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Girls in C of E children's home were drugged and abused, review finds

15 July 2016


"Appalled": the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff

"Appalled": the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff

FORMER residents of a Church of England-run children’s home were drugged, straitjacketed, locked in isolation, physically, emotionally, and sometimes sexually abused in an institution that “normalised” cruelty.

The findings of the independent review into Kendall House, Gravesend, were published on Wednesday, 18 months after the review was first announced.

The report concludes that Kendall House had “weak governance and oversight”, and that the committees responsible for the well-being of girls living at the home in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, “demonstrated little curiosity, challenge or questioning”.

The home was, it states, “A place where control, containment and sometimes, cruelty were normalised. A place where vulnerable girls, many previously and repeatedly let down by their parents, social services and other agencies, were caught in a regime that in many ways, sought to rob them of their individuality, of hope, and in some cases of their liberty.”

The report was presented in a press conference led by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, and the chair of the review, Dr Sue Proctor, who led a large-scale investigation into Jimmy Savile’s crimes.

She was assisted by a former Detective Superintendent, Ray Galloway, who was the director of the independent investigation into Savile’s activities; and by a part-time judge, Samantha Cohen, who specialises in cases involving allegations of sexual abuse and child cruelty

Dr Proctor said in her opening statement that the girls, aged 11-16, who were placed at Kendall House, “often had serious behavioural or emotional problems. . . could be difficult to manage, often violent, aggressive and mistrusting of authority figures. They were also vulnerable and in need of professional support, understanding and care.”

She went on: “From 1967, medical oversight was provided by a consultant psychiatrist who visited the home on a weekly basis. Girls as young as 11 were routinely, and sometimes without any initial medical assessment, given antidepressants, sedatives and anti-psychotic medication.

“On at least two occasions, girls were placed in straitjackets; these and others were threatened with transfer to a local mental health hospital. In some cases, threats were enacted, and girls were admitted to an adult ward of the hospital before returning to the home, often traumatised.”

The report also notes two incidences of rape while in isolation, pregnancies, and self-harming.

Bishop Langstaff, who announced the review in January last year (News, 16 January 2015), said on Wednesday: “The number of former residents making serious allegations about their treatment during their time at Kendall House was steadily increasing, and it was clear that no other body was going to initiate any review or inquiry.”

The diocese of Rochester had previously refused to conduct an internal investigation, saying in 2009 that it would be “inappropriate”. In 2010, the diocese reached an out-of-court financial settlement with Teresa Cooper, who had arrived at Kendall House, aged 14, in 1981. A forensic examination of her files, broadcast by BBC Radio 4, found that, over the course of 32 months, she had been drugged at least 1248 times.

In January, Ms Cooper criticised the Church for “stalling” the investigation (News, 1 January), and Bishop Langstaff issued an apology for the delay (News, 19 February).

Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “It took longer than I might have wished both to find the right people to undertake the review. . . [However] I believe that the depth, detail, and outcome of their work vindicate this decision and on behalf of the diocese of Canterbury and Rochester.”

He also apologised for the abuse: “I am truly sorry that former residents were hurt and damaged by the actions of people at Kendall House who should have been providing them with a nurturing environment, care and support.”

Bishop Langstaff later told the Church Times that it was hard to read the report “without feeling shocked, saddened and appalled by what happened. It is hard to imagine the experiences of those who were placed in Kendall House.”

The 147-page report considers the records of 44 residents, associated reports, records of meetings, and other correspondence. The panel also heard recollections and descriptions from 20 former residents, a number of their friends and relatives, and 15 former staff and others who had an association with the home.

It concludes that the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury should “respond with humility”, issue a full apology, seek the forgiveness of all who suffered and continue to suffer, and “do everything possible to ensure such events never happen again”.

Some of the 27 recommendations laid out in the report have already been fulfilled: the dioceses have issued formal apologies to the victims, and the report has been made widely available on the diocesan and Church of England websites.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, said: “It is clear that we in the Church failed in our oversight, and that abusive practices were permitted to prevail at Kendall House for many years. We know that words cannot undo the failings of the past, but I would like to echo Bishop James’s apology to former residents.”

The report also recommends that the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E should consider diocesan-led residential services for children and vulnerable adults when carrying out audits, to prevent localised abuse.

Others recommendations include the drawing up of a “confidential risk-based document” on safeguarding for preparing bishops, and advice services for those working with children and vulnerable persons.

Bishop Langstaff said that, although the Church was no longer running any institution like Kendall House, “we are still working with vulnerable people, and it is really important that we can ensure that people who deal or are involved with the Church are safe, and the robustness of current procedures.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, in charge of safeguarding, also apologised. “The appalling standards of care and treatment should never have been allowed, and on behalf of the national Church I apologise unreservedly to all the former residents whose lives were and continue to be affected by their damaging experiences.”

The General Synod took note of the Archbishop’s Council budget on Saturday. It allocated £800,000 to safeguarding issues. John Spence, who presented the report, could not confirm that this was enough to deal with future investigations, however.

A free support helpline that former residents can contact should they need pastoral care is available (0845 120 4634).

Read the report here: http://www.rochester.anglican.org/kendall-house-review-report.php

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