Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'The Theft of the Teddy Bear School' Article on the 'All Along the Nile' Blog - 7th November 2012

The following article about the forging of the Unity High School Trust Deed and the ownership of the school appeared today on the 'All Along the Nile' blog on 7th November 2012:


"After the Mohamed the Teddy bear fracas that tsunami’d across the globe’s press in 2007, you’d think that Unity High School in Sudan would be pretty careful about what other currents might be waiting to drag it back out as a fresh catch for the world’s press.

"Well, they haven’t been and the school is once more at the centre of a major scandal. This one probably of no interest to those brandishing swords on the streets of Khartoum who were once calling for a British teachers head for naming a teddy bear after a child in her class. But it should be of interest in the UK.

"Of interest because the school found itself involved in the disappearance of a substantial donation made in 1973 by the British Crown to the Church authorities who were in charge of Unity High School. Sudan at the time was under the heel of the dictator Numeiri and his one-party-state, but was in the process of opening itself up more and more to Western economies. 

"That year Princess Anne paid a short visit to Unity High School and the Clergy House School in the capital Khartoum. Her visit was intended to help smooth relations between Britain and the resurgent Sudan, now free from its ex-colonial rulers; ready to do business with the West. The donation that she gave was to be used for educational purposes though the amount of the donation is now lost in a fog of wild rumour and speculation. The generally accepted figure is that it was somewhere in the region of £500,000; a lot of cash by 1970’s standards.

"Prior to its disappearance, the Church did use some of the royal donation in the mid 70’s to build the Khartoum International Preparatory School. Unfortunately, within two years of its completion the school found itself at the centre of a bizarre legal storm over its ownership. It has been in and out of the courts ever since with the Anglican Church continuing to struggle over the proof that they are the school’s legal owners.

"By the mid-90’s, things had gotten even more weird. Unity High School, which was owned by a Board of Trustees that was set up by its founder Bishop Llewellyn Gwynn in the 1940’s, seemed to find itself temporarily owned by no one. At least no one that cared.  The legal Trustees had either returned to the UK (thus forfeiting their positions as Trustees) or had passed away over the years.

"Suddenly in 1995 the school found itself with a completely new set of owners: the Church authorities that had previously lost control of the Khartoum International Preparatory School, along with the current and previous School Directors and an ex-parent of the school. One school lost, another gained.  The school’s location in central Khartoum makes it one of the most valuable pieces of real-estate on the African continent. Owning Unity High School would be the equivalent of owning a prime piece of let’s say…Times Square, Kensington or Chelsea.

"Curiously, one of the people most associated with the sudden change of ownership of the school, was the Rev Charles Bonsall. Bonsall was a legal Trustee of Unity until his return to the UK at around the time of Princess Anne’s donation to the Church authorities. His signature appears on a letter from June 1995 and it is this letter which constitutes the authority on which the new Trustees were appointed to the school. Presumably Bonsall’s signature was added to give the document an air of authenticity. It didn’t work. The letter looks unbelievably amateurish and has nothing about it that would suggest in the slightest that it is a legal document of any kind. Bonsall however stated in an email that his signature was genuine.  That seems a bit hollow in the face of witnessed confessions from others named on the document that the whole things is a forgery, as is the Arabic version of it now lodged with the Land Registry in Khartoum. Reverend Bonsall is currently living in Birmingham and now runs the Sudan Church Association.

"Since that time, the school seems to have stayed in a state of near poverty. Ingrained shabbiness blankets the school. Classrooms are dirty and badly furnished, air conditioners are old and don’t work properly, windows are falling apart, electrical fires are a constant hazard due to the poor state of the wiring and this is despite the substantial fees that are paid by the parents at what is a very prestigious private school. Unity High School should be the Rugby School, the Eton or Harvard of the African continent. It isn’t.

"To add insult to injury, an employee in the school’s accounts department even signed a number of confessions stating that he had stolen large sums of money from the safe and from teacher’s pay-packets. These were apparently not thefts, but loans, as he intended to pay them back. It seems that being caught red-handed and signing a confession were not enough to have him sacked or arrested as he was also the Church Treasurer. According to the School Council, to sack him would have been far too big a scandal for the Church.

"Although the forging of the school’s Trust Deeds has been admitted by some of those involved, it was through the building of an online living history archive that the evidence really began to stack up.  All of it handed over in piles of dusty folders by the Director of the School.

"Unity High School, born out of an exultation of Empire and a desire to impact positively on the local population, has an astonishing and long history. From picnics at the palace and under General Gordon’s tree to the departure of the British from the Sudan, military coups and shoot-outs from the school roof, through the students strike of the 1960’s and the seizing of the keys to the gates by the Ministry of Education in the early 90’s. Almost all of that astonishingly colourful history has either been ‘forgotten’, removed or destroyed.  This hasn’t happened out of some ex-colonial guilt, but out of an Orwellian stifling of truth so as to establish an alternate and false truth.

"Even though the evidence for the apparent theft of Unity High School is incontrovertible and in the hands of the Sudanese authorities, nothing seems to be being done about it. Whether they have the political will to restore Unity to what it was and should still be is anybody’s guess. The fact that the school’s Director has been locked up twice in the past twelve months over allegations relating to the forged Trust Deed, and then freed for no apparent reason doesn’t really bode well for the future of the school. Corruption in Sudan is the norm and you can buy most things if you have enough cash.

"As for the royal donation: where did that go? Maybe Reverend Bonsall has some idea as he was there on the ground at the time it was made. But why did the Crown not follow up on such a substantial gift and have it accounted for in some way? Neither Bonsall or the British Crown are forthcoming on this issue.

"You can find information and documentation directly related to the contents of this article on the Unity High School Archive, with the tag ’corruption in the school’ at: 


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