Mothers and fathers arriving on Thursday morning to drop off children at the coeducational fee-paying school in Westminster favoured by foreign business executives and diplomats were visibly upset by news that William Vahey, a 64-year-old American who taught at Southbank between 2009 and 2013, had killed himself after being found with 90 images of boys whom the FBI believe he drugged with sleeping pills and molested, often on field trips.
“I am shocked, very shocked,” said one woman, who added that her son was in Vahey’s class and went on a field trip with him. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
She added: “My boy is 13 now and his class teacher was Vahey. Even if they find my son in the photos, I would rather not know and just forget about it. I tried to probe my son about it yesterday. When you have [sleeping] drugs you have difficulty waking up and he replied that he woke up normally. He was one of four boys sleeping in one room and I just hope that would have made it more difficult for [Vahey]. My son is very worried. He asked me ‘did I get molested?'”
The school’s chair of governors, Sir Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, said on Wednesday that the school had carried out checks dating back 17 years on Vahey, who had taught in international schools across eight countries. None picked up on a 1969 conviction for child molestation in California.
Asked if he was angry about that, the 13-year-old’s father, an executive on secondment from abroad, said “yes and no”. “I don’t blame them, it happens,” he said. “How they are going to react now is more crucial.”
Another father who was very agitated as he entered the school buildings on Great Portland Street in central London said the situation was “massively worrying”. Asked how he felt about the news he said: “I am a parent, how would you think I would react?”
He added: “The kids have a real problem right now.”
Scotland Yard said on Wednesday that child abuse specialists were helping assess the FBI intelligence about “potential alleged offences against children in London”. The FBI said it was trying to identify the dozens of children pictured in the photos.
A current parent who arrive after Vahey had left received letters about the crisis from the school on Wednesday. He said the situation raised important questions about the screening of teachers who worked across several different countries – Vahey had jobs in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Athens, Venezuela, Iran and Lebanon.