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Head teacher guilty of abusing boys at residential schools

Gregor Dougal was convicted of four charges of assault and two of indecent assault against boys in his care.

Gregor Dougal was found guilty of all charges and will be sentenced later.
Gregor Dougal was found guilty of all charges and will be sentenced later.

A former head teacher is facing jail for a campaign of physical and sexual abuse of pupils at two schools, spanning three decades.

Gregor Dougal, 72, was found guilty after a six-day trial of four charges of assault and two of indecent assault against boys in his care at St Ninian’s school, near Aberfoyle, Perthshire, and Ballikinrain residential school near Balfron, Stirlingshire.

Dougal was deputy head of education at St Ninian’s, which closed in 1982 and was run by the De La Salle Brothers, a Roman Catholic order of monks.

He went on to be head of education at Ballikinrain, which was run by the Church of Scotland and closed in 2021.

He was suspended in 2001 after allegations about his conduct were raised.

Left boy in ‘excruciating pain’

Falkirk Sheriff Court heard “aggressive”, “impulsive” and “intimidating” Dougal targeted two boys who were at St Ninian’s between 1972 and 1977, together with four boys who were at Ballikinrain between 1985 and 2000.

Prosecutor Michael Sweeney said during the trial, “a string of damaged men came forward to provide powerful accounts of how they were attacked and treated by Mr Dougal at these schools when he was a teacher there”.

Gregor Dougal
Gregor Dougal.

One former pupil at the remote St Ninian’s boarding school for “unruly” boys told how he was knocked unconscious by a blow on the head from Dougal, who pursued him with a car as he tried to run away.

Vincent Smith, now 60, said he and another boy had tried to flee during a visit by a Cardinal, at which they were supposed to be altar boys.

After leaving their vestments on the floor they ran down the long drive of the building at Gartmore, heard a car, and saw Dougal approaching in his Mini.

He said: “Mr Dougal had his hand out the window and the next thing I knew he’d hit me on the back of the head.”

Gartmore House
Gartmore House, site of St Ninian’s school. Image: DC Thomson.

Mr Smith, between nine and 12 at the time, said he was knocked out and the next thing he remembered was waking in the back of the car, then being dragged into the school’s boot room.

Another pupil, now 57 and sent to St Ninian’s when he was nine, said Dougal – who taught English, music and PT – had grabbed his testicles with force on three different occasions, causing him to cry with pain.

He said: “It was excruciating. That pain will stick with me for the rest of my life, being a little boy.”

Broke youngster’s wrist

After St Ninian’s closed, Dougal moved on to Ballikinrain, where the jury heard his assaults on children continued.

Edward Riddell, now a 50-year-old operations manager at an insulation company was sent there when he was 12 by the Children’s Hearing.

He was pushed by Dougal off a wall, breaking his wrist.

Breaking down in the witness box, he said he and two other boys had been sitting on the wall, which had an “massive” bell set into it, used to summon children to classes.

Edward Riddell
Edward Riddell gave evidence at the trial. 

Somebody made a remark about Dougal and a female teacher.

Mr Riddell said: “He said to me, ‘You f***ing wee b*****d’ and pushed me.

“I reached out to grab the bell as a means of support and my arm went right through the holes.

“The pain was excruciating, like lightning hitting me.”

He said Dougal then “dragged” him to his dormitory and he was left for several days as  his hand turned blue.

He said: “I asked to speak to my dad and my social worker to tell them there was something wrong with my arm but I was left sitting in my dorm, crying.

“I would say they were trying to cover up.”

Eventually he spotted his key worker, who took him to hospital.

He reported the incident after being approached by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

Sexual abuse

Another man, now aged 40, told the court he was sexually abused 15 to 20 times over 18 months by Dougal at Ballikinrain, when he was a “terrified little boy” aged 12 or 13, on the pretext of being searched for cannabis.

He said Dougal would wait for him at the top of the school’s grand staircase when he came back from weekend leave, separate him from other pupils and order him to his office.

Then, he would instruct him to place his hands against the wall and touch his legs, buttocks and private parts while pretending to search him for drugs.

The man said: “I think he knew every pupil in there and what he could get away with and picked his targets.

“The cannabis thing was just a trap to get me into his office so he could have his wicked way.”

Accused was ‘an animal’

Another man, Raymond Don, now 37, was physically assaulted by Dougal at Ballikinrain when he was 14 and described Dougal as “an animal”.

Mr Don said one of the first things he learned after being placed in the school for being “outwith parental control” was that Dougal was “not to be messed with”.

When he was sent to his office for swearing at a member of staff, Dougal told him, “Do you think you’re a wee hard man? Do you want your go?”.

He then punched him, poked him in the face, pushed him against a filing cabinet and bent his wrist until it “popped”.

He was taken to the doctor but Dougal claimed he had acted in self-defence.

Mr Don said: “At the time I just thought it was normal because things like that happened all the time in those homes.”

The court heard one young boy at Ballinkinrain had once told Dougal, “I’m not scared of you.”

Dougal replied, “You should be.”

The jury found Dougal, now of Otley, Yorkshire, guilty by majority of all the charges against him.

Sheriff Mark Thorley deferred sentence until November 7 for reports and continued bail.

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