A FORMER staff member at a school near York who sexually abused pupils has been jailed for 16 years.

Alexander Ralls, now 47, held child protection and safeguarding posts while working at Queen Ethelburga’s College, Bradford Crown Court heard.

During a four year period - before his dismissal following a complaint from one of the victims - he abused 20 children both at the private boarding school in Thorpe Underwood north of York and on trips abroad.

A jury heard how he sexually assaulted some pupils under the pretence of giving them medical treatment when they were ill or unwell, and others when they were asleep. He was a first aider but had no medical qualifications.

Some were abused when they were abroad, unable to speak the local language and without a phone or local money, the court heard.

Judge Kirstie Watson said: “The one person they felt they could trust was the one person carrying out the abuse.”

She said she was satisfied Ralls had not got the position at Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate specifically to find pupils to abuse, but having abused one pupil without being challenged, he deliberately created situations in which he could abuse others.

“You took advantage of the position you found yourself in,” she told Ralls.

In personal statements, victims and one father of a victim spoke of the lasting psychological, mental and emotional damage Ralls had caused them.

READ MORE: Scale of Alexander Ralls' offending was 'staggering', say police

One pupil described how they still scream in their sleep, another told how they had tried to kill themselves. Some spoke of being unable to trust people, particularly older men and others of how their academic studies had suffered and how they fear that will affect their chances in life.

One told Ralls about his sentence: “No time will be enough to pay for the damage you have caused to me and others.”

The father of one victim said he felt "extremely guilty" as it was the result of his choice of education that his child had had to "experience such an ordeal".

Other victims described how their parents had been mentally ill after hearing what had happened to their child or felt they were to blame because they had chosen the school.

“They didn’t fail their children,” said Judge Watson. “The responsibility for the pain and suffering (of their children) lies not with them but with you Alexander Ralls.”

Ralls, now 47, of Hazel Mead, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, denied 34 sexual assaults and 10 offences of causing a person to engage in sexual activity, but was convicted by a jury at the end of a six-week trial.

In addition to the 16-year prison sentence, he was put on the sex offenders’ register and made subject to a sexual harm prevention order, both for life.

Bradford Crown Court heard he had no previous offences and had not been convicted of any offence since leaving the school.

His legal team handed in references by people who described him as hard-working and a man of integrity.