A famous boarding school whose alumni include Sophie Dahl and Lily Allen has apologised for providing a former teacher with an employment reference despite them being suspected of sexual abuse.

Bedales also apologised for allowing the teacher in question to continue working at the Hampshire school in the immediate aftermath of the allegations and not contacting the police straight away.

Allegations against the unidentified teacher at the £33,000 ($41,000) a year school surfaced in the 1980s. But the person was allowed to continue working at Dunhurst, the prep school managed by Bedales.

Police were not contacted and the school later provided a reference for the teacher so they could work in other schools, despite the accusation.

In a statement handed to The Sunday Times, the school said: "Specifically, the school was remiss on three counts: failure to dismiss the teacher immediately; failure to notify the authorities at the time; and providing references for the teacher based on what was known in 1987.

"We confirm that in 1987 as a result of complaints of serious misconduct made by parents against a teacher at Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, the teacher was forced to resign.

"Almost eight years later at the end of 1994, specific sexual abuse allegations going back to 1985 were made against the same teacher. The school co-operated fully with the subsequent police investigation but the teacher was not charged.

"Separately, a civil action relating to the same case was subsequently brought in 1998 and a settlement was reached in 2002."

The headmaster at the time of the alleged abuse was Euan MacAlpine, who told The Sunday Times: "I am out of it now. I have no idea how the whole thing ended. You know perfectly well that these allegations — and they were allegations — are always complex."