THE former chair of governors of a private school accused of sexually abusing its pupils is a “kindly uncle”, a “larger than life” type character and the victim of “malicious” allegations, according to his defence barrister.

The prosecution allege that Brian Richard Martin, 68, abused his position as owner, chairman of governors and principal trustee of Queen Ethelburga’s School near Thorpe Underwood, north of York, to carry out sexual crimes over nearly two decades.

Defence barrister Tania Griffiths QC told the jury: “You will have to decide whether he was a paedophile who used his position and wealth to abuse children. Or, as we say, a larger than life character, a big brother type, a kind uncle who offered friendly advice and a release from the confines of the boarding school environment.”

Martin, of Farnham Lane, Ferrensby, Knaresborough, denies 24 charges.

Together the charges allege he abused five children, most of them pupils at the school, and made sexual suggestions to a sixth, also a pupil.

Opening the prosecution, Mark McKone claimed that Martin showed pornography to two boys and abused each of them while the other watched.

He alleged that Martin told one boy who sent a sexual picture of a girl over the internet he had spent £20,000 preventing him from getting in trouble with the police.

Martin then “punished” the boy by sexually abusing him, alleged the prosecution barrister.

Mr McKone alleged Martin indecently assaulted a girl after making sexual comments to her and suggested to a girl suffering from home sickness that he could help her lose her virginity.

Ms Griffiths told Leeds Crown Court, Martin was a “real life rags to riches tale” and claimed the prosecution had painted him as a man “so rich he could buy anything he wanted, so rich he could buy any body he wanted, a man so powerful no-one was able to resist him.”

“This is not Brian Martin,” she alleged.

She claimed that after making his “vast wealth” in the insurance industry, Martin had given up his home at Thorpe Underwood Hall to house the school so that its pupils could enjoy the same benefits he had had as a child.

She claimed the first complainant had made “malicious, horrible allegations probably motivated by compensation”.

She alleged one girl’s claims were the result of a “contaminated disordered recollection” the claims of a second girl did not amount to a crime and that three other alleged boy victims were also motivated by compensation.

The jury heard that Martin lived on the same estate as the school and that pupils would visit his home.

The trial continues.