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Canterbury poet laureate Lemn Sissay wins damages for abuse suffered in care

By Anna MacSwan

Canterbury's poet laureate has won a six-figure sum in damages for abuse suffered in the care system.

Lemn Sissay, a renowned poet and broadcaster who was awarded an MBE in 2010, took Wigan Council to court last year over his treatment by social services as a child.

Born to an Ethiopian mother in Wigan in 1967, Mr Sissay was taken into care when he was only two months old.

Canterbury poet laureate Lemn Sissay. (1652099)
Canterbury poet laureate Lemn Sissay. (1652099)

After being looked after by foster carers until the age of 12, he was moved between a series of homes including the former Wood End Assessment Centre in Atherton, where he suffered physical, emotional and racial abuse.

In a blog, the poet said: "I'm tired. I have won my case against Wigan Council and I should be happy but I am just tired.

"I should be throwing a party for my 'win' but I won’t.

"This case has lasted over three years and a lifetime. It has tested me to the core, as it should've."

He is now due to receive a written apology and his social services files from the council.

As an adult Mr Sissay - who began writing poetry for solace - fought for access to his files in the hope they would contain answers about his upbringing.

After he received them two years ago, he heard their contents for the first time in a harrowing performance at the Royal Court in London, The Report, in front of an audience of 380 people.

A published poet since the age of 17, Mr Sissay has also been artist in residence at the South Bank Centre, the official poet of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and is currently chancellor of his home town’s University of Manchester.

He is frequently on TV and radio, including once being a castaway on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

James Winterbottom, director for children’s services at Wigan Council, said: "We are happy that the case has been concluded and a mutual resolution found for both parties.

"We have apologised to Lemn and look forward to working with him going forward for the benefit of our children in care and care leavers."

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