For five years, Mark Blacklock has been investigating Queen Ethelburga’s, a fee-paying school in Yorkshire, whose proprietor is a convicted paedophile.
On January 26, 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 – but 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. The division head, Peter Swift, consulted with legal counsel in London before briefing inspectors from the Independent School’s inspectorate team. Two inspectors arrived unannounced at Thorpe Underwood, the estate that is home to the Queen Ethelburga’s complex, two months later, on 26 March. Brian Martin was not present at the time. What the inspectors found caused considerable concern. ‘At the time of the inspections around 700 CCTV cameras were located around the school.’ 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. An interviewee alleged that when they had worked at the school they had been in the provost’s private office, where Mr Martin had demonstrated that the CCTV system could be used to look into the girls’ dormitories. When the staff member had expressed shock at this, Martin had switched the feed to live TV and denied what had been seen.
In October 2015 Brian Martin was arrested and interviewed on suspicion of indecent assault on a child and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and voyeurism.
Queen Ethelburga’s College is not what most people think of when they think of a boarding school. There are no cloisters, no frock coats and not much in the way of tradition. The establishment boasts close to 1500 pupils across nursery, pre-prep, prep, middle school and two secondary age schools, more than 50% of whom are international students.
Visitors to the site arrive in vast car-parks, surrounded by acres of all-weather sports pitches and high walls. At the armorial hall that doubles as the interior reception – once you’re past the security at the front – you are welcomed by a pair of stuffed, rampant tigers, an incongruously bling glimpse of the aristocratic English house from a 1980s fantasy of baronial opulence. Attendees to open-days gather in this fine, oak-panelled room where they are invited to fill out forms to indicate whether or not they are members of the armed forces (QE claims it is ‘the preferred school for Forces parents’, offering bursaries to top up the government subsidy on offer to service people posted abroad). Prospective students are offered a promotional teddy bear before being paired up with pupil guides, and setting off on a tour of the campus.
Walking around the grounds it is impossible not to be struck by the wealth of facilities – state of the art gymnasia with cryo-chambers and ice baths, an Olympic-standard swimming pool, modern classrooms – but also by a functionality and modernity and an accompanying sense of soullessness. If it feels like a high-end sports centre, that’s because that’s precisely what it is: Newcastle United and Luton Town do their pre-season training camps here. There is a helicopter pad, and the periphery of the site has been fortified: as the provost told the Financial Times in 2009, to appeal to ‘Russians look for top-quality teaching as well as good security, for protection against mafiosi, among others.’ You may wonder where the school that was founded in 1910 is hiding.
The answer to that question lies in its singular history.
In the 1980s, Queen Ethelburga’s was an all-girls boarding and day school on a road called Potter’s End in the Victorian spa town of Harrogate. Despite an illustrious history and its affluent home, QE, as it was then known, was struggling financially. A failed sell-off of some school buildings had made the situation so dire that the headmistress of the time, Jean Town, lacking the backing of the Woodard Trust, the ultimate guardians of the school, found herself in 1991 ringing around wealthy parents seeking support. This direct route yielded rapid rewards.
‘The sixth parent (who enquired first if the problem was personal!) came over that very day, 13 November, his wedding anniversary. That sixth parent was Brian Richard Martin, a local businessman who had made a small fortune in insurance and care homes for the elderly. Mrs Town recalled the meeting in a memoir of her time as headmistress: "Mr. Martin was very happy with the education of his daughter; his wife felt their house was too large. And so the problem was in the way of being resolved."’
The following September the deal was made official, and Martin formally acquired the school for the peppercorn price of £1. The entire student body and staff were moved some ten miles from Harrogate to the Thorpe Underwood Estate, seven miles north-west of York.
Brian Richard Martin was born on the Isle of Sheppey on September 1, 1949. His father was a senior customs officer in Sheerness. Martin claims he started smoking at the age of eight, and while still a pupil at Sheerness Technical School, established his first company, selling first-day covers and postmarks. The Postmark Club, run from his bedroom in the early 1960s, was operating with a turnover of £86,000 a year by 1986.
After completing school with five O-levels, Martin went on to Canterbury College of Technology to take an OND in business studies. He married the 21-year-old Elizabeth in 1972, at the age of 23. They started a family: Frank, who had been born in 1967, Ann-Marie, Emma, and finally Amy, who was born in December 1983.
Following his graduation from Canterbury College, Martin worked in management for Marks & Spencer before starting his own business. The insurance broking business, B.R.M. Entertainment and Leisure, was established in 1978.
By 1980, the Martins had amassed sufficient funds to get a mortgage on Thorpe Underwood Hall, a fading but grand house a little west of the River Ouse in the Vale of York. The house had previously been owned by Lady Valerie Maude Barwick, a former film star and witness in the White Mischief trials of the 1930s, whose third husband, Colonel Walter Lancaster-Hey, had bought her the house as a wedding present. Lady Valerie sold it to a ‘a Dutchman named van de Berg’ in 1979 who in turn sold to the Martins. Brian Martin says he paid £167,000 to buy the house and eight acres.
By the time Queen Ethelburga’s College was acquired in 1991, the Martins owned 24 companies, several of which were dedicated to residential care, and many of which provided services or loans to each other. Over the subsequent decade, the Martin empire expanded, with the insurance company E&L proving the most profitable company. The ways in which E&L made money occasionally attracted controversy. In 2001 the company was the subject of a report by BBC programme Watchdog, and staff at the school gathered round a TV as reporter Beaky Evetts investigated the way the company handled claims.
Someone who worked for one of the Martin businesses in the mid-1980s describes ‘a larger-than-life character. He always boasted how much money he was worth. How well-connected he was. How untouchable he was. Expensive aftershave, smoked big expensive cigars, posh suits, big expensive black painted cars with number plates that started with “00”. Similar to military ones.’
A former friend who knew the family in the 1980s describes first meeting Brian Martin. ‘I met his wife due to our daughters being school friends at primary. My first impression was of a tall dark man wearing glasses with a very loud voice and dominant personality. He wasn’t very friendly. During my friendship with his wife, he became more sociable and eventually we were invited to their home as a family. His own children were there. There appeared to be a fun atmosphere, along with a swimming pool. He appeared to enjoy organising the children to have fun.’
The swimming pool was at the Thorpe Underwood site to which the school would soon be moved.
Tom, an army officer when his elder daughter started at QE in 1993, was impressed by the first headmistress, Gillian Richardson, but found her successor Erica Taylor, to be unprofessional. He says that when his daughter was caught smoking Mrs Taylor told her that her own father had died of cancer, something Tom knew to be a lie.
Tom’s older daughter went on to become deputy head girl, but his younger daughter had a difficult time at the school and, after a battle with Mrs Taylor over their experience of the teaching, he became disenchanted. When his older daughter finished, his younger daughter left too. Once they’d given notice that their second daughter was leaving, Tom says that he received a letter from Brian Martin making an offer on fees that he describes as ‘difficult to refuse.’ He refused it nevertheless.
Tom had become concerned at the increasingly autocratic regime. ‘Martin’s influence became more and more apparent. He was more of a presence than you expected him to be. He just always seemed to be there, to the extent that it concerned me as a parent. He wasn’t on the teaching staff. Had he gone through the same checks on his suitability?’
One of Tom’s daughters told him of an incident that left him feeling particularly unsettled. A friend of hers had a very fine plait in her hair, ‘so fine you’d barely notice it. Brian Martin, walking past this girl in a corridor, noticed it, told her to stay where she was, went away to fetch some scissors, and cut it off. I thought it unpleasant: borderline assault.’
Charlotte Williams is now herself the proprietor of an independent school for children with special needs. Charlotte was a pupil at QE from 1995. Martin’s daughter Amy was in the year below her. ‘We were sleeping in a dormitory that had been her bedroom. It was weird.’
Charlotte is Norwegian, and says she was culturally disinclined to conform to the hierarchies of the British private school system. ‘I was always cheeky, would always say hello to everyone.’ As a result, she did not hide her feelings about Mr Martin. She told a teacher that she found Martin unpleasant.
‘He was dominating and creepy, always walking around in the evening. This big, powerful man walking round in an embroidered waistcoat. He had some kind of watch he would swing around – as an adult I can see that that was a kind of show of power. If we had socials and we were with boys, he would be watching us.’
Charlotte was unceremoniously expelled from the school. ‘I had an awful departure from QE. I had arrived back at school after a holiday. There was a girl who’d brought some whisky back to school. A teacher had said it was found in my bag. I was pulled out of a geography lesson. Mrs Richardson [the head] was crying. Mr Martin came in. They marched me into a taxi and sent me to my dad.’
Charlie Clothier, the year above Charlotte, was also suddenly excluded when her mother was unable to pay fees following the sudden death of her father. She remains angry at her callous treatment, separated from her friends and told by Martin that his lawyers were dealing with the matter: ‘My mother and I were very vulnerable, still grieving.’
Charlie says she was outspoken, ‘so I wasn’t one if his favourites.’ She says Martin ‘gave her the ick’ and describes him as smelling of cigar smoke. She says she once got into trouble for climbing out the window of a hall during a social event. ‘Mr Martin called us to his office and he told us he knew what we’d done. We denied it and he showed us a video of us climbing out the window. He never punished us, and he didn’t tell teaching staff. He just wanted us to know that he had that over us. We knew it was underhand, but you kind of believe at that age that the adults are right.’
The former friend describes being manipulated by Martin. ‘Eventually he tried to arrange to take my children abroad. And because of my divorce, the children went to his school, and he tried to be a larger figure in our lives, albeit with the motive of caring for the future of my children.’ During this period, her children were made wards of the court, and Martin stepped in. ‘Due to going abroad he asked if he and his wife could become guardians for my children, which I wasn’t happy about. He came to my house quite regularly to discuss this and was very persuasive.’
At the end of the Christmas term of 2009, Rebecca* a 14-year-old boarder at QE, had told her mum Helena, that she thought Mr Martin was a ‘creep. He’s really pervy.’ Helena asked Rebecca what she meant and was appalled by what her daughter told her.
Rebecca said that Mr Martin was in the habit of taking groups of pupils to shops in the nearby town of Boroughbridge to buy sweets in a fire engine he owned. At Martin’s second trial, a witness told the court that Martin himself selected the invitees for such trips. During one of these trips, Rebecca said that he had put his hand up her skirt and touched her bottom and legs. Rebecca told her mum of other incidents: of Mr Martin tickling pupils and holding girls upside-down so their skirts fell around their waists. If the netball team won two games in a row, they were invited to have a swim in Mr Martin’s private swimming pool. Some of Rebecca’s friends went round to Mr Martin’s house, in the heart of the school, where he would reward them for walking his dogs by giving them sweets and sometimes cigarettes and alcohol. ‘I was gobsmacked,’ says Helena.
Helena* rang the child protection team at York Police station and then took Rebecca to be interviewed at Newby Whiske, a police training station in a North Yorkshire village near to where she lives. The interview was recorded and Mr Martin was also invited to give a recorded interview. He denied all the allegations made by Rebecca.
The Crown Prosecution Service advised Helena that Easter that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution at that time. (Following Martin’s arrest in 2015, by which point in time more witnesses had come forwards, Helena did not wish her daughter to be burdened with a trial.)
On her return to school to take her exams in the summer, Rebecca told her mother that she was called to the office of the headmaster, Stephen Jandrell. Helena recounts: ‘He said “I hope you’re proud of yourself, what you’ve done,” and made her apologise to Brian Martin.’ Mr Jandrell says that ‘there is inaccuracy’ in what our sources have told us, but otherwise declines to comment.
In mid-2015, a new witness came forward to police. When interviewed, the woman, who was then in her mid-thirties, alleged that Mr Martin had abused her in 1995 when she was a 15-year-old pupil at the school. North Yorkshire Police opened an investigation into the claims and attempted to contact Mr Martin through the school. Mr Martin’s former PA, Zilla Watchman took the call. As emerged later at the trial, she immediately phoned Mr Martin and warned him of an investigation into ‘historic charges.’ Despite not being informed of the nature of the allegations against him, Mr Martin had searched, among other terms, the name of the accuser and the phrase ‘sexual offences act fingering.’
When the charges were officially brought against him, Martin stepped down as the chair of the board of governors of Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate Limited and from the boards of associated businesses. His daughter, Miss Amy Martin, took over at the school. He did not, however, leave his home at the heart of the site until required to do so at the time of his first trial.
By 2017, four further complainants and a hostile witness had been identified, and in 2018 Mr Martin was tried on twenty-four counts ranging from making lewd comments to a child to buggery. He denied all charges and was acquitted of all but three counts on which the jury could not decide. None of the members of his family attended court.
In June 2019, two charges relating to the witness who had come forward in 2015 were brought back to trial. The court heard that her allegations had been brought to the attention of the school teaching staff in November 1995 and that she had been ‘shaking and crying’ when she told her geography teacher, Mrs Barbara Ward, that something had happened but that she could not say what because it was ‘too dreadful.’ Mrs Ward had gone down a list of names. The distressed witness had eventually identified Mr Martin as having done something to her. Mrs Ward told the court that she felt the matter should go higher, so she told the deputy head and head. She felt that she was doing the right thing in doing so.
Dr Richard Moore, the deputy head between 1995 and 2000, told the court that in 1995 he had investigated the matter. He interviewed the victim who said that on multiple occasions she had been alone with Mr Martin, that he had touched her and cuddled her.
Further meetings took place with staff. At a final meeting, attended by the victim, the head, Mrs Gillian Richardson, and Dr Moore, Mr Martin was also invited to attend. Mr Martin had provided a written statement to the staff, stating: ‘If anything I have said or done has been misconstrued, I am sorry.’ The court was told that the victim’s parents, who lived abroad, were not informed of the allegations or of the subsequent meeting, and neither were the police or the local educational authority. The victim was asked if she wished to involve social services. She tried to run away from the school a year later. A school policy was put in place to prevent any adult being alone with girls.
The prosecution produced as evidence of the historic claims a letter – referred to in court as the Childline letter – written by the witness in 1995.
‘Dear Sir or Madam,
I need your help badly. I do not know what to do and dare not phone. The problem concerns a man. He is in a position of power at school. I used to be scared of talking to a male cashier in a shop.
First few years he did not talk to me much. This term he has fondled me behind locked doors. He says it will help me become more confident. I cannot fight him and win. He is too strong and heavy. It is so easy for him to manipulate me. Once I was on the floor and he was touching me and touched my breast.
He tells me his fantasies involving me. I do not scream. I hold things in until they break out. If I cry out, I do not like thinking about what would happen. For a while I tried avoiding him as much as possible.
He said it would get both of us into trouble but he keeps on at it. He says it is his duty to educate me. I think he is slightly sick, though he seems so sane.’
Any trial involving sexual crimes is distressing and although the judge was very careful, the stress under which the complainant was put by the prosecution during the course of the nine-day trial – the second she’d endured – was acute. She became unwell during the second day of cross-examination and the court was asked to consider transcripts from the 2018 trial at which the jury had been unable to reach a verdict.
Martin was robust throughout his own cross-examination, describing himself as ‘totally politically incorrect.’ He would, for example, make remarks about the length of the girls’ skirts. Questioned about the composition of the student body at the school, he recorded the presence of ‘your normal Asian in goodly number.’ Mr Martin admitted saying to the victim in 1995: ‘If you act like a mental retard, people will treat you like a mental retard.’
In the early 1990s he had distributed to staff a document that he had written entitled ‘How to Make the Children in Your Care Love You.’ He was in the habit of giving sweets to pupils at the school. Asked if he always had a pocketful of sweets, he replied that he ‘had a drawerful.’ He noted that ‘bribery was good’ in persuading pupils to attend sports matches to support the school team.
The jury reached a majority verdict of ten to two on count two, of licking the victim’s vagina. Martin was found not guilty of count one, of kissing the victim’s breasts.
In 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 backed one onto an air hockey table in his private residence and masturbated him. On this occasion, the jury found Martin guilty and he was sentenced to a custodial term of three years and three months for both that offence and the prior conviction. 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.
Two sources interviewed by The Fence corroborate allegations of offending that predate Martin’s acquisition of the school. The former friend is distraught at having permitted the guardianship of her children. ‘Subsequent events, which have ruined both of my children’s lives, and the guilt of my decision, have left me with severe anxiety and depression issues. It's ruined all our lives.’ The former employee remarks that ‘he had a reputation long before the QE purchase and many eyebrows were raised in the offices at that time.’ At Martin’s first trial in 2018, the court heard how in 1989 he had been arrested in an Aston Martin with a 15-year-old boy and a prostitute. No charges resulted from that arrest.
A friend of the Martins’ children alleges that abuse would take place during parties at Thorpe Underwood Hall in the 1980s: ‘We were six, seven, eight, nine. He would win the confidence of everybody, and when the parents were all outside on the other side having drinks, he would go into the changing rooms where the children were getting changed and get changed there. And he would just take somebody off with him. He would just say, I’m going to show someone the security room. If the parents were stood outside at the swimming pool, he would be in the showers with a child.’
The Fence has attempted to understand how Martin was apparently able to continue offending for so long. The same friend says: ‘He would choose people with an abusive or a hard background and he would take us on holiday. When his wife took care of the boys, he would take care of the girls.’
Sources who claim to have reported assaults to the police in 1991 allude darkly to Martin’s social connections. Many of the sources interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous because they fear repercussions. The former employee remarks: ‘He said he knew people. He would hold parties for the great and the good of the area.’ Sources who have asked old school friends to come forward have been warned off by other pupils. Three former pupils and a chair of North Yorkshire magistrates gave character evidence on behalf of Martin at his second trial.
With hindsight, Charlotte Williams believes that her expulsion – and those of a number of her friends – was not for the reasons claimed by the school. ‘There was always a feeling that he was excluding anyone who was cheeky and out-spoken. There was a pattern of removing anyone who might speak out.’ Charlie Clothier says that ‘the staff who would question him would leave. He clashed with Mrs Richardson a lot and then she left, and Erica Taylor was meek.’ Tom remembers that soon after he had taken over the school, Martin removed the experienced head of the old girls’ association, Delma Bode, from the board of governors.
Catherine Allott, a senior teacher, transferred from the Harrogate campus to Thorpe Underwood, but left soon after ‘entirely of my own volition.’ When asked what she thought of the new ownership, she says: ‘I was a traditionalist. He was more modern, shall we say.’ Was Mr Martin more involved in the day-to-day running of the school than would be typical for a proprietor? ‘He owned it. He had every right to go wherever he wanted to go.’ Mrs Allott acknowledges that Martin’s conviction ’is a bit horrifying in any respect.’
Dr Richard Moore was a teacher at the school for five years, starting as second principal under Gillian Richardson and continuing under Erica Taylor. He describes an intense working environment, in which staff were often asked to perform several roles. ‘We were all aware that, in Mrs. Richardson’s words, “QE takes no prisoners.” The teaching day was frequently being extended mainly in an effort to improve academic standards. Academic standards did rise, albeit by a rather ruthless methodology. It may seem odd that I knew so little about the less salubrious side of things but I was so busy raising the academic profile that I had my nose mainly to this grindstone.’
Official inspection did not pick up on anything until 21 years ago. The first record The Fence can find of any external body being aware of anything unsafe taking place at QE was in 2002, when NCSC inspector Stephen Sharp recorded in a meeting that the provost had made inappropriate and lewd remarks to pupils. It was alleged at Brian Martin’s second trial that several staff had been aware of the allegations made by a pupil in 1995, but these had not been reported outside of the school. At the time, the 15-year-old pupil herself was asked if she wished to involve social services, which is unthinkable by today’s safeguarding standards.
When Ofsted visited in 2007, students complained about the extent to which their privacy was invaded by the CCTV system. When an Ofsted inspector returned in 2010; the school had no independent governors; Mr Martin was living onsite, he was once again offering pupils rides in his fire engine and distributing sweets – despite the fact that allegations of abuse had recently been made to North Yorkshire Police. The CCTV system the students had complained about in 2007 remained active, but the Ofsted inspector found safeguarding at the school to be ‘outstanding.”’
When The Fence approached Ofsted for comment on the inspection of QE, asking whether Ofsted maintained any records from NCSC, or took seriously pupils’ allegations concerning the CCTV, they were unable to provide any further information and referred us to the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), a not-for-profit that has inspected independent schools since 2012, but does not make public the report resulting from the emergency inspection in 2015. Prior to September 2017: ‘Reports for non-routine short visits (emergency inspections) were only available on the ISI website until a school’s next fully compliant routine inspection report was published. At this point the routine inspection report would go onto the website and the emergency inspection report would be taken off.’ The ISI’s publication policy has now changed, but earlier emergency reports remain unavailable unless requested.
In terms of the staff at the school raising concerns about Martin’s behaviour, a source, when asked why Martin was not challenged for so long, offers an instant suggestion: ‘He bought people off! Everyone knew he was totally corrupt.’
During the course of The Fence's investigation, we have spoken to two former employees of Mr Martin, one at the school and one at another company, who have declined to go on the record on the basis that when they were fired, they claimed unfair dismissal and were required to sign NDAs as part of a legal settlement. One of the accusers in Martin’s first trial was paid from one of the charities associated with the school. When the accuser requested a second sum of money, his request was refused. Brian Martin’s defence argued in court that the subsequent allegations made by the accuser were malicious and prompted by the refusal to offer further financial support. Martin was found not guilty of the charges alleged by this accuser.
Stephen Jandrell, head from 2006 to 2020, responds that: ‘If this is what is being said by your sources, there is inaccuracy and matters that should be reported directly to the police.’ Erica Taylor, head from 1997 to 2000, offers no comment.
Brian Martin’s defence, keen to stress his ‘good character’ put great emphasis on the fact that the schools had been placed in the ownership of an ‘international trust.’ That this was an act of philanthropy was stated explicitly by Mr Martin’s counsel, who described the trust as a ‘charity’ on a number of occasions.
This description is both misleading and inaccurate. The trust that owns the underlying land at Thorpe Underwood, Foxlow Limited, is the offshore parent of a complex web of domestic companies. It is perfectly legal for a business to be set up this way, but it is certainly not done for the benefit of schoolchildren, rather for the ultimate beneficiaries of the offshore trust, who are able to withdraw funds from it without those funds being subject to income tax.
In 2018 Care and Recreation Holdings Limited was the parent company of 29 UK-incorporated subsidiaries, including the highly profitable insurance business, E&L, and 16 subsidiaries associated with the schools at Thorpe Underwood. One hundred per cent of the shares in Care and Recreation Holdings Limited are owned by the offshore entity Foxlow Limited to which it paid dividends of £5.9 million in 2017 and £4.75 million in 2018. The ownership of Foxlow, registered in the British Virgin Islands, is not known to the auditors, but the Panama Papers, leaked from the solicitor Mossack Fonseca in 2016, record the formation of Foxlow as ‘the Brian Martin Settlement no. 1’ and ‘the Brian Martin Settlement no. 2,’ registered through the Monaco-based solicitor Sam Cain.
It is not only the dividends and ground rents from the Thorpe Underwood companies that make their way into the Brian Martin Settlements. In 2014 Foxlow owned 94 properties, most of them residential properties in Harrogate, worth in excess of £15 million pounds at purchase value.
At the beginning of 2018 the Charity Commission announced it was opening a class investigation into two charities associated with QE and appointing interim managers. Of particular concern were ‘the extent to which potential conflicts of interest and connected party transactions have been properly managed; the extent to which there has been any unauthorised trustee benefit; whether the charities operated for exclusively charitable purposes.’ The trustees of the charities responded to the Charity Commission, issuing a statement that the investigation was ‘disproportionate’: ‘All expenditure by The Collegiate Charitable Foundation is directly in pursuit and accordance with its charitable objectives. The Martin Foundation has been inactive since January 2016 but equally all expenditure is demonstrably in line with its charitable objectives. The trustees are confident that both charities operate appropriately and remain willing and ready to address concerns raised by the Charity Commission.’
With its investigation still ongoing after five years, the Charity Commission will not comment on what its auditors have found, nor offer any explanation for the long delays to its report. It is a sensitive matter: should any member of the Independent School’s Council be found to have abused any elements of charitable status it would prove highly controversial.
The management of conflicts of interest must have presented a particularly acute difficulty for the Martin charities. In the year 2017, the trustees of The Collegiate Charitable Foundation were: Amy Martin, Frank Martin and C. J. Hall. In the same accounting period, The Collegiate Charitable Foundation paid rent of £2.84 million to, and purchased services of £5.19 million from, Thorpe Underwood Services Limited (now Queen Ethelburga's Services Limited). The directors of Thorpe Underwood Services Limited in the same period were: Amy Martin, Frank Martin and C. J. Hall. The charity received £2.8 million from Queen Ethelburga's College Limited, another company with the same directors.
It is difficult to imagine who might have overseen the decisions made about related party transactions without being conflicted. The Fence put these allegations to Amy Martin. Her response was: ‘As you correctly identify, there is currently an ongoing inquiry by the Charities Commission and it is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on, or answer your questions. I will be making no further comments.’ Amy Martin did not reply on behalf of QE, but in a personal capacity.
QE has had a new headmaster since 2020. Since their father stood back from every board following his arrest in 2015, Brian Martin’s children have provided family continuity as directors of the remaining businesses. Amy is now ‘Chair of the Collegiate Board’ and a director of Care and Recreation Holdings Limited. Frank stood down as director of Care and Recreation Holdings Limited in 2019 but remains in charge of a number of insurance businesses owned by the holding company. None of the money that has flowed offshore to Foxlow will be subject to inheritance tax. The QE businesses are at the heart of a complex corporate structure, seemingly designed to minimise tax liability and to funnel profits beyond the reach of the British state.
The proprietor and quondam provost of one of the most successful boarding schools in the country is now a convicted sex offender, described by police as a ‘predatory paedophile.’ He has served 19 months in prison and was released last week. He remains the ‘person with significant control’ of the off-shore trust to which QE sends ground rents and dividends and which owns the underlying land at Thorpe Underwood, on which the school buildings are built. Amy Martin has no comment on whether or not her father has access to the land he controls or whether he personally receives money via the Foxlow trusts.
According to one former employee, Brian Martin ‘is despicable and disgusting, an evil and vindictive man.’ To another: ‘He always said he was untouchable.’ A former pupil says: ‘He’s such a pervert, beyond extreme. Not just sexual, the sexual was horrific. What’s worse is the manipulation, the making you feel like you’re the bad one.’
Charlotte Williams sums it up: ‘He groomed a school.’
*Names have been changed
• If you’ve been affected by child sexual assault Supporting Victims can help you: www.supportingvictims.org or call 01609 643100
• Victims who wish to report assaults but would prefer not to go direct to the police and are not in immediate danger, can contact Bridge House, North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), on 0330 223 0362, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.bridgehousesarc.org/