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Islington child abuse survivor: ‘I was abused at this care home...were you?’

PUBLISHED: 09:04 26 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:17 26 May 2017

Richard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken Mears

Richard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken Mears

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Like dozens of other children in 20th-Century Islington care homes, Richard was a victim of abuse. A new website is supporting these survivors. This week, he bravely returned to the building of his former care home in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury. He told James Morris there could be hundreds more victims who have yet to come to terms with childhood trauma.

Richard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken MearsRichard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken Mears

Dragged out of bed in the middle of the night.

Sat on his own in a dark minibus as he was driven across London.

For Richard, these memories between the ages of five and seven were always there.

But it was only four years ago when he realised what they meant.

Richard, who doesn’t want to be identified by his second name, was in care at the Grosvenor Avenue children’s home, Highbury, between 1976 and 1978.

It was during this period he believes he was abused.

Richard is now one of the driving forces behind a new website, the Islington Survivors Network. It aims to support the victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in Islington care homes – and seek out witnesses.

Richard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken MearsRichard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken Mears

To launch it, he joined forces with Dr Liz Davies, the social worker who first exposed the Islington abuse scandal in 1992. He believes there are potentially hundreds of people who have not yet come to terms with traumatic childhood abuse, like he is now.

Grosvenor Avenue is one of up to 21 Islington care homes where abuse is thought to have taken place. Sat in Dr Davies’s office in London Metropolitan University, Holloway Road, Richard is certain.

“There was abuse at Grosvenor Avenue and I believe I was trafficked around different parts of London. I have memories, that keep on coming back, of being driven in a minibus. They weren’t official Islington Council vehicles, I later found out.

“It was always in the evening. I was being abused. There’s no other reason why a seven-year-old boy would be sat in a minibus on his own in the dark. I remember feeling lonely and disorientated. These are vivid memories. I was always being taken to places. But my memory ends there.

“Hypnotherapy was common in those days, as was prescription drugs, but obviously I can’t be sure if they were used on me.”

It was only in 2012, at the same time as the Jimmy Savile revelations, when Richard, who still lives in the borough, processed the memories. He was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress disorder.

“The memories never left,” he says. “They were dark, lonely memories that hadn’t been processed. I was already in therapy and that year and my cousin asked me if I had ever been in care. That’s where many of my fragmented memories started piecing together.

Richard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken MearsRichard at the former care home building in Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury, where he was abused as a child. Picture: Ken Mears

“My anxiety levels went through the roof, although I took comfort in joining thousands of others in calling for a national inquiry.”

In 1978, Richard left Grosvenor Avenue and returned to live with his father – but his experiences affect him to this day.

“I was isolated,” he says. “I have struggled with friendships and relationships. I suffered bouts of chronic depression. Children who are abused take that into adulthood. I am still processing stuff that happened. I am still reliving what I went through, and probably more so than at any other point since childhood.

“That’s why this website is crucial. Liz and I want people to get in touch, regardless of whether they are survivor, witness, whistleblower or just someone with a general interest.

“Child exploitation should be top of the agenda. I want people to know my story after it was hidden away. My files were sanitised. I daresay dozens, if not hundreds, went through the same situation.”

‘A large part of this story hasn’t been told’

It was 1990 when social worker Liz Davies first suspected children were being abused in the Islington care system.

Whistleblower Liz Davies in her London Metropolitan University office with press cuttings from the 1990s. On her screen is the Islington Survivors Network website. Picture: Ken MearsWhistleblower Liz Davies in her London Metropolitan University office with press cuttings from the 1990s. On her screen is the Islington Survivors Network website. Picture: Ken Mears

Twenty-six years on, she continues to fight for the truth alongside victims.

A reader in child protection at London Metropolitan University since 2002, she told the Gazette: “We set the website up because we want to make representations to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

“To do that, we need as many survivors and whistleblowers as possible to come forward. A large part of this story is untold – I would estimate 80 per cent.

“The true story needs to be told. I believe there are many more survivors who have not yet come forward. We have met with the council’s safeguarding board and it was encouraging.”

An Islington Council spokesman said: “The council supports victims of abuse to come forward and would encourage them to report any abuse they have suffered to the police so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

Visit the Islington Survivors Network here: islingtonsurvivors.co.uk/

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