Islington kids' homes scandal: How Gisburne House in Watford may hold key to abuse enquiry
- Credit: Mary Evans/Peter Higginbotham Co
This imposing Victorian property in Watford - now long since demolished - could hold the key to unlocking a wider investigation into the Islington kids’ home abuse scandal.
That is the belief of the Islington Survivors’ Network (ISN), who for six months have been calling for a police-led inquiry into Gisburne House former kids’ home as a starting point for a wider inquiry into abuse at Islington children’s homes.
Survivors of child rape, abuse and neglect have set out in shocking detail why they are convinced an organised network of perpetrators was operating across Islington’s care homes in the 1980s.
The Gazette has interviewed 11 men and women who suffered atrocious childhoods in Islington homes – such as Gisburne House, Grosvenor Avenue, Highbury Crescent and Elwood Street.
The heartbroken family of one victim has also spoken about how they fought in vain to save him from a paedophile care worker.
The survivors say the sheer number of children who were molested or suffered extreme neglect in Islington homes during the late ’70s and ’80s proves networks of abuse must have been in operation.
Today Islington Survivors’ Network (ISN) has again called on Scotland Yard to set up an investigation led by Islington police to explore the allegations.
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“It’s affected a lot of lives for a lot of years and people need to be held accountable,” said one survivor, Molly. “They totally let down every child in Islington care.”
In the early ’80s Gisburne House was run by a superintendent called Geoffrey Wylde-Jones. who allegedly led a military-style regime where children were regularly manhandled.
Gifted young swimmer, Molly, now 50, says she arrived at the home aged 13 only a week after a teenage girl who had been sexually abused by Wylde-Jones – Jonesy, as he was known to the kids - had left.
Molly had a “lucky escape” after a tense encounter with the care home boss.
“I was in his office and he said something to me that just panicked me,” she said.
“I think because I was so scared and he saw it in my eyes he didn’t pursue it.”
Another survivor Veronica, 50, also remembers being warned by her social worker that Gisburne was “no place for girls”.
She was grabbed by the head and neck and hurled through swing doors by a male staff member as soon as she arrived at the run-down home.
The young teenager once rang then council leader Margaret Hodge’s office when another male worker hit her in the face.
“I never got anywhere,” she said. “I was really terrified. I felt I had no power there: no one cared.”
Veronica once found a letter hidden behind a radiator in her bedroom.
“It was some girl professing her love for Mr Jones and the things he’d been doing to her,” she said.
The picture Veronica and Molly paint of Gisburne House is of a place where extreme neglect was the norm, where children were in a highly sexualised environment, and this is corroborated by a former staff member.
As a young graduate Kathryn Holt, now 59, began work at Gisburne in 1979. She was a residential social worker who lived part-time in the home with responsibility for children with complex special needs.
It soon became clear her job was to protect these children from being “taunted, assaulted and abused” by the other kids, she explains.
“The overriding feeling I had there a lot of the time was that I was not personally safe,” she said. “The culture of the place was one of male physical power.
“I remember seeing staff dragging children into offices and pushing children against walls.”
Things reached a head when she was attacked by the girl who, it was later revealed, had been sexually abused by Wylde-Jones.
When she went to the kids’ home boss about the assault, she says: “I distinctly remember him sitting behind his desk and smirking.”
Wylde-Jones, now dead, was never prosecuted.
Other care workers who allegedly mistreated children at Gisburne House are alive. They cannot be identified because they have not faced the courts.
“With my 59-year-old head on now I think: ‘Why on earth didn’t I say anything?’” said Ms Holt. “But like the kids I was at the bottom of the pile in the hierarchy.”
There are similar examples of corroborated abuse at other homes.
All the survivors say their lives have been irreversibly scarred by the abuse and neglect they suffered. They want a new police investigation that will explore links between abusers and bring them to court. But the Gazette has struggled to get answers for them.
We have submitted detailed questions to the Met – and this week contacted Islington borough commander Det Ch Supt Catherine Roper to ask if she would meet ISN to discuss their demands.
We have had no reply.
We have twice contacted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was a serving MP when kids’ homes were operational in the borough.
He counts many survivors among his former constituents and we asked if he supports their calls for a new police probe. He too has not replied.
Islington Council and long-serving Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry have issued statements in support of justice for the survivors.
Otherwise, their voices continue to be largely and shamefully ignored by the institutions that have the power to seek justice for them.
GROSVENOR AVENUE CHILDREN’S HOME
Another infamous home was Grosvenor Avenue in Canonbury, where Nicholas Rabet was deputy superintendent and worked for 15 years. It closed in 2009.
Survivor Richard, now a coordinator at ISN, was placed in the home as a boy of six.
He has vivid memories of being bundled into the back of a van at night and driven past a building with a large red cross on it in Dalston Lane. These are followed by total memory blackouts and he fears he may have been drugged or hypnotised.
When Richard received his care file from Islington Council a few years ago Nicholas Rabet’s name was in it.
Rabet, who was from Jersey, fled the UK for Thailand when the Evening Standard revealed the extent of abuse in Islington homes in 1992.
He killed himself in 2006, days before he was due to stand trial for the rape of 30 boys.
One of Rabet’s known Islington victims was a young teenager who the Evening Standard called Shane when they first reported in 1992.
Shane’s sister told the Gazette how her mother persistently tried to raise concerns that “Nick” had too much interest in her brother.
“Mum can’t move on,” she said. “She felt she wasn’t listened to and it was all covered up.
“She just wants answers. She doesn’t know how Shane is or where he is or if he is alive.”
The family lost contact with Shane some years ago.
He had alcohol and drug problems following his horrific time in care.
Both boys were almost certainly taken on holidays to Jersey, in what are feared to have been exchange programmes with the notorious Haut de la Garenne home, where widespread abuse occurred.
Richard has postcards he wrote his father sent from Jersey. One shows Gorey castle, which is next to Haut de la Garenne.
Shane’s mother remembers receiving a Jersey gift tea-towel from her son, even though she had refused permission for him to visit the Channel Island.
“The inquiries of the 1990s talked about the state of the homes and undertrained staff,” said Richard. “But the one thing they weren’t talking about was the pimping and prostitution and rape of children. None of these inquiries covered it. There is a huge amount of damage that was created and there was no justice.”
ELWOOD STREET CHILDREN’S HOME
Presiding at Elwood Street Children’s Home in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was another alleged paedophile Bernie Bain – a friend of Nicholas Rabet’s.
Orphan Vincent, now in his 50s, suffered racial and physical abuse at Bain’s hands.
“Bernie was a six-foot odd Australian, deceptively charming, but extremely wicked,” he said. “I would be forced to strip to my underpants, punched up, thrown down the stairs, called golliwog, Sambo, that kind of thing.
“I remember once telling my social worker and his words to me were ‘You must have deserved it.’”
Aged 14, he ran away. He later discovered Bain had sexually abused another boy at the home.
“I’d like to see a very clinical inquiry,” said Vincent. “Where perpetrators are known, they should face the full brunt of the law. We use the term ‘child abuse’ and it actually softens what happened. Vulnerable children were raped.”
Bain fled Britain in 1996 just before he could be arrested for the alleged rape of seven young boys in care.
He was briefly imprisoned in Morocco for child pornography but killed himself in Thailand in May 2000.
* Did you suffer or witness sexual or physical abuse 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