child protection, children's voices, Uncategorized

Stolen childhoods – seeking justice


Stalking the Bogeyman, based on a true story, is a play about one man’s search for revenge. Twenty-five years after he was raped at age 7 years, David learnt that his ‘bogeyman’ had moved to his neighbourhood. He then planned revenge on the man who stole his childhood. The play draws sharp attention to the devastating impact of sexual crime against boys and explores sensitively how difficult it is for children to speak out about the horrors of abuse.

Peter Saunders, from NAPAC,  (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) says, “What sets this play apart from others is that it pulls no punches as to what child abuse is…..and illustrates the reasons so many victims never speak out. But it also concludes with a proposition that many will find challenging. Did the Bogeyman really only strike once?”

The play is not about promoting revenge but draws attention to the psychological impact of child abuse, increases understanding and opens up debate. This debate has been much assisted by the actions of Judge Durham-Hall who in April 2016, refused to imprison a 14 year old girl who stabbed the man who had sexually assaulted her. She had not achieved justice through legal systems. The Judge said the man had been punished, ‘somewhat leniently’ and that it was ‘self-evident that this offence was caused by and solely relates to the impact of offending upon you when you were eight’ adding, ‘it would be a disgrace to send a survivor like you to prison .. there can be no question of locking you up that would be callous and cruel in the extreme’.

I recently became aware of  two accounts of revenge by child victims of crimes of violence and neglect within the approved school system. I was reading the transcripts of   Professor Roger Bullock’s evidence  to the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry ( page 111 of Day 6) where he outlined the history of the UK care system. He described a murder at the Standon Farm Approved school in Staffordshire and a rebellion at the Carlton House Approved school, Bedfordshire. Files relating to both these cases are secured in the National Archives, unavailable until the 2030’s. Both Inquiry reports, however, are accessible.

In 1947 at Standon Farm Approved School , some boys murdered a member of staff. 9 boys obtained rifles from the School army cadet force armoury and set up a complex system in the headmaster’s office so that the gun would fire when the door opened and kill him. Instead of the headmaster, it was a woodwork teacher who entered the room and was killed. The Inquiry made note of a harsh regime of physical punishment. Four of the boys were found guilty of murder and imprisoned, while five other boys admitted a charge of conspiracy to murder, two being sent to Borstal, one to another approved school and two detained within the mental health systems.

In 1947, a Committee of Enquiry into the conduct of Standon Farm Approved School and the circumstances connected with the murder of a master at the school on 15th February 1947 (Maude, J and Corbett M), found that the criminal act was the ‘result of the grievances of the ringleaders’. These grievances, which had built up over a period of time, were centred around the deferment of release, the isolated position of the school, the lack of recreational activities, the severity of the discipline which led to the loss of privileges and the use of collective punishments. It concluded that the regime, in a school of 65 boys, had led to an overwhelming hostility to the headmaster. The headmaster of the school was subsequently dismissed and the school closed.

The second incident occurred in August 1959 at Carlton House Approved School, Bedfordshire, when a group of boys rebelled against the school headmaster and other staff.  They climbed onto the roof and threw stones, causing much damage and numerous boys also absconded together. The boys involved the press and made allegations of ill-treatment by staff, lengthy detention at the school and interference with their mail. This led to a debate in the House of Commons in 1960.

Although no one was killed in the Carlton House incident, the children’s actions attracted a great deal of attention because the press  recorded much of what happened. A subsequent  enquiry, conducted by Victor Durand QC, was ordered by the Home Office and is accessible at the National Archives. Durand found that some staff had used types of corporal punishments on boys on regular occasions which were illegal at the time and that the headmaster had introduced lengthy periods of detention. Durand concluded by making recommendations for improving practice and the management of Approved Schools. His proposals also led to the setting up of secure units to ‘manage some of the more difficult residents’. Three secure units were subsequently established, Kingswood in Bristol, Redhill in Surrey and Red Bank in Warrington.

The government response to the voices of the children who had rebelled against cruel institutional regimes and who had committed criminal acts, was to focus on locking them up out of sight, rather than addressing the reasons for their behaviours. Instead of confining these reports to the secrecy of the National Archives, full information about what had driven these children to such extreme actions would have surely informed child care practice at that time. Both cases are  critically important for examination by Justice Goddard’s team at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) as it seems lessons were certainly not learnt from the late 40’s onwards and the voices of the children remained unheard when they were disclosing the most serious crimes being perpetrated against them within the government’s so called ‘care’. Forde Park Survivors  are one group of Approved School survivors who are presenting evidence to IICSA.

In 2015, at a meeting of the WhiteFlowers campaign, Andrew Kershaw  survivor of Forde Park Approved School in Devon, described,

‘a brutal environment governed and run by the Home Office, pursuant to the 1933 Approved School Rules. In the early 1970’s all the Home Office institutions were mostly transferred to local authorities, their staff along with them. Make no mistake, Forde Park and the other institutions like it, were hell-holes where the level of violence, both sexual and physical, experienced by children every day leaves a legacy of disenfranchised, traumatised, often uneducated individuals, who have no hope in that same hell of getting any justice when they seek to bring their abusers to account. Too many of my contemporaries are to be found in the criminal justice system and psychiatric wards, categorised as not credible witnesses by their history and by their claims’. 

The Hothouse Society, an exploration of boarding school life through the boys and girls own writings was a study of the regimes in boarding schools (Lambert, 1968). The author collated the views of children and clearly stated the impact of abusive regimes. He said that  residential schools could provoke a sense of deep hostility.

I hate the staff. I could kill them for all the misery and cruelty they inflicted on me in the early years when this place was very strict… you should see how they smile before they cane you.. They delight in making life a physical hell.. (p373)

At a much deeper level. Some feel the restrictions of residential life, the inescapable nature of the society and its pressures as stifling, destructive of their own identity as erosions of the self. The only way to preserve themselves is by revolt (p375)

Stalking the Bogeyman has come to London at a very important time. The questions it raises offer crucial insights into the impact of sexual crime against children. I hope Justice Goddard and her team at IICSA make time to see Stalking the Bogeyman as they will gain knowledge and understanding essential to the provision of a meaningful response to survivors.

For an in depth understanding of this subject, I highly recommend Dr Sarah Nelson’s research.

Working with Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Understanding Me by Sarah Nelson and Health in Mind, 2013

Care and Support Needs of Men who Survived Childhood Sexual Abuse: Executive Summary and Recommendations of a Qualitative Research Report by Sarah Nelson and Health in Mind, 2009

Care and Support Needs of Men who Survived Childhood Sexual Abuse: Qualitative Research Report by Sarah Nelson, 2009