Inquiry into Lambeth-run children’s homes hears one girl was raped ‘500 times’ by older residents
Children’s homes run by Lambeth Council were “frightening places” where residents were subject to sexual and physical abuse and forced to take tranquillisers, an inquiry has heard.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard children as young as three were abused at homes run by the south London council, while one girl was raped “500 times” by older residents.
This section of the far-reaching inquiry is examining whether there were child protection failures by public authorities in the area, including the Metropolitan Police and Lambeth Council.
On Monday, the inquiry heard from those who experienced abuse in the council’s care system between the 1930s and the 1970s.
A statement provided to the inquiry by one former resident said the notorious Shirley Oaks children’s home was a “frightening place” in the 1930s, where children received violent punishments and were force-fed until they were sick.
Shirley Oaks was the council’s oldest and largest residential care home, with up to 350 children aged two to 17 living there until its closure in 1983.
The witness, who is now in his 90s, said he was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time at the care home, where he was violently sexually assaulted by the house mother “five or six times” over a two-year period.
In a statement read by Amelia Nice, counsel to the inquiry, he said: “I am now 90 years old, and the abuse that I suffered at Shirley I am still reliving.”
Giving evidence virtually, another witness recalled a man classed as a staff volunteer at Shirley Oaks touching children’s “private parts” when letting them drive his car.
“I had a go in it and he would sit you on your lap and do the pedals, but while you’d be steering the car around this field, or whatever, he would be touching your private parts,” he said.
Describing the long-term effects of the abuse, the witness, who has not sought psychological treatment, likened it to having a “millstone around your neck”.
“I think the brain automatically buries the bad experiences but I can remember certain records I’d hear on the radio which would put me back to Shirley Oaks at a time when certain things were happening to me,” he told the inquiry.
“(It’s) something like a millstone around your neck all the time.”
Vulnerable children at homes run by Lambeth Council were forced to take tranquillisers to “calm down”, another former resident told the inquiry.
The witness, who gave verbal evidence, said she was “always restrained” and locked into a single room or a cell at Cumberlow Lodge.
“I was quite boisterous, and so, eventually, they forced me to take tranquillisers,” she added.
One member of staff would make the children sit on his lap when they were “emotional, upset or agitated”, the witness told the inquiry, and he held his arms so there was “no escape”.
She said: “That man was clearly getting sexual pleasure. When I look back, I think the more we struggled and moved, the better it was for him.”
In another witness statement, a girl said she was raped “500 times” by older boys at Shirley Oaks during the 1950s.
Reading the statement to the inquiry, Ms Nice said: “(She) was then raped by a group of older boys in the grounds of Shirley Oaks.
“One boy would put a sack over her head when he raped her. (She) estimates this happened 500 times.”
Another girl, also in the care of Lambeth Council in the 1950s, was around eight years old when she began to be abused by a boy aged 17 at Shirley Oaks.
In her witness statement, she said a staff member caught the boy naked in her room in the early days of the abuse.
Ms Nice told the inquiry: “However, she, the staff member, didn’t do anything, and no action was taken, and I wasn’t questioned about what had happened.
“(She) told her foster carers about what had happened later on. At first, they did not believe her, but did then take her to the police station where she made a statement.
“No follow-up action, investigation or prosecution is described.”
The inquiry, which is due to last for four weeks, is expected to resume at 10.30am on Tuesday.
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