Shirley Oaks, Croydon
Although in Surrey, this home was run by the London Borough of Lambeth.
Shirley Oaks abuse survivors: ‘We are unstoppable’
Survivors of historical child abuse are increasingly banding together to fight for justice, decades after the alleged abuse has taken place.
Music mogul Raymond Stevenson, who discovered the former Voice judge when she was 15, said he and his friends were regularly beaten and drugged at Shirley Oaks in Surrey.
Dozens of others were sexually abused and Raymond, 51, believes the investigation is being hampered because it reaches into the heart of government.
He said “very powerful people” were involved in the abuse and the cover-up, including a Labour minister known as The Godfather.
Jimmy Savile also visited the home.
Police are investigating the allegations of abuse at the home near Croydon, which closed in 1983.
Raymond and author Alex Wheatle, another victim and former resident, are helping to run campaign group the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association.
They are producing a report which they plan to hand to the independent inquiry into sexual abuse headed by Lowell Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge.
Despite the setting up of the inquiry, Raymond fears the cover-up is still going on.
He warned: “There are still people pulling the strings. The fear is that the authorities are hell bent on covering up their failings of the past because it implicates too many powerful people.”
His suspicions have been exacerbated by a break-in four months ago at his offices in Camberwell, south London, in which three computers and hard drives were stolen.
The thieves have not been caught.
Shaking his head with a weary smile, Raymond added: “Several thousand pounds worth of studio equipment and lighting were left untouched.
“There must be about 100 other offices in this business complex yet nobody else was hit. They knew exactly what to target. What does that tell you?”
Raymond, who left Shirley Oaks aged 13 in 1978, started looking into abuse claims after speaking to a friend who said he had been molested.
Within a week he had met more than 20 former residents who all gave horrifying accounts of abuse.
The total is now nearer 100.
Ten more sex abuse victims at children’s home linked to ex Labour minister break silence
- Jul 15, 2014 22:58
Now aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s, they came forward after author Alex Wheatle revealed in the Mirror that he was abused at Shirley Oaks home in SurreyAt least 10 men and women say they were assaulted at a children’s home linked tosuspected abuse by an MP in Tony Blair’s government.
Now aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s, they came forward after author Alex Wheatle revealed in the Mirror that he was abused at Lambeth Council’s Shirley Oaks home in Surrey.
They spoke out as a half-brother of a Tory MP was charged with inciting an 11-year-old boy into an act of gross indecency.
Author Wheatle, a dad of three awarded an MBE in 2008, broke his silence after the Mirror uncovered claims that systematic and horrific abuse was hushed up.
Many of the former residents of Shirley Oaks plan to go to police and want the South London council to launch an independent inquiry.
A 47-year-old man sexually assaulted by swimming instructor William Hook at the care home said today: “It is good the Mirror’s given us a voice after so many years.
“We want justice for the survivors and those who are no longer with us because of the abuse they suffered.
“Lambeth needs to launch a fully independent investigation.”Hook was jailed for 10 years in 2001 for attacks on six boys in the 70s.
He had been allowed to continue despite victims complaining. A staff member even failed to tell police when he found Hook sexually assaulting a child.
Another ex-resident said her sister was raped by a staff member as his wife watched.
It is thought Alex and others were targeted by abusers who operated in care homesthe rising Labour star is suspected of visiting in the 80s.
Today Charles Napier, 67, the half-brother of Tory MP John Whittingdale, a former private Secretary of Margaret Thatcher, was charged with inciting a child to commit an act of gross indecency.
A second man, Richard Alston, 69, from Suffolk, was charged with assaulting the child in the 70s.
Both are due before Westminster magistrates on July 29.
Sitting on the well-heeled Kent- Surrey border, Shirley Oaks children’s home village – administered by Lambeth council – was surrounded by lush, swerving hills, rushing streams and towering oaks.
At first glance it was the perfect place to raise children, but in 1995, it was shut down.
Fixed into the encircling wall which still stands near the front gate and lodge building is a plaque that reminds passers-by of the thousands of children who once resided there.
Just two minutes’ walk from this symbolic memorial, one of my good friends took her own life – she had left Shirley Oaks but she could never leave behind the tormenting memories and trauma.
Another close friend of mine hanged himself from a toilet chain in one of the cottages. I know he suffered, but I don’t know how.
I arrived in Shirley Oaks in 1966. My first memories were filling in coal buckets and getting beaten up with wooden hair brushes, belts and hard-soled shoes. Suffering violence was as part of my day as eating toast.
As I grew a little older I heard tales of appalling abuses from friends who had been processed at the South Vale assessment centre in West Norwood before arriving at Shirley Oaks for so-called long-term care.
Phrases like “bummed” filled their vocabulary.
Sometimes we would see strange nameless men within the Shirley Oaks grounds. One of them manipulated himself into our cottage, sleeping overnight in the sofa bed within the office. We were told to call him Mark and he said he was a swimming instructor.
He targeted the boys in our cottage but also facilitated swimming lessons for other lads in the pool within the grounds as well as private clients. At these sessions he was the only adult present. There were no CRB checks in those days.
It was only decades later that he was jailed for his disgusting crimes following the Operation Middleton investigation. I’m still unsure if all of his victims came forward.
While all this happened, I did my best to survive. Before I left the primary school that was situated within the complex, I was labelled “maladjusted”. I didn’t even know what the word meant.
I was referred to a doctor. The first thing he told me to do was to strip naked. I stood there traumatised, unable to utter a sound as he sexually assaulted me. I wanted to ask my friends if they had suffered something similar but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
As I began my secondary education there were still odd, nameless men walking the grounds at night. Sometimes you would see them during the day. One drove through the village in an orange mini with blacked-out windows. He claimed he was a football coach but the only skill he possessed was managing to fit inside his tight shorts.
He would arrive at a game and take younger boys away to a secluded part of Shirley Oaks where it was assumed he was giving them extra training. Nobody that I knew wanted to discuss these issues with any social worker for fear of being moved away to somewhere even worse.
Indeed, one of my house-mates was taken away for objecting to what was taking place within our household. She came back months later traumatised. She wouldn’t talk of it. Also, we all heard that a member of Shirley Oaks staff had raped a defenceless girl. Fear was a constant companion. At least in Shirley Oaks we had our friends – if that was taken away, we would have nothing.
If you were fortunate enough to have a family member come and see you, social workers or officers in charge would sometimes apply for a Section 2, which would deny even close relatives from visiting you. It meant the children’s home gained complete control over your life and who you saw. Many of my friends were completely isolated and vulnerable.
Years later, Operation Middleton secured three convicted jail terms. Lambeth council and the police declared the investigation a success. I and many others deem it as a failure. Nineteen paedophiles were never charged or even identified. If any of them are alive they are still walking, smiling and wearing their medals amongst us.
Who were they? How did they gain such willful access to South Vale and Shirley Oaks? At any time during Shirley Oaks’ existence there were hundreds of children in residence and social workers visited their charges every day.
They must have been aware of at least the “swimming instructor” and the “football coach” because they were so visible. They and others somehow gained unchallenged access inside cottages and ultimately to defenceless children.
In my case, this Mark character even sat in on my case meetings. I’m convinced there was a paedophile ring operating in both South Vale and Shirley Oaks and that the authorities knew about it at the time but did nothing.
I urge Theresa May that the inquiries she has initiated include the thorough investigation of social services practices, safeguards for children and protection policies and how such men were allowed to get so close to vulnerable children.
Also, I ask her that these investigations should examine all aspects of child abuse including violent, neglect and emotional abuse. Victims have their lives ruined by sexual assault. Some even take their own lives because of it.
Following the closure of Shirley Oaks, someone set fire to the old primary school. I wonder if it was a victim, exacting some form of his or her justice, who for years went ignored and unheard. I really hope my testimony here will prompt others who have suffered to come forward and bear witness to the horrific crimes inflicted against them.
Those nameless men must be unveiled and brought to justice, alive or dead.
- If you are an adult who suffered child abuse and want professional help, call NAPAC on 0808 801 0331. If you have any information that you think might help our investigation, please telephone the Mirror on 0800 282 591 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Wheatle MBE is acclaimed author of novels including Brixton Rock, Brenton Brown, Island Songs & East Of Acre
David Annon, 47, who was sent to Shirley Oaks in 1969, was regularly subjected to punishments he says were designed to crush his spirit.
“If we spoke at night time a guy would come in, get us out of bed, march us down to the kitchen and make us stand and face the wall with bare feet for two hours,” he explained.
“After a while they would come back down and make us take all of the pots and pans out of the cupboards and put them back again. This went on every other day. Imagine how that must have felt as a young child. We hadn’t done anything more than giggle.”
Mr Annon, who now lives in Peckham, was regularly “slapped” but he also saw staff punch children, sometimes in the face. On one occasion a care worker pinned him to a wall by his neck.“They also used to force me down to the ground to comb my hair,” he said. “They used to rake it out. Even now I flinch when someone touches my hair.
“To me the abuse was constant and they got away with it. As a child you are frightened to talk. Kids used to be seen but not heard. We were so frightened that even when the punching was going on, we didn’t say anything, even to each other.”Last year Mr Annon tried to pursue legal action against Lambeth Council, but was told he was unlikely to be successful.
“I was told I couldn’t go to court because it would just be my word to go on,” he said.“They said if more people came forward than they would have a case. Now it’s starting to come out, my solicitor believes I should try again.”