AN INTERVIEW with the Anglican priest who ran Kent social services at the time of the Kendall House children’s-home scandal shines a light on the culture that allowed children to be mistreated and abused in the 1970s and ’80s.
The priest, the Revd Nick Stacey, who died earlier this year (News, 12 May),was the director of Kent County Council’s social services from 1974 to 1985.
At that time, staff at Kendall House, Gravesend, a Church of England-run children’s home in Kent, were drugging, straitjacketing, and physically and sexually abusing vulnerable girls. The ordeals of dozens of young women came to light last year after an independent report found that Kendall House had “normalised” cruelty (News, 15 July 2016).
A recorded interview that Mr Stacey gave for an oral-history project in 2006 is now held by the British Library. In it, he explains how his policy was never to report staff who had been accused of abuse to the police, because he believed that children could be “incredibly manipulative” and make such stories up.
“Nobody was to go to the police about accusations against staff without my approval,” he says. “And it is incredible the way times have changed. I could never begin to do that now, but children, especially children in care, are incredibly manipulative.”
Frank: the Revd Nick Stacey
Many accusations of abuse from children in care were invented to make trouble for care-home staff, he believed. “[Children] come back [late] at six or seven o’clock, probably either having sex in the churchyard with somebody or stealing at Marks & Spencer’s or both. And [the staff] would say, ‘You’re to go to bed without supper.’
“The kids would go into supper, the child would creep down and telephone Childline, saying, ‘I’m being abused.’”
Mr Stacey tells the interviewer with pride that he “never once” went to the police, because there was never a “serious case” worth reporting.
In reality, while he was responsible for all social services in Kent, girls at Kendall House 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 independent report says.
Girls as young as 11 were routinely, and sometimes without any medical assessment, given antidepressants, sedatives, and anti-psychotic medication, and others were put in straitjackets or sent to a local adult psychiatric hospital. There were at least two incidents of rape while girls were put in isolation as a punishment, and several pregnancies and cases of self-harming.
Those whose task was to oversee the Kendall House girls’ well-being “demonstrated little curiosity, challenge or questioning”, the report says.
Teresa Cooper, a Kendall House survivor, said that Mr Stacey’s interview was “startling” and would have “huge” ramifications.
Ms Cooper, whose interventions ultimately led to the independent review of abuse at Kendall House, was drugged more than 1200 times while at Kendall House, and later gave birth to three children, all of whom have birth defects.
“I am deeply disappointed and I feel let down once again,” she said in response to the recording. “I call for an investigation into the practices of Mr Stacey during his leadership as director to Kent social services.”
Despite noting that there were no “scandals” in Kent under his watch, Mr Stacey admits during the 2006 interview that he did on occasion force some care-home workers to resign and put their names on an “at risk” register. “I would try and get them to go to counselling,” he said. “I actually fundamentally think that to put these people . . . Terribly sad if you’re sexually orientated towards children.”
He also recounts the story of how he got one care-home worker, who had hit a child “very hard”, acquitted by hiring him a high-flying QC and personally giving evidence in court in his defence.