Exclusive: Former Blue Coat assistant head arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual activity in the presence of a child
Nick Barends spent three decades at the school before he was sacked in July this year
Dear readers — we were planning to send out Part Two of our months-long investigation into The Blue Coat School this morning, examining a series of scandals that have dogged one of the most prestigious schools in the North, but a new development means that is no longer possible.
Yesterday afternoon, Merseyside Police contacted us with crucial information they had not included in their statement on Friday: namely that a 55-year-old man, presumed to be Blue Coat’s former assistant head teacher Nick Barends, has been arrested “on suspicion of rape and sexual activity in the presence of a child”.
The allegations against Barends have been described by police as “historic” and relate to sexual offences committed in 2008. The arrest took place in April this year, two months after he was suspended from Blue Coat and three months before he was sacked.
In a statement, the force appealed for witnesses, saying: “Time is no barrier to reporting such offences for us to investigate, so please let us know if you have been a victim.”
The implication of this development is that we can no longer publish the piece we planned to send out today. The laws surrounding Contempt of Court mean that media organisations are not allowed to publish any material that could potentially prejudice a fair trial from the moment that legal proceedings in a case become "active". Criminal proceedings are considered to have become active when someone is arrested, a warrant has been issued for their arrest or they have been charged. Being found in contempt of court can result in a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years.
Now that Merseyside Police have told us about the arrest, we will have to examine what else we can legally publish about the events at Blue Coat.
The same rules apply to members of the public posting publicly about an active case. The police statement notes that “people are reminded to refrain from publishing any information on social media platforms which may impact on the investigation”.
Barends was previously investigated by police in 2010 “following complaints he had conducted a sexual relationship with [a] teenager” who was in the sixth form at Blue Coat. That police investigation was subsequently dropped.
An internal investigation by the school in 2010 found Barends guilty of “gross misconduct” regarding his relationship with the pupil, but he was reinstated to his job following an appeal. The school’s chairwoman of the governors Julia Walsh said at the time: “he knows what he has to do to regain the confidence of the school community.”
Founded in the early 1700s, Blue Coat is one of the highest-performing schools in the region, sending more students to Oxford and Cambridge than any other school on Merseyside.
The news of Barends’s arrest on suspicion of sex offences will raise more serious questions as to why he was kept on by the school for 15 years after the initial allegations surfaced and 13 years after the “gross misconduct” verdict.
In a statement to The Post, Detective Chief Inspector Andrew McCourt said:
We take all reports of rape and sexual assault extremely seriously, and a full investigation has been launched into this incident. Time is no barrier to reporting such offences for us to investigate, so please let us know if you have been a victim.
Merseyside Police say that if you hold any relevant information from this incident you can get in touch with them at @MerPolCC on Twitter or Merseyside Police Contact Centre on Facebook, quoting reference 230000102624. If would like to report a sexual offence call 101 where you will be spoken to by specially trained officers or you can pass information to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Despite being unable to publish the story we had intended to today, we consider this an ongoing story and will return to it in the future. We have already had numerous ex-Blue Coat staff and pupils reach out to us in the wake of yesterday's story and we welcome more readers getting in touch — just email firstname.lastname@example.org.