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Kendall House Review: Panel reveals findings of investigation into historic abuse at Church of England children's home

A report into a Gravesend children's home has revealed a "harrowing" regime of youngsters being drugged to sedate them, put in straitjackets and forced to live behind barbed wire.

An inquiry into Kendall House in the town has revealed a regime which "normalised control, containment and sometimes cruelty".

Bosses at the now-defunct home robbed young girls "of their individuality, of hope, and in some cases their liberty."

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Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff commissioned the review
Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff commissioned the review

The report comes after an expert panel investigated Kendall House in Gravesend after the Right Reverend James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, commissioned a review last year.

They met at St Nicholas Church in Rochester this morning to release the results.

Sue Proctor, who chaired the panel, described the home as "a frightening, violent and unpredictable place to live."

The wide-reaching review investigated the home, which first opened in 1947 as a home for young girls under the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury, with occupants sent to live there by the local authority.

The report found:

  • Kendall House was "an institution which had weak governance and oversight", which "normalised control, containment and sometimes cruelty", and that it robbed young girls "of their individuality, of hope, and in some cases their liberty."

  • Girls as young as 11 were regularly given antidepressants, sedatives and anti-psychotics without any medical assessment, with doses which exceeded prescribed adult levels. The drugs increased their vulnerability to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

  • Those who resisted the drugs were punished by being locked away for long periods and threatened.

  • Some were placed in straitjackets, others were sent to the adult ward at a local mental health hospital.

The report describes the findings as "harrowing", adding: "Whatever their reason for admission, none (of the children) anticipated or deserved the treatment they received there."

Medication was given on a daily basis, non-compliance was not tolerated.

St Nicholas Church, where the Kendall House press conference was held last summer
St Nicholas Church, where the Kendall House press conference was held last summer

Those who did were punished with injections or by being forced to take medicine. Girls were instructed to line up to have their tablets/medicine and had to open their mouths to show staff it had been swallowed.

Drugs were sometimes administered covertly, such as being hidden in food or put into hot drinks - "melted in hot water and honey, crushed with sugar".

The effects of the drugs was dramatic. Symptoms included dry mouths, lethargy, not being able to walk properly, trembling, shaking and nightmares.

Sue Proctor, who was on the Kendall House Review panel
Sue Proctor, who was on the Kendall House Review panel

It left them vulnerable to further abuse. One girl compared it to "feeling like a zombie" - "I stopped being a person," she said.

One of the major failings identified was the failure to hold superintendet Doris Law or Dr Perinpanayagam to account. Complete trust was placed in them to oversee what went on.

Ms Law worked at Kendall House from 1957 until 1985, but has since died.

Kendall House is said to have enjoyed "a good relationship" with the police, who were called whenever a resident absconded or if there was an incident "with which the staff could not cope". If a resident alleged they had been victim to a crime, police were called to speak with them.

Just over 1,200 girls were admitted in the 1940s and 1950s. This review only covers 1967 to 1986, during which over 300 girls aged 10 to 16 were placed there.

Related story

Former residents tell their harrowing stories of life after Kendall House

It shut in 1986 because Kent County Council was moving away from placing children into residential care and were instead developing fostering and adoption services. It closed on December 31 and was sold to a Church Housing Association in Gravesend.

Police have been contacted since the home shut. One former resident got in touch in 1993 regarding an allegation they had made in the early 1980s, but police had not pursued it any further due to a lack of evidence.

In 2006, Kent Police were informed of further allegations. They were investigated and referred to the CPS, who determined not to proceed further.

"I stopped being a person" - one of the former residents

The force conducted its own review of their handling of Kendall House allegations in 2009 and evidence was again reviewed by the CPS, who again decided no action was required.

The Bishop of Rochester was given no handover note regarding Kendall House allegations when he was appointed in 2010.

Had there been, this review may have been commissioned sooner.

The report added: "Diocesan committees had an unquestioning trust in the Kendall House leadership and demonstrated little if any objectivity or curiosity in assuring themselves that the girls were being treated appropriately and safely at the home."

It acknowledges that the experience of living at Kendall House has had "damaging life-long effects" on the women, both physical and emotional.

Former residents of Kendall House described shocking conditions
Former residents of Kendall House described shocking conditions

They are said to lack trust and confidence, struggle to form relationships, and suffer a variety of anxieties and fears. A small number of former residents have since taken their own lives.

Speaking at the conference, Sue Proctor, who chaired the investigating panel, said: "I have never worked on anything as troubling as this. As a former nurse it is horrifying, as a Christian it is appalling. The report is a tough read."

"I have never worked on anything as troubling as this. As a former nurse it is horrifying, as a Christian it is appalling" - Sue Proctor, panel chair

Ms Proctor, who conducted the Jimmy Savile inquiry, said: "I wish to thank the former residents and their families for their candour and courage.

"The consistency in the accounts is striking and paints a compelling picture of life in the home. It was a frightening, violent and unpredictable place to live."

She described the church's response while the house was still open as "woeful" and "inadequate".
Bishop James said he was "deeply disturbed" by the content of the review.

"It is very clear indeed from the report that in many respects what happened at Kendall House fell way short of what should have been."

He acknowledged a "woeful lack of oversight" on the part of the Dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury.

Addressing the former residents, he said: "I apologise wholeheartedly for that lack of oversight. I apologise unreservedly for the harm that was done to you."

Bishop Paul Butler, the Church of England's lead bishop on safeguarding, also offered an unreserved apology on behalf of the church.

"The findings of this independent review into Kendall House describe the harrowing regime experienced by numerous girls and young teenagers who were placed into the care of this Church of England home," he said.

"The appaling standards of care and treatment should never have been allowed and on behalf of the national church I apologise unreservedly to all the former residents whose lives were and continue to be affected by their damaging experiences at Kendall House."

The panel who investigated the case - and their recommendations

The Kendall House Review panel was chaired by Sue Proctor, who also led the major independent investigation into matters relating to Jimmy Savile, and chaired the NHS Savile Legacy Unit.

She was joined by Samantha Cohen, a part-time judge who specialises in cases involving allegations of sexual abuse and child cruelty.

Also on the panel was Ray Galloway, who was the director of the independent investigation into the activities of Jimmy Savile.

They were joined at today's press conference by the Bishop of Rochester and the Right Reverend Trevor Wilmott, Bishop of Dover.

The panel has made a series of recommendations, including that the Dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury make public apologies for what happened at the home and for how long it took to commission the review.

It is also suggested that the report be made publicly available, that payments are made to those who contributed to acknowledge the pain of revisiting Kendall House, and that they should fund an event for former residents to come together and meet. An annual service "of healing and reconciliation" should also be held.

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