AN ex-social services chief has been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting youngsters at a North-East children’s centre that has housed some of the UK’s most notorious juvenile criminals.

Rod Ryall, 67, was a live-in house master at Aycliffe Approved School, off the A167, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in the Sixties.

He was arrested last week and an investigation into the school, now known as Aycliffe Secure Services, is under way.

It is believed Mr Ryall is the only former member of staff under suspicion, and all of the allegations are historical.

A spokesman for Durham Police said last night: “We can confirm inquiries are under way into allegations of sexual assault, said to have taken place at the Aycliffe Childrens’ Centre in the Sixties.

“As a result, a 67-year-old man was arrested in the West Yorkshire area last week and interviewed by officers from Durham. He was then released on police bail until mid- July, pending further investigations.”

Mr Ryall, an Oxford physics graduate, has spent most of his career working with children and young people.

Soon after he graduated, in 1961, he became a house master at the approved school, before working at a similar facility in the Midlands.

He gained a Phd from Cambridge and became a professional advisor to the children’s committee for the Wessex region in Southampton.

In 1974, he joined Calderdale Borough Council, West Yorkshire, and spent three years on its child protection committee looking into child abuse.

He resigned as director of social services for Calderdale in 1988, and was once described as brilliant and dedicated.

Since then he has kept a relatively low profile, but he has taken part in a number of orienteering competitions competing for the East Pennines Orienteering Club.

Centre’s chequered history

AYCLIFFE Secure Services, also known as the Aycliffe Centre for Children, suffered allegations of brutality and a prison-style regime in the Eighties and Nineties.

The centre gained a high profile reputation under the directorship of Dr Masud Hoghugi, who took over in the Seventies, and enjoyed the Royal patronage of Prince Andrew, who visited during the Eighties.

Newton Aycliffe residents regularly called for its closure because of the number of offenders escaping from the secure unit.

In 2001, a former member of staff was jailed for 15 years, later reduced to 12, for abuse against three boys, including rape, between 1988 and 1996.

Other allegations of physical abuse have been made by former inmates, but never proven.

In 1993, a damning Government report alleged staff at the centre operated an illegal prison-style regime.

The reputation of the centre recovered in recent years and it has built up an international status for its work with troubled children.

Recently, it was announced that the Durham County Council-run centre will receive £7m in Government funding towards its work, which will cost a total of £12m.