The owners of a private school rocked by allegations of physical abuse said today that parents of current pupils are standing by the school.

A solicitor acting on behalf of the proprietors says they have received letters of support from parents of present-day pupils and none of the children has been removed from Howsham Hall Preparatory School, between York and Malton, since inquiries began earlier this year.

Last Saturday, the Evening Press exclusively revealed how police, investigating the claims of former pupils that they were abused by staff, had arrested three people.

Former pupil Chris Hill, 30, said he was still haunted by memories of a strict and disciplinarian regime from his time at the school, between the ages of eight and 13. He claimed staff made pupils stand in cold baths for hours, banned them from going to the lavatory in the night and censored their letters home.

Since the article, two more former pupils have now come forward claiming they endured physical abuse.

Sixteen-year-old Steven Oxtoby has told his mother he is prepared to be questioned by police about his days at Howsham Hall.

Alison Oxtoby claims her son was also abused when he attended the school between the ages of seven and nine.

She said: "He was made to stand barefoot for hours on the cold floor by the grandfather clock, and was not allowed to sit down or go to the toilet. When we phoned the school, we were told we could not speak to Steven.

"One time he started talking about 'the whacks'. I asked what he meant and he said it was a leather sole and that they had beaten his hands ten or 20 times. He got 'the whacks' on a daily basis for trivial things like talking in the dorm." Claire Ashworth, who was a pupil from 1983 until 1987, says she, too, went through "unnecessary stress and physical abuse".

The 23-year-old from Goole said she had been bottling-up what happened to her at the school ever since she was eight.

She said: "They would regularly beat us with a leather buckle or strap. It's like we were only allowed to change our underwear twice a week. Now even at eight I knew that was wrong."

She added: "Hearing about the article brought it all back to me."

But the Evening Press has also been contacted by the father of three former pupils who said it was a "superb" school. Dick Hails, whose sons, Norman and Steven, and daughter, Fiona, attended the school in the 1970s, told the Evening Press: "It was a superb school. When I told my children about these allegations they said they could not understand them at all. I remember that they could not wait to go back after the school holidays."

Howsham Hall is run by Simon and Anthony Knock and their sister, Gabrielle, who took over from their parents, John and Maureen, in the late 1980s.

Police said they had arrested two men and a woman, who were questioned before being released without charge on police bail.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.