Erika Jones: How I researched last night’s Newsnight report on sex abuse at a deaf school

Posted on November 5, 2015

After a long year of working on the research about sex abuse at Woodford School for the Deaf, I finally got to see the finished film air on a mainstream programme last night.

The Deaf children abused at the school, now adults, told me that they feel they are finally being listened to.

After years of feeling ignored and marginalised, their stories have finally been told on a leading news and current affairs programme, Newsnight. I never thought it would get to this point.

Watch Erika’s report below, with subtitles. Continue reading below for the rest of the article.


Rewind to September 2014, when a comment sparked my investigative instincts. I started researching stories of Deaf children and sexual abuse.

A month later I met my first survivor, the first of many. Her story, told over time through a series of meetings at numerous cafés, over many cups of coffee, only increased my resolve to bring her story and those of others to the public.

A year later, I had met with many survivors and put together a dossier of their stories with their evidence and testimony.

Their stories were ready to tell. It was around this time that See Hear’s series producer William Mager, after a chance meeting with Diana Martin, executive producer for Newsnight, encouraged me to write a proposal for her.

After a conference call with Diana, she asked Ian Katz, Newsnight’s editor, whether he’d be interested in the story. It was a yes from him.

A month later, an experienced Newsnight producer, Jenny Parks travelled to Bristol to meet me and to hear about my research. This was the start of our collaboration on the piece, focusing on an abuser at Woodford School for the Deaf in East London, by the name of Eric Ingall.

He took advantage of his position at the school, and the school’s policy of forbidding any sign language. The abused children found it difficult to tell others what was happening to them.

This continued over three decades. His wife, Beatrice Ingall- the head of the school was aware of what was going on and turned a blind eye.

Jenny and I spent months working together, hunting out evidence, sifting through archive, meeting with contributors, getting paper evidence and juggling this with our work on our respective programmes, See Hear and Newsnight.

In my work with See Hear, I am used to working in a fast paced environment but Newsnight is a different level! Stories are worked on right up until they air that night, and sometimes stories can be pulled at the last minute.

It wasn’t an easy ride – but we only have to remember the survivors and their stories, to push on. Their stories deserved to be heard.

We are not able to cover everything we would have wanted to, but I hope this is the start of something.

I am proud that we have managed to make it on to a high profile programme, but what I am prouder of, are the contributors who have taken the brave step to bare their stories and reveal the identity of their abuser on camera. It was not at all easy for them.

They would not suffer in silence anymore and it’s time for us to ensure that any abused child or adult, Deaf or hearing, does not suffer in silence any longer.

Erika Jones is a reporter for the BBC’s See Hear programme, and won the Royal Television Society’s Flying Futures’ Talent Award earlier this year.

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