I was born on the 23rd January 1968. In 1977 at the age of nine years old I was taken into the care of the local authority by the then, Sunderland Borough Council’s, Social Services Department. As a child I was considered to be a ‘problem child’ and I lived with my mother who was a single parent.
During my early years my behaviour was such that my mother enlisted the support of Sunderland Social Services, and together, they decided that the care home system was the only way to control me. I understand that the reason I was taken into care was due to the fact that I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
On or about 25 January 1977, I was placed in a local authority assessment centre and I remained there for one and a half years. Between 18 July 1977 and 26 August 1977, I was placed in a children’s’ home in Northumberland. I was returned to the assessment home between 26 August 1977 and 16 February 1978 before being transferred to another home in Sunderland, until September 1978, when again I was moved back to the assessment home. On 8 January 1979, I was moved to a very notorious home and I left care completely shortly before my 16th birthday.
Stannington Grove Hospital
Before I was subjected to a care order, at the age of six, I was admitted to Stannington Grove Hospital. I recall on a daily basis having been subjected to abuse. I was frequently being punched and hit by other children. The staff chose to do nothing about it.
Emsworth House Assessment Centre
When I first entered Emsworth House I was eight years old. I recall clearly, being taken to a side room with my mother. I ran away from the home shortly after admission and the only reason was simply to be with my mam. My punishment for running away was to regarded as a runaway risk and I was therefore treated like a prisoner.
The secure unit was like a cell. I remember that there were no light switches or door handles on the inside of the room and there was one plastic light fitting in the centre of the ceiling. In the door to the room there was a single square window which looked out onto the hall outside. The glass of course was reinforced. The bed was a rudimentary block with a mattress sat on it. The mattress and the pillows all had plastic covers on and there was no real bedding to speak of.
Anyway I had to be content with my surroundings as I was required to spend seventeen hours in the secure unit each day. I have horrible memories of long nights spent in that room and it would true to say that suicide crossed my mind on many occasions. I stole a knife from the class room, during the day, to cut my wrists. I hid it under the mattress. I never did go through with it I was allowed out of the secure unit during the day to attend a class room.
I have distinct memories of an old lady, who clearly liked her job, who used to teach in the class. She regularly placed drawing pins on my chair and forced me to sit on them. She was also very fond of the ruler as a means of corporal punishment and she would often strike my knuckles with it. Another feature of class was the dunce hat, it was a conical hat, like you see in the cartoons. We would be made to wear this hat at times when we were considered to have done something wrong or stupid.
My education was not furthered because of any of my time spent in that class room. In the secure unit I would be forced to go without clothes and had to go for periods of time, naked. Not only was this very cold but it was also degrading for an eight year old boy.
Night times were especially bad at Emsworth. I recall one male worker who would visit my room on a night and stand outside of my room looking through the glass at me. He would then switch the light on quickly for five to twenty minutes. This used to be make me very scared. I can see no other reason why he would do this at all, other than to make me frightened.
The same member of staff also abused me sexually. He had previously been a priest. He used to fondle my genitals and he would pull my pyjama bottoms down. At the time my hair was like Michael Jackson’s and my pyjama top had a picture of Michael Jackson on it. This man made me masturbate him. He also raped me which caused me intense pain.
To this day it is extremely traumatic to talk about the sexual abuse I was subjected to.
Witherwack House – the most notorious
On 8 January 1979, I was transferred to Witherwack House, a couple of weeks before my eleventh birthday. As far as I know I was the very first resident in the home after it opened and I remained there until 1984. This was to be the worst five years of my live.
Almost immediately after moving to Witherwack House I was subjected to constant physical and psychological abuse by members of staff and ‘care’ workers. I was constantly picked on by members of staff who dragged me around by my neck; punched me, grabbed me by the testicles, gave me black eyes and a broken nose.
I was also forced into a bath of hot water and then cold water. When I was alone the staff beat me, punching me repeatedly with both fists in the stomach and my head, causing great pain. During one such instance I screamed and cried for them to stop but they just kept on beating me. I begged them and still it went on. I was also sexually assaulted by a male member of staff who later became involved with child protection. He informed me that he would single me out for punishment.
The forms of punishment employed by the staff at Witherwack House included restraint techniques. On one occasion my arm was held up my back so badly my shoulder blade needed medical treatment. My thumb would be bent backwards until it touched my forearm. This was done at least daily and was extremely painful.
I suffer from epilepsy and I believe this was caused by my head being hit of objects. This was not reasonable punishment and force being used – this was evil. I often heard screams of other residents being abused. Indeed I witnessed a rape of a girl who was eight or nine at the time – I tried to intervene but I was beaten senseless for my trouble. It was the best kicking of my life.
I was assaulted at least five or six times a day. On one occasion I was raped. Children were encouraged to have sex with each other and if we didn’t we would be kicked and beaten all over again. I was also bullied by other children at the home, by the order of the staff – I carry the scars on my head to prove it.
Even now I have flashbacks and nightmares about the abuse. My life has been spoiled as a result of the abuse I have suffered. I do not trust people and sit and study people to try and understand them because I still feel people want to hurt me. I believe that the Director of Social Services was fully aware of the abuse that went on as was the Assistant Director of Social Services.
Today and Tomorrow
As a result of my experiences I have avidly campaigned against child abuse and spoken with local and national media on many occasions to spread the message and raise the awareness of child abuse amongst the public.
In a similar way to when I was in care when I felt it was my duty to absorb the abuse suffered by others, I continue to feel it is my responsibility as a survivor, to try and prevent it happening to others. I have canvassed my local MP and the Government for 15 years; I was awarded damages, but not justice.