Will Theresa May’s child abuse inquiry explain how so many abuse survivors’ records have disappeared?
Paul Sinclair shows me a small scar above his left ear.
As a child in care, there is evidence that brain experiments were conducted on him and others with no consent.
Paul’s history in care was marked by shocking abuse and violence from the staff entrusted with his childhood.
Paul and other survivors in the approved schools and care homes he attended reported psychological drugs being tested on them.
In his case and others, survivors believe an experimental brain operation was carried out too on trouble makers deemed to have violent tendencies.
Paul piles file after file onto the desk, they contain a record of his childhood in care, including a recorded 11 night stay in hospital when he awoke from the procedure, the top of his head bandaged.
Among the files Paul possesses are medical records, reports from the headmaster and the school, social work reports, including a 700 page deep care order file.
Paul also has newspaper cuttings of the court cases in which four former staff from the notorious Forde Park Approved School Paul attended from 1974 – 1976 were jailed for a total of 22 years. Also records of the civil case that followed and was settled out of court. (Paul only received £2,780 compensation for a childhood brutalised beyond belief.)
Survivors of abuse at the Home Office run Forde Park school are among the core participants of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) announced by then Home Secretary Theresa May on 7 July 2014. The inquiry was established to examine how institutions in England and Wales handled their duty to protect children from sexual abuse.
Next to Paul is a fellow survivor of Forde Park’s sickeningly sadistic paedophile ring known as F16 by the government’s Child Abuse inquiry to maintain his anonymity.
But unlike the copious files that Paul possesses, F16 only has three pages detailing his time in care.
And in trying to retrieve them he has been led on a surreal merry-go-round by all the authorities involved.
One that I have followed him on and which other participants in the IICSA have also been subjected to.
This week the IICSA produces its interim report.
Many abuse survivors have turned their back on the IICSA, citing different ways they find it destined to fail them. Those still hanging in are very skeptical indeed that something approximating the truth of their experiences will be acknowledged.
What motivates core participant survivors I have spoken to is helping to ensure that generations of children to come do not undergo what they have been through. And that is why they are so insistent that a full account is made so lessons can be learned.
But for a full account of what participants have been through, and to hold those who participated and knew about the abuse accountable they insist that they need to access their full records.
Yet many participants, like F16, have only been able to retrieve a few sheets of paper to account for a childhood.
“Theresa May promised us 110% percent transparency when she was Home Secretary,” says F16, “and we aren’t getting it now she is Prime Minister.
“It’s important that records are kept safe as we have got to make sure that future generations of children are protected from anything like what we went through.”
On announcing the statutory Inquiry, then Home Secretary Theresa May requested a moratorium on the destruction of any records, and the IICSA in 2015 again asked for a moratorium on records being destroyed that may be relevant to the inquiry.
Yet many who went to look for their records were unable to find them.
Participants in the inquiry are understandably suspicious.
The Wanless report in 2014 found that the Home Office had lost or destroyed 114 files concerning allegations of child abuse from 1979 to 1999.
One of the missing dossiers was that presented by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens to then Home Secretary Lord Brittan in 1983, said to contain the names of MPs and police officers suspected of child abuse.
“Theresa May as Home Secretary promised full transparency in her statement when this inquiry started. Yet it has started now and survivors are unable to access their records,” says Paul, explaining the frustration of many.
Paul received his records from his lawyers during the police investigation, criminal and civil cases surrounding the abuse at Forde Park.
A civil law suit by survivors was settled out of court. Both Paul and F16 complain that the survivors of abuse at Forde Park were kept in the dark in the civil case, told that they would not have their day in court and only a pittance in compensation ever materialized for survivors.
They left the school with barely an education or qualifications, a regime of extreme physical and sexual abuse. Children were set on each other and beaten up by staff members in makeshift boxing rings. Staff abused children with impunity.
F16 shows me his false teeth where his real teeth were knocked out as a 14 year old child, part of a hideous catalogue of abuse that he endured. But he has no medical or dental records from the period.
At the time of the court case he saw that his solicitor had received several large files of his records from Cornwall Council but unlike Paul he only asked for his files years later when the national inquiry began in 2015.
But by then there were only three pages to be found.
Cornwall records office told him that the rest had been destroyed in a fire.
“It would have had to be some fire not to leave any paper, even burnt paper, to burn through thick folders of paper and leave nothing,” says F16. “It would have had to have been an inferno. Yet no checks in local paper archives have revealed any such fire. The records office can’t confirm when the fire happened, and speaking to old staff members who would have worked there when I was in care, they have no recollection of any such fire.”
He added: “When you know what happened to you but you just can’t prove it because the records have been mislaid, it compounds the abuse that we suffered then, and adds to it again now.”
It is not just Cornwall council’s records office where records of Forde Park are missing.
A fellow Forde Park survivor and his partner also told me that they were told that his records were destroyed in a fire – but in their case by Devon County Council.
Many records are severely redacted too. Others have bars on them being opened for 75 years and up to 100 years.
There are many possible reasons for this. But no abuse survivors I spoke to trying to access records of their lives in care right now during the national inquiry are able to find anything like the amount of information on their childhoods that Paul managed to retrieve back in 1999.
Paul says that around this time, visiting Exeter library where Devon records were with two other Forde Park survivors they were told by the senior county archivist at the time that two Devon county council vans had taken all the records pertaining to Forde Park two days prior.
“We went straight into the library and looked for ourselves and there were empty shelves where they had been,” says Paul.
This makes sense as at the time the council would have been looking at a huge amount of civil litigation by people who had been children in its care.
But the fact that these records are no longer there is troubling. Lawyers representing core participants have asked the IICSA’s lawyers to look into this.
One core participant of the inquiry survived a hideous catalogue of abuse in Bryn Alyn care homes, in North Wales, the subject of two controversial inquiries, and the Operation Pallial police investigation that to date has only jailed John Allen who ran the homes on 33 counts of child abuse and former police superintendent Gordon Anglesea who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the sexual abuse of a 14 and 15-year-old boy. – Though there were 49 suspects identified by the investigation and allegations of involvement of high profile figures from police to Jimmy Savile persist.
The survivor is one of many with similar stories to F16’s. Speaking anonymously, he said he was sent there by Rochdale Council. He said “I was abused nearly every day Monday to Friday, because our abuser went home on a Friday,” adding “a couple of us tried telling social workers but they didn’t listen to us.”
When his solicitor requested his care records during his claim against Bryn Alyn, some of the case meetings with numerous social workers where he had complained about the constant abuse were there, but he says names and details were scribbled out, and they were told that many of his records had been destroyed in a flood in North Wales. Other files requested from Rochdale have been largely blacked out.
Nigel O’Mara, veteran campaigner for carehome abuse survivors and a core participant to IICSA from another end of the country, says the same story has been repeated across the country.
“For me one of the important things to come out of the inquiry is for data to be protected properly – not just for us but for future generations of children so that they will be protected too.”
“I’ve heard of survivors from all over the country having difficulty accessing their records,” insists Nigel.
Core participants have the right to meet the inquiry on a regularly quarterly basis.
“We have expressed the worry that these documents are disappearing and there is no accountability for that,” says Nigel.
“Martin Smith the IICSA solicitor has told us that he is asking questions on our behalf,” says Nigel, “but there are still many questions to be answered on this.
“The effect this has on survivors is that their faith in the inquiry has been shaken.
“There is a chance that a cover up is still going on here and we have all seen these before.”
The Home Office told us that it has instigated a moratorium on the destruction of digital and paper records to prevent inadvertent destruction of records relevant to the IICSA as per the inquiry’s instructions.
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