Islington kids’ home survivors speak out about horrific abuse still ruining their lives today
- Credit: Islington Survivors Network
They suffered beatings, starvation and the worst imaginable kinds of neglect. In the third of our special series on Islington’s notorious kids’ homes, Emma Youle meets survivors – and hears how their lives were torn apart by the very institutions that should have protected them
Imogen’s start in life was tough: she was severely neglected and starved by her family and then taken into care by the time she was eight.
Over the turbulent years that followed, her life spiralled out of control as she was moved between Islington kids’ homes, foster placements, and back into her family home, where she was sometimes beaten.
Awful as this was, it was the brutal rapes Imogen endured for years while under the care of social services that would once and for all end her childhood.
“They let me down,” she says, voicing the emotions of all the care home survivors the Gazette has interviewed. “If they had taken me away earlier I wouldn’t have ended up being raped and my son would never have been born into such a terrible situation.”
Today we tell the horrifying stories of three survivors as they speak publicly for the first time with incredible strength, spirit and bravery.
By her early teens Imogen had already experienced the most brutal of sexual abuse while under the care of social services.
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She was raped repeatedly from the age of 12 by John Brady, then in his late teens, who lived near her in Barnsbury. Aged 13, she became pregnant by her abuser and says she was left to fend for herself by family and social workers, sometimes walking miles to hospital for check-ups all alone.
Imogen’s memories of the children’s homes she lived in are of kids being “belted, screamed at, or threatened”.
But when a care worker at Highbury Crescent children’s home made predatory sexual advances towards her she finally fled with her baby son.
“The man came into my room and he was standing over my bed and trying to touch me,” she said. “I had my baby in bed with me and I just legged it out the window. All night I sat on a bench in a park, I was so afraid.
“Later he turned up at the school gates and somebody told him where I lived. Basically he came around and raped me at home. He raped me several times and he was very violent.”
The care worker, who Imogen describes as “a pimp”, later took her to houses in Islington and Stoke Newington where “girls who were in care were on the game for him”.
The Gazette cannot name him as he was never prosecuted.
After falling through the cracks of every support network Imogen and her tiny baby son ended up living in a treehouse at the adventure playground in Barnard Park in Barnsbury. She felt safer there than in the feared homes.
At other times she would sleep among the mail bags at King’s Cross or Euston stations, huddling underneath the coarse sacks for warmth.
Fellow survivor Joanne, now in her 40s, was taken into care aged 13 when her father died and she began skipping school.
Dismayed at being wrenched from home, she fell into glue-sniffing and taking drugs.
Joanne was later moved to Middlesex Secure Unit and then Melanie Klein unit for adolescent girls, managed by Greenwich Council. There she says she was pinned down and forced to give oral sex to a senior care officer.
She was raped twice more while in care, by another boy from Sherringham Road children’s home and by a known rapist living in Essex Road.
Joanne still sees the legacy of the care homes in Islington.
“I see people I know in Holloway Road,” she says.
“Everybody I come across who was in care is a junkie or in jail. A lot of the girls went onto prostitution or drugs.”
Another survivor Kevin, 37, was until recently living in a cockroach-infested hostel room in Holloway Road and uses cannabis regularly to block out the memories of his childhood abuse.
He was taken into care by Islington while in junior school and sent to live at Shaftesbury House boarding school in Hertfordshire.
“I suffered sexual abuse from other pupils and physical abuse from teachers,” he says. “I used to have to fight through the nights. Boys would come and attack you.”
Chillingly, he remembers boys being driven to a remote quarry 20 minutes’ from the school for runabouts where abuse would take place.
His adult life has been mired by the horrors he suffered as a boy.
“I went on to get nine police assaults to my name, which I’ve always put down to boarding school,” he said. “I can’t have no one put their hands on me. I hate being grabbed. I just lash out.”
He has never had any counselling despite numerous suicide attempts and says he would like “psychological help, anger management and help with accommodation” so he can feel safe and rebuild his life again.
For Imogen, the healing process began in earnest when the neighbour who repeatedly raped her for years – Brady, 64, of St Andrew’s Nursing Home in Choumert Road, Peckham – was jailed for 13 years in 2016.
She felt for the first time in her life that she was a “human being” and someone had listened to her.
“I hope it will help other survivors to not feel ashamed of their past anymore and to come forward,” she said. “I’m lucky I survived – I’m strong – but I know many people who didn’t.”
We have changed survivors’ names to protect their identities.
‘THE HOMES WERE A MEAT MARKET FOR PAEDOPHILES’
Survivors of the abuse scandal have voiced their belief that Islington kids’ homes were a “feeding ground” for people with an unhealthy interest in children in the 1980s.
Survivor Kevin said: “I believe people spotted an opportunity to get into a meat market of something they liked.”
He added: “I’m sad we live in a society where this could happen and we’ve not progressed enough to stop it happening, because if no one is punished people will keep doing it.”
Fellow survivor Joanne said: “I could probably name six or seven boys walking the streets of Islington today that were abused in the ‘80s by paedophiles working in Islington. I could probably name three or four care workers who carried out abuse.
“I believe the kids were moved from home to home to accommodate paedophiles. They knew which kids were vulnerable and who to target.”
Calling for a full police-led inquiry, Imogen said: “Those people who were running children’s homes, they need to be accountable. The whole structure has to change. It’s like the Church – it’s no good going after individual priests. You need to go after the establishment that harboured these people.”
ISLINGTON COUNCIL: ‘WE WANT TO ATONE FOR PAST’
Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, repeated his apology over the kids’ homes scandal.
“On behalf of Islington Council, I’m extremely sorry for the council’s past failure to protect vulnerable children,” he said.
“The council today is a very different organisation, and protecting children from harm is our top priority.
“We will always take new information, allegations or evidence extremely seriously.
“And we encourage survivors to take evidence of abuse to the police so that those responsible can be brought to justice.”
He said the council is working in partnership with Islington Survivors’ Network (ISN) to establish better support services.
“We are working with survivors and ISN to help survivors secure extra priority for social housing, advice about legal representation, and are actively looking into commissioning a specialist counselling service for abuse survivors,” he vowed.
NEXT WEEK: In the final part of this series, a care worker and survivors who lived at Gisburne House home speak out – and will Jeremy Corbyn support demands for a police-led inquiry?
* Did you suffer or witness sexual or physical assaults or emotional neglect at Islington children’s homes? If so, you can contact the Islington Survivors’ Network via islingtonsurvivors.co.uk, or Dr Liz Davies in confidence on firstname.lastname@example.org