FORMER pupils of a County Durham approved school have told a public inquiry of the "brutal" and repeated sexual abuse and violence they suffered there.

Peter Smith and Peter Edward Robson, who have both waived their right to anonymity, spoke of their experience as children in the care of Stanhope Castle Approved School during the 1960s.

Details of their abuse were given in evidence on the first day of public hearings into allegations of child sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) will hold hearings on the investigation until July 20.

Yesterday, a panel chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, heard Mr Smith recount abuse he suffered or witnessed while in North-East institutions including what is now known as Aycliffe Secure Centre and Stanhope Castle.

Mr Smith said he arrived in Newton Aycliffe following stints in two other institutions.

While he did not experience violence there he said others suffered – those who wet the bed were put in cold baths while some children were placed in padded cells.

However, it was in Stanhope Castle, where he lived from the age of nine to 15, that he told the panel he was subjected to constant sexual and physical abuse.

On one occasion, in 1963, he had "Cassius Clay" written in red pen on his chest before being carried around the school naked.

He was also subjected to beatings with canes, including monthly ceremonial beatings in front of the school.

Following the first occasion of sexual abuse, perpetrated by fellow pupils, Mr Smith said he reported it to the headmaster but was punished.

He was beaten and for two weeks forced to wear boards which read "I'm a pig" on the front, and "treat me like a pig" on the back, and was made to eat with his hands from a jug, lying on the floor.

During his five years at the school he claims he was sexually abused by pupils and one ex-pupil, in his twenties, on numerous occasions.

He told the panel he was "convinced" staff were aware and that his accounts were just the "tip of the iceberg".

He said: "It just became normal. There were beatings every day and sexual abuse every night. I feel sure abuse was known to the staff and head of school."

Mr Smith added: "Violence and abuse just seemed to be everywhere in the school.

"It's hard to see how powerless you are in a custodial institution, if you are being abused in a youth detention centre."

Mr Smith, whose life has been significantly affected by abuse suffered, said it was vital staff are properly trained to identify children in distress.

He proposed children of different ages and sexes are not mixed, that staff are vetted and should take an oath and children being placed into care "must be an absolute last resort".

In statement read to the hearing, Mr Robson gave similar graphic accounts of continued sexual abuse including periods of nightly rapes during his stay in Stanhope School from the age of 11, from 1963-67.

He described the school as being run like a "military college" with little hope for an education.

Mr Robson echoed fellow pupil Mr Smith's belief that staff were aware of abuse in the school and insisted that children in care were given an opportunity to speak to people in private – in order to build trust and to allow victims a safe space to report abuse.

The panel heard how his life and relationships had been significantly impacted by the sexual abuse he suffered, leading to a suicide attempt.

Stanhope Castle was set up after the Second World War and was run by the Home Office until the mid 1970s after which it was taken over by the former Cleveland County Council when it became a community controlled home for children.

In an opening statement, Henrietta Hill QC, deputy counsel to the inquiry, suggested analysis developed so far shows the prevalence of sexual abuse is far higher than initially thought.

She stated analysis showed there were ?1,070 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse within custodial institutions, where the alleged abuse was said to have occurred between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2017.

Out of these, ?578 alleged incidents were described in terms equating to sexual assault or rape.

The inquiry continues.