‘There were adults who saw what was happening, but nothing was done’ – victim of music teacher Peter Antonelli


“That is sitting there and I just can’t touch it,” says the woman, one of 14 victims who gave evidence in court last year against East Lothian piano teacher Peter Antonelli. “I wanted to be a classical pianist, I loved music and I was a talented musician. I started performing, but it was always a conflict, because I would just be having flashbacks all the time.”

She says her piano lessons, held during school hours, were used by Antonelli to abuse her.

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“I learned almost nothing from 13 or 14,” she says. “I wasn’t being taught, he used my lessons to sexually abuse me, there was no teaching. Not only did he take away my childhood and the carefree experiences that should come with it and my sexual development, but he took my musical education away too.”

Peter Antonelli was convicted at the Edinburgh High Court last year.

Antonelli, 66, who was awarded an MBE for services to musical education and taught piano at schools in East Lothian, was sentenced to eight years in prison in December after being found guilty on charges of rape, lewd and libidinous conduct and indecent assault. He was working as head of instrumental music for East Lothian Council until the time of his arrest, while he and his wife also ran a musical theater school, Musical Youth.

Sentencing him on 23 December, judge Jamie Gilchrist told Antonelli he had “used and exploited” his position to sexually abuse a number of pupils under the age of 16, as well as raping one pupil after she was 16 “on multiple occasions”. The judge warned the victims had suffered “considerable and lasting emotional damage”.

A BBC Scotland Disclosure documentary into the case to be broadcast tomorrow, will see former pupils and staff describe how their warnings were ignored and claim Antonelli was allowed to continue to abuse girls for decades.

The victim, who asked not to be named, told Scotland on Sunday Antonelli had begun grooming her in the 1990s when she was 12, with sexual abuse beginning two years later. Now in her 30s, she says she has suffered decades of trauma.

“It was always there throughout my life,” she says. “It was a constant thing in the background. When I moved back to Edinburgh, I couldn’t leave the house without being vigilant. Seeing a guy’s loafers in a supermarket gave me a panic attack.Sounds, smells, words, any experience, were a constant, unpredictable trigger possibility.”

The woman, along with the other victims, decided to speak out in the wake of the #metoo movement.

“It has been three years of absolute hell,” she says. “It’s really re-traumatizing, having to go over and over again the horrific details of the abuse I was subjected to and it was exhausting. The thing for me that was most motivating, was knowing the sense of isolation you feel as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, if you haven’t spoken out about it for decades, how lonely that feels. being less alone was massive in terms of feeling my voice could be heard and could be believed.

“It was about breaking the cultural silence and wanting to be part of something that could protect children. I just thought if my experience could make one other person feel less lonely, it would be worth it.”

She was surprised when so many women came forward to say they had also been abused by Antonelli, some more than a decade before her. Until the court case was concluded, the victims were not allowed contact with each other. They have since shared their stories.

“I knew, given the statistics, there were likely to be other survivors, but I didn’t think there would be that many,” she says. “Having connected with other survivors since the trial, we’ve shared our experiences and it has been cathartic and devastating, hearing the impact his abuse had on these women’s lives – education and careers, personal relationships and mental health – while he continued to grow and gain status, success and power. completely alone.”

The BBC Scotland Disclosure documentary will speak to pupils and staff at schools where Antonelli worked, who say their warnings were ignored. The woman echoes their concerns about her.

“I had been groomed, [speaking out] was not an option for me,” she says. “There were adults around that saw what was happening, but nothing was ever done about it. There were concerns raised to the school authorities. But they didn’t document any of it, they never called my parents. The concerns were never put forward, or that they’d interviewed me. My mum had her own concerns and if they had phoned they would have put two and two together.”

The case against Antonelli took almost three years from when the victims decided to speak out, to his conviction. While happy she has brought Antonelli to justice, the woman’s experience of the criminal justice system was difficult.

“You don’t know what’s happening,” she says. “The police are not great at telling you what is going on. Although I am glad I took this forward and I am glad I went to the police and that justice has been served , there needs to be more done to protect and help victims.”

During the case at Edinburgh High Court, she was lucky to avoid a face-to-face meeting with Antonelli and his wife after a worker from a rape charity, who was supporting her, phoned to tell her to avoid an entrance where they were standing .

“There is no way to avoid the accuser and the accused meeting,” she says. “During the case, while I gave evidence, there was a screen up so I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me, but everyone goes in the same door and in the lunch breaks, you’re just leaving the court room and hanging around the building, there are no separate spaces. was standing at a certain door and to warn me to hang back for a bit, I would have come up and found the pair of them, which would have been really intimidating.

“Rape Crisis Scotland were great, but as an educated woman I was able to go out and look for what I might need. It should be automatic that survivors of sexual abuse are pushed up to the top of trauma lists through the NHS.”

An appeal put forward by Antonelli against his conviction was overturned earlier this month. During the trial, the former teacher said he had done nothing wrong, claiming he had a consensual sexual relationship with one of his pupils de ella when she turned 17 and insisting it was common in the 1980s for teachers to date pupils.

The woman says: “He got eight years, which is all right, but when you think about the prison of silence and agony and torture that survivors were kept in for decades – knowing there are women 20 years older than me, who’ve been suffering in silence for 40 years – it’s not enough.”

East Lothian Council said it is conducting a review of its safeguarding procedures as a result of the Antonelli case.

A spokesperson said: “We are shocked and sickened by the offenses for which Peter Antonelli has been convicted. The safety and wellbeing of children and young people in East Lothian is our top priority and all staff are required to follow strict reporting and safeguarding procedures. We strive to provide an environment where anyone who witnesses, or experiences inappropriate behavior is supported, and that suitable action is taken.

“Although these offenses happened many years ago, we are undertaking a review of our safeguarding policies, procedures, and systems. This will secure continuous improvement and ensure our measures remain as robust as possible. We believe this review will provide assurance to families throughout East Lothian.”

She added: “We would encourage anyone who has any information in relation to alleged abuse to contact Police Scotland for the matter to be investigated.”

Disclosure, BBC One Scotland, tomorrow, 10.40pm


www.scotsman.com

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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