Joking Master Became 'Vile, Slimy, Sexual Predator'

By Mark Branagan
Yorkshire Post Today [United Kingdom]
January 27, 2006

A highly respected monk and teacher, he was also a celebrated mountaineer who in later life would face near death on the Andes.

With His Guards Officer's Dashing Good Looks, His Athlete's Energy and Smooth Flattering Manner, No-One Really Knew What Tory Peer's Son Piers Grant-Ferris Was Doing at Ampleforth College

The only son of leading public figure Lord Harvington – a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher – he had a spotless family name.

Commissioned into the Irish Guards, Grant-Ferris seemed poised for the sort of brilliant career carved out his by father, a former Deputy Speaker during Ted Heath's government and a member of a prominent English Roman Catholic family.

So pupils wondered why he suddenly retreated from the world. In a place where the 40-something Abbot Basil Hume was regarded as a youthful figure, the only explanation was a vague rumour – that Grant-Ferris had been traumatised by a car crash in which two young women died.

But once he found himself in charge of young boys at Ampleforth's former prep school Gilling Castle, he behaved – as one victim put it – "like a kiddie in a sweetshop where the proprietor had gone away".

To new boys, Grant-Ferris cut a comical figure as he pranced around on cross country runs, his thin, bony knees pumping up to his chest as he encouraged the boys to keep up the pace and patted their buttocks.

It was only when alone with him, one said, that they realised they were at the mercy of a "vile, slimy, sexual predator".

The former pupil recalled 30 years later: "I can still smell him you know. The monks didn't change their habits often enough and that's what he smelled of – stale sweat."

No one was really as afraid of Grant-Ferris as they were of some of the other masters who, in those days, ran the college with a rod of iron.

He had a way of using flattery to make boys come to him.

But the next moment he could have his victim in a vice-like grip as he fondled their private parts, cooing praise in the boy's ears as he squirmed with embarrassment in front of classmates in the form room.

Had Grant-Ferris confined his unwanted attentions to the boys miles away from home in the dorms it would have been a sign of some restraint. But he drew no line between boarders and day pupils who would be returning to their parents in a few hours.

Soon the boys realised they were dealing not just with another "bender", as they called any staff member who seemed a bit too friendly, but with someone who was quite clearly – except to those in authority – running amok.

Grant-Ferris kept a drawer full of soiled thermometers he had used on his victims.

He emerged from the swimming pool flaunting an erection in his trunks.

His unstable behaviour was underlined by his habit of running around in corridors rubbing his hands, shouting: "big bowels, big bowels".

At other times he wore the solemn expression of a devout monk, his hands clasped patiently in front of him as he explained to "naughty" boys why they must be punished.

He was not all bad. In fact he had a reputation as someone who could take a practical joke. In a community where many masters seemed dozy relics of a bygone age he appeared a fresh-faced and youthful force who said words pupils often wanted to hear.

Those accustomed to the rigours of public school life could even blank out his offending. The boys who ran off to cry would soon be back boasting how they had endured a good thrashing from "weirdo" Grant-Ferris.

Some of his most bizarre behaviour was remembered by a pupil he led deep into the woods behind Ampleforth for punishment. Normally, he preferred to feel his hands on the boys' backsides, but this time he tore a branch from a tree and ordered the lad to drop his trousers.

As he waited for his punishment the pupil was startled to hear the monk begin to debate out loud the rights and wrongs of what he was doing. "I must beat you – but I don't want to beat you," he kept muttering until his dark half won and he swung the stick – again and again.

Some of his more charitable victims have even suggested Grant-Ferris had a conscience but was a slave to his own rampant sexuality.

One of the many whose lives have been blighted said: "He was just as much a victim as we were."


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