FAILURE of police action, fear of death and a “pervasive culture of violence” discouraged victims from reporting routine physical and sexual abuse suffered at a County Durham approved school, an inquiry heard.

On the second day of public hearings into allegations of child sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard of failings across the board when pupils at Stanhope Castle Approved School reported abuse historically and in recent years.

Colin Watson, who has waived his right to anonymity, was one of three victims to give evidence of time spent at institutions including Stanhope Castle and what is now known as Aycliffe Secure Centre during the 1960s.

In a statement read to the panel, sitting in London yesterday, he said he reported abuse while in Newton Aycliffe, at Stanhope Castle and later in life to Bishop Auckland Police who did not pursue his claim.

Mr Watson suffered similar extreme, violent, physical and sexual abuse at Stanhope Castle as victims Peter Smith and Peter Robson, who gave evidence on Monday.

On one occasion he ran away from the physical abuse suffered at Aycliffe Secure Centre, only to be picked up by two teachers who beat him “savagely”.

But, like fellow victims in the inquiry this week, it was at Stanhope Castle where he was in care for the longest period of his childhood - from the age of 11 to 15 - and where he suffered the most serious abuse.

Mr Watson was subjected to frequent sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by an apparent “organised group” including the deputy headmaster, his head of house, a female teacher and former pupil of the school - as well as a scoutmaster not involved in the group.

Abuse was carried out by members individually and in groups and threats of death were made on occasions.

In 1961 Mr Watson and a friend absconded from Stanhope Castle and were picked up by police.

He said he told the officers his head of house and deputy headmaster were “hurting us badly” but the police officer punched him and said: “That’s our friend.”

On his return to Stanhope Castle he said the headmaster gave him “well over 20 lashes” to his bare skin and he was locked in a small cupboard for three days with no light or blanket.

A similar account was given by a fellow pupil, giving evidence anonymously, who reported abuse to a matron who informed the child’s abuser, resulting in a beating.

Mr Watson told the panel he felt let down by police over a report made in 1999 to officers in Bishop Auckland, which if investigated “properly and promptly” would have afforded him the chance to see two abusers brought to justice.

At the time he was told his abusers were either dead or dying and the case could not proceed.

He was latterly told there was no record of his complaint and later thorough checks revealed one of his abusers died two years later.

Another of his abusers was elderly and an inspector suggested a conviction was unlikely.

Books of notes recording his abuse, handed to the force in 1999, had also been destroyed in a cellar flood.

“I was denied the chance to achieve justice,” he said.

An apology has since been issued to Mr Watson for the failure of police action.

The inquiry continues.