Published: 00:00, 13 December 2016
| Updated: 09:07, 13 December 2016
Harrowing accounts of historical child abuse have been revealed by a further review into a Church of England home for young girls.
More than three decades of cruelty at Kendall House in Gravesend was first exposed by the findings of an expert panel in June, with residents found to have been drugged, sexually assaulted, locked in an isolation room and kept in straitjackets.
The 137-page report, compiled by Dr Sue Proctor, part-time judge Samantha Cohen and former police detective superintendent Ray Galloway, described Kendall House as “a frightening, violent and unpredictable place to live”.
Dr Proctor, who chaired the investigation into disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile, said the abuse at Kendall House was the most troubling thing she had worked on.
So many other former residents came forward after its publication that the Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, agreed to an extended review, which has resulted in testimonies from one woman who was just nine when she was sent to Kendall House.
She had never been in a children’s home previously and it remains unclear why she was sent there, with other girls sent there by the Dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury ranging from 11 to 16-years-old.
She arrived in the mid-1970s and was quickly introduced to the superintendent Doris Law, who oversaw what went on at the home.
“I just felt confused, I felt scared, I just felt like I was being punished for not going to school,” she said.
“I just accepted my fate really and thought it’s my fault why I’m there so I have to just get on with it. The first few days I kind of settled in and, being the youngest, I always followed the older ones.”
Another of the girls interviewed for the extension was 15 when she arrived at Kendall House in the early 1970s and recalls barred windows on the outside.
She was also introduced to Miss Law soon after her arrival, who is said to have pulled her by the hair and handed her over to two other women.
She said: “Then her, and two other ladies took me and stripped me off. I was naked. They just pulled me in and stripped me off. I was just sobbing by this time because my child care officer had said it was a lovely place.
“I was just thinking that it would be nice. They took me into this bath and they stripped me off naked, and then they literally physically threw me in this bath. In this bath all I can remember it was brown water and it smelt horrible.
“They kept grabbing hold of my hair and pushing me under and holding me under for quite a while and then pulling me up by my hair and then dunking me again.”
Kendall House Review:
First impressions of the building in Pelham Road, which opened in 1947, were said to demonstrate a “nasty, horrible atmosphere”, with new arrivals left scared and confused by what was happening to them.
Girls who had been there for a longer period were said to often be rough and violent, with fights sometimes breaking out. They were provided with no books, toys or other forms of entertainment to occupy their time.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, staff would give the girls up to four cigarettes a day to use to barter for favour from each other. This practice continued into the mid-1970s, even with the girl as young as nine.
As was the case with the original report, many of the extension’s testimonies, which are sourced from interviews conducted in September and October, focus on drug abuse.
One woman recalled: “An injection would happen if you’d had an argument with somebody, if they felt you were being rude or disrespectful. Anything you stepped out of line for, in their eyes, then you got sedated, basically.
“I wanted to kill myself, you know because dying would have been better. I spent years after Kendall House still wanting to die. It became a habit. I’ve never forgotten Kendall House"
“This injection would literally just knock you out completely, out cold, and I would just remember the next day, the next morning. I’d be in bed and I’d be like I can’t remember how I got there.”
Girls were also administered tablets, which staff told them were simply vitamins and would sometimes hand them out at meal time. If they refused to take them, staff would threaten them.
Psychiatrist Dr Marenthiran Perinpanayagam would oversee much of the drugging and a failure to properly hold him to account was identified as one of the Dioceses’ major failings in the original report.
One woman told the panel of the hallucinations she would suffer because of the drugs, with a particularly vivid recollection of millions of ants appearing to swarm over her bedroom.
Staff were also said to take blood and urine samples from those they drugged, and Miss Law and other senior diocesan officers were said to downplay such practices in meetings with social services.
There were, however, attempts to hide what went on behind the home’s walls. One woman recalled seeing the home’s pet rabbits digging up disused drug canisters in the back garden.
She explained: “The rabbits once dug up the back garden, I went out there and being nosey and one of the rare opportunities in the garden and I thought I could see something.
“I found a load of drug phials. I can tell you now, if you dug up the back of Kendall House now you would probably find a load of drug phials.”
Girls staying at Kendall House were regularly threatened for misbehaviour with being sent to the psychiatric hospital Stone House, which shut in 2007. One girl who was taken there was given electric shock treatment.
She said: “Those electric shock treatments are not funny. I never saw any children in that hospital. No children should ever have been even allowed to see that, let alone be treated like that, nobody.”
Such issues were reported to Kent Police, but officers have been accused of not taking the concerns of the girls seriously.
The report states that no further investigations took place despite the serious nature of the allegations and many of the girls were driven to self-harm.
Sexual assault accusations have also been raised with police since the home shut in 1986, but these also haven’t been followed up. One of the women interviewed said that police had told her the abuse was “in her head”.
"I think it was really dark. I think it was evil. Looking back on it now, it’s surprising what I thought was normal was so not normal"
Reflecting on her time at the home, she added: “Every single day I wanted to die. I don’t think there was any one day I didn’t wake up where I didn’t want to die. I wanted to die. I wanted someone to kill me.
“I wanted to kill myself, you know because dying would have been better. I spent years after Kendall House still wanting to die. It became a habit. I’ve never forgotten Kendall House.
“I think that was one of the things my kids struggled with, that I’ve never woken up and thought ‘God, I’m happy today’. It’s like a nuclear bomb going off. That’s what it is for my life, it’s been a nuclear bomb in my life.
“It has wiped out everything, everything in my life – my family, my grandchildren, my employability, my reputation, my personal circumstances.”
Another of the women said: “If you view Kendall House, I don’t know, it was just an evil, horrible place. I think it was really dark. I think it was evil. Looking back on it now, it’s surprising what I thought was normal was so not normal.
“You go round injecting children and doing things, goodness knows what, and drug them up to the fact that they just think it’s normal.”
"We apologise unreservedly to them for the hurt and distress caused to them"
The Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, apologised for the hurt and distress caused to the women after the release of the original Kendall House report, and did so again for the extension.
He said his Diocese would undergo an independent audit of its safeguarding structures and resources as a result of the Kendall House review.
“We are very grateful to all of the women who courageously came forward to tell their stories, and we recognise how challenging that was,” he said.
“The Diocese would like to thank all of the former residents who have participated and we apologise unreservedly to them for the hurt and distress caused to them.”
The Rt Rev Trevor Willmott also issued a statement and described the findings of the extension as "difficult but essential reading".
He added: “Bishop James and I are hugely grateful to the women who have come forward – both for the original report and the addendum – for their courage in sharing their stories.
“They have done this so that we may learn the lessons of the past and we want to assure them that we have fully resolved to do so. I would like to echo Bishop James’ apology to them for the pain they have suffered."
Campaigner Teresa Cooper thanked for her efforts
One of the four former residents to contribute to this week’s report was Teresa Cooper, who has spent the last three decades fighting for a full investigation into Kendall House.
Ms Cooper did not take part in the original review due to a dispute over the terms of reference, but the panel felt she should be included in the extension.
The panel acknowledge that many of the complaints made about Kendall House in the years since its closure were made by Ms Cooper.
Their report reads: “Teresa has worked relentlessly to try to make the church understand, accept and act in response to her concerns about the abusive practices at Kendall House.
“Through lobbying, researching, and detailed analysis, she has supported many other former residents to seek affirmation of their experiences, as well as working on her own process of recovery.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Teresa Cooper for all her efforts, and her struggles in seeking the truth about Kendall House.
“In respect of this review, we are most grateful for her contribution, in her interview and her emails, and to all who participated, for showing such courage in speaking with us.”
Ms Cooper is continuing to pursue a 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.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Teresa Cooper for all her efforts, and her struggles in seeking the truth about Kendall House"
Her daughter Sarah, 23, was born with a cleft palate. Her two sons and grandchild also have serious health issues.
She has repeatedly criticised Kent Police for failing to properly investigate claims of abuse at Kendall House and said they and the church has “destroyed” her life.
“If Kent Police had done something about it at the time, they would have found the same things that the review did,” she said.
“The police were not trying to help me, they were trying to help themselves. They didn’t deal with my allegations properly. Rather than try to deal with it they have actually gone out of their way to discredit me.
“Kent Police didn’t think for a minute that a review would come out. They owe me a huge apology. They screwed up and they need to accept that they screwed up.”
A police spokesman insisted that all allegations were recorded and reviewed with a view to further investigation.
"In the summer of 2007, Kent Police carried out a full and detailed criminal investigation into allegations of abuse at Kendall House in Pelham Road, Gravesend, in the 1970s and 1980s," they said.
"A previous allegation had been made by the same complainant in 1999, which had also been fully investigated. Two further complainants had contacted the police in 2007, and were interviewed.
"At the conclusion of both investigations, Kent Police submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who determined there were insufficient grounds to proceed with a prosecution. The investigation was then reviewed again by the force in 2009.
"Kent Police welcomed the news of the inquiry and has been fully involved throughout. We will continue to record and review any new allegations that are reported as a result, with a view to further investigation."
More by this authorTom Acres