PETER ROEBUCK, the former Somerset cricket captain and journalist, was given a suspended jail sentence yesterday for caning apprentice players in his care. Roebuck, 45, admitted common assault on three 19-year-old South Africans who lodged at his bungalow near Taunton, Somerset. The Cambridge graduate, who captained the side that included Ian Botham and Viv Richards, beat the boys across the buttocks when they failed his fitness tests.
Taunton Crown Court was told Roebuck had abused his position and inflicted humiliating punishments. Judge Graham Hume Jones gave him three concurrent four-month sentences, suspended for two years. Ian Fenny, prosecuting, said Roebuck, who holds Australian citizenship, used his insistence on fitness as an excuse.
He said: "It may well be that Roebuck deliberately took these boys on an arduous run so he could create the environment in which he could mete out punishment." In the first case, a promising cricketer whom Roebuck first met while coaching in Somerset, arrived at Roebuck's home in March 1999. When he failed to perform adequately, Roebuck selected a cane from a rack of six which he kept in his converted garage for the purpose.
In a statement, the victim said Roebuck told him: "I'm going to cane you now. Then it will be over and I will forgive you and, if I don't cane you, I will feel differently about you." Roebuck asked the boy to bend over and delivered three "forceful strokes" over his clothing. Mr Fenny said: "Roebuck then pulled the boy towards him, in what appeared to be an act of affection. He then asked if he could look at the marks on the boy's buttocks, something which he in fact did."
Another boy was beaten by Roebuck when he failed to keep up on a run. "He, too, was left feeling considerable distress and humiliation." A third boy, who now plays for a local team, received similar treatment, being beaten by Roebuck and asked to show the marks.
The second boy, now living South Africa, said: "I did not consent to any assault but he is a dominant person who makes you feel that you must do as he says." The "unusual and bizarre" treatment was discovered when he complained to a family friend, Richard Lines, secretary of nearby Bishop's Lydeard cricket club.
Mr Lines told police that he went to collect the boys and discovered the canes and a newspaper cutting on the wall showing prisoners chained together on their way to receive a public beating. He removed the boys to another address and made a formal complaint to police. Roebuck telephoned Mr Lines the next day and told him the boys were caned "for their own good".
Paul Mendelle, defending, said Roebuck was a man of "high standards" who considered corporal punishment a necessary part of the boys' education. He had made no secret of the harshness of his regime, writing to one prospective apprentice: "I have no time for half-heartedness. My philosophy is 'through fire and into light'." He said 25 out of 29 boys who had stayed with Roebuck had written in support, one stating that Roebuck had given him "the two best summers" of his life.
Roebuck was originally accused of indecent assault but pleaded guilty to lesser charges of common assault. However, the judge said he did not accept the purity of Roebuck's motives. He said: "It was not appropriate to administer corporal punishment to boys of this age in circumstances such as these. It seems so unusual that it must have been done to satisfy some need in you.
"These were talented young men with high ambitions. They were far from home, far from their families and were keen to come under the tutelage of a person like you, being highly respected and well-known in the cricket world. He added: "So, not only were they in your care but you had power and influence over them and that power and influence was abused by you. You used your position to abuse these boys and humiliate them."
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