) must come in for particular criticism, especially given his own court testimony that he made a subsequent career out of turning a blind eye to rape, sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual relationships in the schools for which he was responsible.

        The Revd Hullah, now Bishop Hullah, presumably has many questions to answer.

        • Robert Schumann was born in 1810, Clara Wieck in 1819; Robert was 17 when he first met the 8-year old Clara.

          • That’s their age gap. How old were they when the relationship became more than Platonic? Much as I know he loved her, I can’t see Robert Schumann seeing Miss Wieck as an 8 year old girl in 1819; I’m certain the romance started later.

          • Well bang goes my naïve and fanciful illusion that the Schumann’s was the form of developing relationship that laws on sexual offences were never intended to regulate. I suppose it would be fair to assume an inequality in power and economic freedom as well as age, so in fact there are several similarities with the more recent cases.

  3. True enough – his relationship with the Subercaseaux Sommerhoff family and the governance of Chile might be more relevant. Gerd Sommerhoff’s economist brother Walter, twin sister (Gerda) and her son Bernardo Subercaseaux Sommerhoff are far more interesting, Bernardo in particular continuing this particular vice (http://www.lanacion.cl/noticias/site/artic/20041020/pags/20041020184426.html).

    Most important is Peter Hullah’s continuance in the Church (http://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/about/whos-who/), retaining the title of Bishop despite all that is known about him.

  4. ‘How old was Clara Wieck when she first started a romantic (maybe sexual?) relationship with Robert?’
    Now there’s a heck of a question. And… did either of them, or anybody around them consider it ‘abuse’? Clara’s father perhaps did, even if he did not have the words for it in the 19th C., but then again perhaps he only opposed the relationship because he felt Schumann was ‘not of sound mind’? Well, it encapsulates the entire (unentanglable?) issue of socially-imposed morality, attitudes across different eras, attitudes to sensuality, integrity in relationships, ‘unequal’ relationships, in short – erotic love. Also, if their affection started out as platonic, but becoming romantic, then becoming sexual, at what point (if at all) was he ‘grooming’ her? The whole business really does my head in. I always want to be sympathetic to anybody who has genuinely suffered at the hands of others, but can’t ignore the impression there’s a lot of false-interpretation attached to these issues. The bottom line must be ‘has the person been hurt/had their life altered for the worse’ by a sensual encounter? Even that is a fraught question: anybody who has ever been through a failed relationship has been ‘hurt’ and in a real sense lost out on some of their life. There could be many other reasons for their insecurity too. Question is, were they wise enough to know what they were getting into at the time, and did they have a ‘fair’ chance of resisting the seduction (if they wanted to, and if they even knew whether they wanted to). Somerhoff and Hullah certainly appear to have been villains of the piece, though.

    • ‘The bottom line must be ‘has the person been hurt/had their life altered for the worse’ by a sensual encounter? Even that is a fraught question: anybody who has ever been through a failed relationship has been ‘hurt’ and in a real sense lost out on some of their life. There could be many other reasons for their insecurity too. Question is, were they wise enough to know what they were getting into at the time, and did they have a ‘fair’ chance of resisting the seduction (if they wanted to, and if they even knew whether they wanted to).’

      I’m not really sure that is a realistic or fair bottom line; beyond a certain age individuals have to be deemed responsible for some of their own choices. It’s the easiest thing in the world to start claiming that one was unfairly hurt when a relationship did not work out the way one hoped; but if there was not violence, non-consensual sexual activity, or what would be deemed psychological/emotional abuse (which in no sense equates to hurting someone because one decides they want to leave them, or generally loses strong feelings or desire for them) that’s the risk one takes by entering into such a relationship.

      Seduction is a quite complex thing, often portrayed simply as one predator persuading some helpless prey into a sexual encounter, but in reality the result of all sorts of subtle two-way interactions. A negative view of seduction in general does tend to rest upon some distinction between an authentic self and set of desires, and a supposedly artificially induced selfhood, brought about as the result of the actions, promises, inducements of another. But I believe the self is constructed in very large measure through interactions, and is a dynamic thing. To think in terms of whether someone even knew whether they wanted to resist a seduction is in many ways to deny them agency or responsibility. When below a certain age, if that person has serious mental disabilities or the like, or if extreme amounts of alcohol, or drugs, are involved, that is entirely reasonable to suppose, but I’m not really sure otherwise.

  5. Terms like seduction and hurt are totally inadequate for the allegations made against the perpetrator here (Sommerhoff, not Schumann). Gerd Sommerhoff is alleged to have sexually assaulted eleven- and twelve-year-old children. There is no suggestion of seduction or consent, even if it was possible at that age. These are crimes of rape and / or sexual assault, as well as betrayal and abuse of a position of power.

    The idea that a member of the clergy was aware of these offences and assisted in covering them up is truly horrendous – a further betrayal of the children that the school had been entrusted with.

  6. Abuse in the Church has given the title “Reverend” a bad press. In Ely Diocese, one Priest was prepared to be fired for standing up for his principals especially as his wife had been the Dioscean Children’s Advisor. In Chichester there have been resignations.

    • As I said, many committed and conscientious people within the Clergy, a fact easily dismissed by the atheist legion.

      • Phil: I’m no Atheist.

        I’m a regular Church attender, and practising Christian. However, I know the people involved in the Ely Diocese Case, and it was particularly sad.

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