'I was abused by my violin teacher but felt bad about him being jailed'

We’ll probably never know how many others have suffered something similar, suggests one survivor of child abuse

Andy Law: 'I knew that what happened to me was wrong'
Andy Law: 'I knew that what happened to me was wrong' Credit:  JAY WILLIAMS/The Telegraph

I come from a musical family: my late mother was a concert pianist and piano teacher; my father played the flute; my younger brother is an internationally known jazz pianist and composer. And in spite of everything, I now play the violin again. For a long time, I did not.

The abuse began when I was about 10 years old and a pupil at St Olave’s, a fee-paying primary school in York. I was taught violin there by a well-liked and respected man who could have been no older than his mid-20s. My lessons took place in the school music block and also in his home at weekends. In both settings, the two of us were alone.

When I made a mistake, he forced me to choose my punishment. He undressed me and beat me over his knee, spanked me and fondled me. All the while, I said nothing.

If it sounds extraordinarily horrific, it’s become increasingly apparent that abuse of music students is more common than we’d care to imagine. Last year, the prestigious Royal Academy of Music announced an independent review of its safeguarding amid  sexual harassment claims. More than a dozen students at the London conservatoire were understood to have complained of impropriety from some teachers. One student was allegedly being told “a blow job would be a good start” if they wanted to please theirs.

It was not the first MeToo moment for the world of music teaching. Historic abuse of pupils at another prestigious institution, Chetham’s School of Music, first came to light several years ago. Christopher Ling, a violin teacher, was accused of grooming and sexually abusing a number of girls at the Manchester establishment, but shot himself dead at home in Los Angeles when police arrived in 2015. Two years earlier, the school’s head of music, Michael Brewer, had been jailed for six years for sexually assaulting a pupil when she was 14. His victim, Frances Andrade, took her life after giving evidence against him.

A lawyer for the victims and survivors said last autumn that the words of two who gave evidence to the residential schools part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse “struck a real chord” with the many former Chetham’s pupils around the world.

Andy Law: 'Although many years had elapsed, when I picked up my violin again, it was glorious'  Credit:  JAY WILLIAMS/The Telegraph

They also struck a chord with me, following my own experience of abuse by a music teacher, elsewhere in Northern England. We’ll probably never know quite how many others have also suffered something similar.

I knew that what happened to me was wrong. It was humiliating and awful, and I dreaded making mistakes, knowing what would happen when I did. But at the same time I wanted to make my teacher proud, and going to him made me feel special. This in turn made me feel mortally ashamed and embarrassed, and that’s perhaps why I kept quiet for so long. 

But I couldn’t stay silent forever. At 14 I finally told my older brother what was happening. Inevitably he went straight to my father and told him. But by then the damage had been done, and what happened next certainly wasn’t going to mitigate it.

My father, a lecturer in German at Leeds University, went to speak to my abuser, who actually admitted what he’d done, explaining he was going through a bad time in his marriage, as if somehow that could excuse it.

But this was the early 1970s, and there was no suggestion of reporting the matter to the police. All that happened was my violin lessons ceased. The matter was brushed over after that. Nobody even discussed it with me. If anything, it was treated as a joke, even by my parents. Perhaps they didn’t know how else to deal with it and found it just too painful to confront.

But I wasn’t the only child abused by this man. After starting secondary school, I mentioned what had happened to another boy there and he said, “Oh, he did it to me too!” So although my abuser denied there were others, I knew for a fact that there were. 

Andy Law, age seven

Further evidence came years later, when by chance I met a man who had attended St Olave’s and who assured me that “everyone knew” what this teacher had been up to. 

But for a long time, the man got away with it, while I was left to try and process it all on my own. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go well.

I left school at 18 and fled to university in London, then dropped out and took a job in the classical music industry, at first clinging to something like normality. But in my late 20s, I suffered a spectacular breakdown. 

It came while I was working on a project in Hackney helping homeless people, and I suspect it was no coincidence that my own collapse occurred when I was surrounded by others who were struggling. Still, it was sudden and brutal: I awoke one morning and simply could not stop crying or even leave my bed. Eventually I realised what it was all about: the terrible secret shame of my abuse, which throughout all these years I had merely shoved away, as if it could be hidden and forgotten. 

I was married to my first wife by then, and although I had told her the broad outline of my story, really I had still been in denial. It was now clear I had to do something to help myself.

So I did some psychotherapy and tried to process what had been done to me in childhood.

It didn’t occur to me to seek justice until 2005, and only then because I happened to watch a television documentary about a man who took his childhood abuser to court. “My God,” I thought, “Why didn’t anybody take my abuser to court?” I decided to do it myself.

It wasn’t about revenge. I don’t blame him for what he did; he cannot have been very well. All I wanted was for him to say sorry. So I returned to York, walked into a police station and told them everything. When officers questioned my abuser, his response was apparently something along the lines of, “I’ve been waiting for years for this to happen.”

Andy Law: 'As a survivor of abuse, I had constantly questioned myself' Credit:  JAY WILLIAMS/The Telegraph

He was prosecuted that year, pleaded guilty and was jailed for three and a half years for grooming and abusing me and another of his former pupils. He later had his prison sentence cut to two years, which I was glad of, as I’d felt pretty bad about him being behind bars. What good could it do to put this old man in prison? 

I’ve been asked if getting justice brought me any closure, but it didn’t. I was destroyed by what was done to me. What mattered, however, was that the man who did it stood up in public, admitted it and offered an apology. Because as a survivor of abuse, I had constantly questioned myself and worried it must have been my fault. 

Following the abrupt end to my violin lessons, I had stopped playing altogether. What had been a beautiful activity had become toxic. But after moving to Cornwall seven years ago, something in me shifted, and I ended up joining an orchestra. Although many years had elapsed, when I picked up my violin again, it was glorious. I had broken it on several occasions in the past when I’d been angry and upset. The cracks had been repaired but like me it bore wounds from its history.

Attending a regular folk music session in a local pub in Penzance diverted me from classical eventually. I left the orchestra and joined a folk band, starting a joyful new chapter in my life.

Using a modest sum I’d been awarded by the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, I decided to record a folk CD. The goal was to show the world that whatever was done to me in the past, I was still here - and still playing the fiddle. I collaborated with some other musicians and the result was The Long and The Short of It, which we launched last September has since raised thousands of pounds for the Aurora Foundation for People Abused in Childhood. 

I don’t feel ashamed any more. Sharing my story with others has shown me how many have been through something similar. I hope we can all keep talking.

As told to Rosa Silverman 

To buy Andy’s CD and/or donate to the Aurora Foundation, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/andylaw1