Former children’s home resident seeks apology

16 January 2015

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A WOMAN who was found to have been drugged 1248 times as a teenager at a children's home run by the Church of England is hoping that an independent review, announced by the diocese of Rochester last Friday, will result in an admission of liability, and an apology.

The woman, Teresa Cooper, arrived at Kendall House, aged 14, in 1981. A forensic examination of her files, broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2009, found that, over the course of 32 months, she was drugged at least 1248 times. Cocktails of 11 different drugs were administered, including anti-psychotics, tranquillisers, and anti-depressants, at up to ten times the current recommended dose.

She went on to give birth to three children, all of whom have birth defects. Her first child was born with respiratory problems; her second was born blind, and has learning difficulties; and her third was born with a cleft palate. Ten other girls tracked down by Ms Cooper, who had also been drugged, confirmed that they had given birth to children with birth defects.

Jeffrey Aronson, who is Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford University, told the BBC in 2009 that there was "a case of concern".

In 2010, the Church reached an out-of-court financial settlement with Ms Cooper. The diocese of Rochester said at the time that, in doing so, "no admissions of liability were made. It is our fervent hope that the terms of the settlement agreed will assist Teresa Cooper move forward with her life."

The diocese has refused, until now, to conduct an internal investigation. In 2009, it issued a statement that said: "It would be inappropriate for the diocese to initiate any internal inquiries, since we are not qualified to do this. In any event it would be essential for any investiation to be conducted both professionally and impartially" (News, 9 April, 2009).

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It is unclear what has changed in the intervening six years, other than a change in diocesan bishop; but, last Friday, a statement from the diocese said: "Over several years, a number of former residents have raised concerns about how they were treated during the time they were living at Kendall House. There has, at different times, been coverage of these concerns in the national media.

"On behalf of the two dioceses concerned, the Bishop of Rochester has decided to initiate an independent review in connection with the management and systems which operated at Kendall House, in particular during the period 1950-1986."

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said: "It is my hope that this review will be of help in pastoral and other ways to all those who have concerns about Kendall House, and will also make clear any outstanding lessons which the Church of England and others need to learn."

A spokeswoman said that he was "genuine in his desire to encour- age all former residents to contact the review. All former residents or those who have concerns about Kendall House are encouraged to participate fully."

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Ms Cooper, who has also suffered eight miscarriages, described how, if she refused to take the drugs, she was held down by up to six people and injected against her will.

"I don't even know how to describe it. It was your worst nightmare," she said. "You're being drugged and abused, and your mind is telling you you're in severe pain, but you can't stop them because you're too drugged up."

She had to fight to secure access to her files, and continued to fight for "recognition and an apology", she told the Mail on Sunday. "I want Justin Welby to stand in front of my face and say: 'I am sorry, on behalf of the Church of England, that we did that to you and to your children, and possibly your grandchildren.' I'm going to see this through to the end. I'm going to die fighting for this."

Kendall House was established in the 1920s as a home for emotionally disturbed adolescent girls. It operated under the auspices of the Church of England dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury, through the Canterbury and Rochester Diocesan Council for Social Responsibility. It was closed in 1986 after a Government report expressed "extreme concern" at the "administration of psychotropic drugs", and said girls were "stripped of basic human rights".

The review panel for the diocese of Rochester review is being put in place, and terms of reference and membership will be published on its website.

Those wishing to engage with the review can email kendallreview@rochester.anglican.org. They will be informed of a helpline through which they may obtain independent and confidential support.

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