A former head teacher has been cleared of sexually abusing four boys at a residential school in Brighouse more than 30 years ago.

A jury yesterday afternoon found Peter Merrick, 67, not guilty of all the offences alleged against him.

Three days earlier, he had choked back tears in the witness box as he told Bradford Crown Court he was entirely innocent of any wrong doing.

It was the second time Merrick had stood trial accused of the serial sexual abuse of four pupils at William Henry Smith School, between 1977 and 1984, when the boys were aged 11 to 15.

In April, the jury in the first trial was discharged.

Merrick faced 19 charges of indecent assault and two of a serious sexual offence.

He told the jury his shock and disbelief turned to anger when he was accused in 1993 of sexually abusing two boys at the school.

The court was told that an initial police investigation was started when two former pupils made complaints. Merrick denied the allegations and a decision was taken not to take the matter any further.

He told the court he was married with a child when he began teaching at the school, aged 29, in 1984. He and his wife went on to have two more children during his time there.

The school’s pupils all had learning and behavioural problems and were challenging to teach.

Merrick, who was promoted to assistant head teacher in charge of residential care, said he did everything possible to help them.

He was at the school for more than eight years, leaving to take up promotion with a headship at another special school. He retired in 1996.

Merrick, now of Burton Road, Overseal, Derbyshire, said he could not understand what he might have done to warrant such lies after trying to help the boys when they were at the school.