Home Office slammed for dodging child abuse inquiry
The Home Secretary has been taken to task for not sending a representative to answer questions from survivors of abuse at Home Office run approved schools.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been investigating accountability and reparation for child sexual abuse victimsand hearing testimony from those who survived a “brutal” regime at Home Office-run institutions.
The IICSA was set up by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014 because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.
The inquiry solicitor for 22 survivors of sex abuse at approved schools set up by the Home Office, David Enright, told The London Economic that he has written to the current Secretary of State Sajid Javid repeatedly asking for the Home Office to answer his clients’ questions and apologise for the “extreme” violence thousands endured for forty years in these institutions.
Children as young as nine were sent to approved schools which were residential schools that children could end up though minor misdemeanours, truancy, being in the care system, or just being poor, explained Enright.
There they were brutalised and beaten with three-foot-long canes supplied and sanctioned by the Home Office. Children were “battered, punched, kicked and humiliated,” the inquiry heard, in a regime of “violence and indescribable sexual abuse…. little boys lying awake at night waiting for the floorboard to creak.”
Enright told the IICSA that it was also decades “of a denial of education and forced labour.”
Core participants told The London Economic that they and their fellow pupils left with no exams taken, qualifications gained, and were often used to carry out forced labour for people in the area.
Enright told the inquiry that the Home Office permitted the use of brutal violence in the approved schools they ran until 1973 when they largely became council-run residential schools: “The Home Office-approved, savage, physical abuse was the subject of letters in The Guardian, for example, front page news reports. On 2 March 1967,a teacher at an approved school wrote:
“’School discipline is entirely negative, reinforced by the savage use of the cane that would horrify anyone not inured to it. It is not pleasant to hear a boy screaming. This is not an exaggeration. It happens at the school every week, sometimes day by day. After such treatment, boys’ buttocks are covered with green and black bruises extending from one side to the other in a band perhaps eight inches in width. I have known such bruising to still be visible six weeks after the caning, although in most cases it may have gone within a month.’
“Now, this was not an aberration. It was a nationwide Home Office policy.
“The Home Office published reports about corporal punishment in approved schools … they analysed with charts and graphs how useful lashing was to stop boys from running away.
“Nobody asked why the boys were running away … This was state-approved and sanctioned child abuse and it was universally known of.”
He slammed the Home Office “who have not even deemed fit to come here,” and invited them to attend, to read his clients’ statements and apologise.
Enright told the inquiry how according to survivors’ testimonies in the sadistic regimes at the four approved schools examined in this unit of the IICSA – Stanhope Castle in Co Durham, Forde Park in Devon, St Aidan’s in Cheshire and St Vincent’s in Merseyside — paedophile predators were able to use the state-sanctioned fear of violence to get away with sexually abusing children who were disbelieved when they reported it.
“Violence is the handmaiden of child sexual abuse: battered, terrified children are easy targets for abusers, particularly when it is the abusers who can implement the corporal punishment upon them.”
“This was the case at Forde Park and all other case studies: sexual abuse was accompanied by physical abuse.
“The Home Office and Devon and Cornwall Police undertook a large-scale investigation into child abuse at Forde Park School in 1958, just a few short years before my clients were sent there,” Enright told the accountability and reparations investigation.
“It was known by Devon and Cornwall and the Home Office that violence was used on children at Forde Park and that children were at risk, or certainly had been at risk, of sexual abuse just a few years before my clients were there.
“The epidemic child abuse at Forde Park was the triggering event for Operation Lentisk undertaken by Devon and Cornwall Police between 1999 and 2002, which led to allegations being made against 190 persons by 302 victims at 41 institutions across Devon and Cornwall.
“The operation led to eight convictions, with sentences ranging from six months to 18 years, including rape, buggery, indecent assault, grievous bodily harm and gross indecency.”
Enright has written to the Secretary of State insisting that“The Home Office must now recognise the severe failures and breaches of its duty of care to children at its approved schools and make a fulsome apology, including personal apologies to the victims that we represent.”
Last week the Home Office sent a lawyer to the inquiry to read out a statement which argued that it needn’t send a representative to a section of the inquiry already attended by a representative of the Ministry of Justice.
In a written statement to the inquiry, Sir Philip Rutnam, permanent secretary at the Home Office, wrote acknowledging that vulnerable people had been let down at a time when they most needed support.
His letter said: “Ministers are treating these proceedings with the utmost seriousness and are committed to considering very carefully the inquiry’s findings and recommendations in due course.”
But survivors told The London Economic that the statement is“hollow” and “too little too late.”
Inquiry core participant Paul Sinclair, 56, who was in Forde Park from 1974 to 1975 testified how he was sexually abused by former Home Office employees Brian Ely and Derek Hooper both of whom were convicted of a catalogue of abuse of young boys.
Paul Sinclair also says he was brutally beaten as a pupil at Forde Park and used as child labour on work details.
He insisted that the Home Office was responsible for the regime that existed in approved schools as they facilitated and condoned physical beatings.
He called the Home Office’s expression of regret “hollow.”
“They are hollow words. The Home Secretary should be admitting responsibility for the regime at Approved Schools and apologising properly.
“We asked the Home Office repeatedly to send someone to answer the questions we have waited decades to hear answered.
“The Catholic Church sent its highest figure in the country to the inquiry this week – the Archbishop of Westminster testified.
“Why can’t the Home Secretary who was responsible for our abuse attend, admit responsibility or at least apologise?”
Mr Sinclair welcomed an offer by Devon County Council that was handed responsibility for the now notorious Forde Park and apologised at the IICSA last week to help survivors have therapy.
However he added that it came two decades after the Home Office staff responsible were convicted and if counselling had been available at the time “maybe two of our fellow pupils would still be alive.”
The compensation Paul Sinclair received despite being denied an education and leaving school with no qualifications as well as having to cope alone with the trauma of his abuse he believes is a pittance too.
You might imagine it would be a life-changing sum for life-changing damage to Paul’s life, and just to put it in perspective, an average pay-out for whiplash if your car is bumped is around £7,500.
“I received compensation of £2,700,” said Sinclair. “The compensation most people got was an insult. It was another devastating blow after what they had been through to be sent away with a few thousand pounds and no support.
“We had to go and make our way through life failed by the police, the Home Office, the council whose care we were in and the legal system.”
Another former pupil of Forde Park who was there pre-1973 when it was still under Home Office control spoke to us anonymously. A core participant in the IICSA inquiry too, he is known by the inquiry as F55 as well as A41 in testimony.
He is now 66 and still bears the mental and physical scars of his sexual and physical abuse at Forde Park which he attended from 1963 –1968 under Home Office rule. He has a set of false teeth where he says his top teeth were knocked out.
He called the Home Office statement “shallow words,” adding: “I’ve waited 55 years for an apology. The Home Office must bear responsibility for the treatment of me and thousands of children like me.
“I was one of the youngest and I should not have even been sent to Forde Park as my mother was appealing at the time, but I was sent there anyway aged 11.
“We got no education. We sat no exams. I don’t know a single person who left with any qualifications.
“When I went into Forde Park I was two years above in educational terms. By the time I left I was three years behind. And I shouldn’t even have been there.
“I told one staff member of the abuse that I was suffering. A primary school teacher that I trusted. After that I got the crap beaten out of me and nothing else came of it.
“It was only years later when I finally was given access to my records that I found he was a whistleblower who had passed on what I told him, after which he was moved out of the school. When I found that out I felt so guilty as I had no idea.”
F55 and Paul Sinclair both say that they were given drugs as a “chemical cosh” there.
F55 said he was given electric shocks to stop a twitch he developed. He received £50K compensation – but never an answer to why it wasn’t the £150K plus a yearly contribution to counselling that he was originally offered as a Part 36 settlement so that his case wouldn’t go to court.
David Enright told us: “from 1933 – 1973 the Home Office ran what were very savage places that thousands ofchildren were sent to – sometimes simply because their families were poor and they should have been in care. One child who was only there because of poverty was just 9 and endured savage beatings in what were effectively child prisons.”
Enright said that one of his clients, half a century on would not take his shirt off on holiday because his skin was still discoloured by beatings sustained in an approved school as a child.
He pointed out that the sexual predators that abused children were Home Office employees. “Thousands of ordinary working class men who had endured a savage regime that went on for 40 years deserve acknowledgement of the Home Office’s role,” Enright explained.
“They deserve the recognition that they were wronged.”
He said he had written to the Home Office to point out the flaws in their letter explaining why they had not turned up to answer questions or apologised fully acknowledging their role as his clients had asked for.
“This investigation of the inquiry has mainly dealt with approved schools which the Home Office ran and even supplied the canes to beat the children with.”
He added: “The letter that was read out from the Secretary of State implies that the Secretary of State was not responsible for approved schools while the facts heard by the inquiry and the Secretary of State’s own statements to the inquiry flatly contradict that.
“People employed by the Home Office were convicted of horrendous crimes.”