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From The Times Newspaper

FRIDAY MARCH 02 2001

Head of Abbey's choir school quits over bully charge

BY TIM REID

THE headmaster of Westminster Abbey’s choir school resigned yesterday amid allegations that he had bullied pupils. Roger Overend, headmaster for the past four years, cited “personal reasons”.

The move follows months of controversy over the running of the 37-pupil school, where some parents levelled accusations of bullying.

Last week Mr Overend, who had enjoyed the full support of Wesley Carr, the Dean of the abbey and one of the school governors, agreed that he would not be at the school at the beginning of half term, because of the media comment surrounding his post.

That was meant to be a temporary measure, until yesterday’s resignation. It prompted a short statement from the abbey, which was sending letters to parents last night informing then of Mr Overend’s decision. They said:“The governors of the school and Dean and Chapter have accepted his resignation with regret and wish to put on record their deep appreciation of the hard work undertaken by Mr Overend, which has resulted in the school making marked progress, during his headship. They wish him every success in his future career.”

The abbey’s choir, in existence for nearly 1,000 years, is internationally famous for its singing at state occasions, most recently at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

But the choir has been embroiled in controversy since the Dean dismissed the former organist Martin Neary three years ago. Mr Neary appealed to the Queen over his dismissal and although the dismissal was upheld by a subsequent inquiry the Dean was criticised for his management style. In recent months four boys have been withdrawn and one expelled from the school, which is next to Westminster Abbey.

Last September the parents of one of the four withdrawn boys complained about Mr Overend’s treatment of their son.

During October and November, the abbey’s receiver general, on the instructions of the Dean, carried out an investigation. In the light of his findings, Dr Carr spoke to Mr Overend but just after Christmas the parents withdrew both their sons from the school.

Mr Overend could not be contacted last night.

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