BBC presenter Nicky Campbell tells of abuse by 'sadist' teacher

Nicky Campbell
Nicky Campbell said physical abuse at the school had affected his mental health in later life

Broadcaster Nicky Campbell has told a hearing how he was physically abused by a "sadist" teacher at one of Scotland's top private schools.

The BBC Radio 5 Live presenter said former Edinburgh Academy teacher John Brownlee pummelled his neck and skull.

Mr Campbell also described how the teacher would use a wooden paddle to inflict painful beatings

He gave evidence at an examination of facts hearing after Mr Brownlee, now 89, was deemed unfit to stand trial.

Mr Campbell, 62, was a pupil at the fee-paying school between 1966 and 1978, from when he was aged five until he was 17.

He told the hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that Mr Brownlee was his form teacher, and he initially liked him, finding him funny and charismatic.

He said the physical abuse began when he was about 10 or 11 years old, describing the teacher as an "arbitrarily violent" man whose mood could turn very quickly.

The presenter described an incident when he was forced to the ground in a corridor while Mr Brownlee performed a "knuckle dance", pummelling his neck and skull for about 20 seconds.

He said the teacher then walked away without saying anything, and he had no idea what he had done wrong.

Mr Brownlee was a "pathetic little man, a pathetic little sadist", he told the hearing.

Mr Campbell also told how he and other pupils were often made to bend over the teacher's desk and were struck with a wooden paddle called a clacken, which is used in a ball game at the school.

A clacken was brought out, and Mr Campbell demonstrated the swing and the force that was used by Mr Brownlee.

He said the "pain was awful" and that it would "sting into the next day".

The broadcaster said he felt unable to tell his adoptive parents about the incidents, because he knew they were stretching themselves financially in order to send him to the school.

He said he struggled with mental health challenges in later life as a result of the abuse he suffered.

He said at night he still feels "Mr Brownlee's knuckles on [my] head".

In his evidence, he also described an incident when Mr Brownlee was unable to find a clacken - which can be up to 18in (46cm) long.

Instead, he inflicted a beating using a table tennis bat which did not hurt as much.

Mr Campbell was facing the class at the time and said he began winking and making faces, which made the other pupils laugh.

He said it was a "glorious moment of defiance".

Another pupil, who was a boarder at the school between 1976 and 1980, told how Mr Brownlee had at various times kicked, choked and caused him to fall down a flight of stairs.

The man, now in his 50s, said the teacher was angry at the noise pupils were making so he had tripped him up, causing him to fall down 15 steps.

When he looked back he said Mr Brownlee had smirked and asked him how he had "ended up down there".

Another former pupil said the teacher seemed to "enjoy" inflicting pain.

He described how a child was punished for having a "dry toothbrush" by being repeatedly thrown into a cold bath, then into a hot shower in front of other pupils.

Last November Mr Brownlee was deemed medically unfit to stand trial for allegedly mistreating 38 pupils over a 20-year period from 1967 to 1987.

An examination of the facts hearing is now being held without a jury, which gives the Crown and defence the opportunity to present evidence.

At the end the judge may rule that the accused man carried out the charges, or may acquit him.

The hearing previously heard from other former pupils, including one who said he was hit so hard on the head by Mr Brownlee that he blacked out.

Another told of being left bruised from beatings with the clacken. The stick is used in a ball game of the same name which has been played at the school for almost 200 years.

The hearing continues.

Information and support for issues covered in this story is available at BBC Action Line.

Watch on iPlayer banner
Watch on iPlayer banner

There's more from Nicky and other survivors of abuse in Panorama's "My teacher the abuser, fighting for justice" available on BBC iPlayer now.

Watch on iPlayer footer
Watch on iPlayer footer