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Kendall House Review: Former residents of the Gravesend children's home describe harrowing conditions

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Girls who lived in Kendall House across the decades have described challenging conditions - with the home resembling a prison, with barbed wire and iron bars.

They told their stories during an in-depth investigation into the Church of England children's home in Gravesend, which closed in the 1980s.

One resident from the late 1960s described the devastating and lasting impact her time at the home had had on her.

Coles abused the girl repeatedly. Stock image posed by model
Coles abused the girl repeatedly. Stock image posed by model

She told the inquiry: "That was my youth, that's when I should have been into the Beatles or into a bit of fashion. It did change me.

"I did take two overdoses and one of them was so serious I was taken to hospital and had my stomach pumped. I was near enough dead.

"I'd left Kendall House but those suicidal thoughts stayed with me and the first chance I got I took the overdose and I remember the tubes going down and having my stomach pumped."

Another who was in the home in the late 1970s also recalled the impact of the regime: "It was a very, very hard road and there were consequences of it, because of what happened.

"I did end up in prison in the end because there was no proper back-up support. Nobody helped me. All they did was drug me up.

"Nobody actually tried to challenge the problems. It's made me a not very confident person. I suffer with terrible bad nerves all the time. I don't cope in crowds very easily.

The original Kendall House report
The original Kendall House report

"I still feel cheated. I was cheated out of my childhood because I don't think that was the right place for me. I don't think it was right for any of the girls that were there."

Years later, in the mid 1980s, the regime had not improved for one resident: "It was hell. It was just like being in prison. I'd gone to prison for a crime that I hadn't committed to be abused all over again for no particular reason, just because they could.

Another resident from the same time said: "What happened to me in Kendall House and everywhere else lives with me ever single day.

"As a result, I have ended up with illnesses and mental health issues and everything else."

One resident described the conditions as "a prison-like atmosphere", but she added: "I think even in prisons they probably have a bit more say."

Another said: "There was no explanation. There was no attempt to befriend you or to be supportive."

Taylor started a secret relationship with the child. Stock image
Taylor started a secret relationship with the child. Stock image

Another who described the conditions in prison-like terms said: "I remember the locked doors. I remember bars on the windows, barbed wire up the side of it and I thought, what the hell am I doing here?"

Girls were forced to wear a uniform during the week, sometimes they were made to wear nightclothes during the day.

This is said to have "challenged their individuality", which as teenagers "was an important part of their development and identity".

There were also restrictions on personal possessions, even photos.

Campaigner Teresa Cooper, 48, lived in the Pelham Road home from 1981 until 1984.

"It was hell. It was just like being in prison" - one resident from the 1980s

She did not give evidence to the inquiry, but fought for the investigation for three decades.

The mum-of-three, who says she was forcibly tranquillised and sexually abused at the home in Pelham Road, claims the panel “made it impossible” for her to be involved as giving evidence would have required frequent travel into London.

“I’ve lost everything because of this, my children, my grandchildren,” she said.

“I’m the only one who was fighting this, and pushing for this review for the past 30 years, but I feel like I’m being made invisible now.

“They made it impossible for me to be involved because I would have needed so much time off work, and they didn’t even offer to cover my transport costs. Now I’ve found that all the other women involved are being compensated. They didn’t want me to be part of this.

“Staff were doing what they wanted and drugging the girls themselves.

“It’s not just about what happened at Kendall House, it’s everything since then, the cover-ups and brushing it under the carpet, all those injustices to date. There needs to be a full police investigation into this.”

Mum-of-three Teresa Cooper suffered years of abuse at Kendall House
Mum-of-three Teresa Cooper suffered years of abuse at Kendall House

Ms Cooper has also disputed several of the review’s terms of reference, including the absence of any mention of birth defects and medical problems suffered by the children and grandchildren of former residents.

One of the terms of reference states that the home’s drug regime was brought to an end when Dr Perinpanyagam retired in 1983, but Ms Cooper claims it continued until 1986.

Also stated is that complaints and civil claims against the Church of England started in 2006, much later than Ms Cooper says she began her fight for justice.

Ms Cooper won substantial out-of-court damages from the church in 2010 over her claims, but has accused it of failing in its duty to her and other alleged abuse victims.

She is currently pursuing another legal claim against the church in a bid to secure damages for up to 25 children who it is claimed suffered as a result of drug use at Kendall House.

Ms Cooper’s daughter Sarah, 23, was born with a cleft palate. Her two sons and grandchild also have serious health issues.

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