Over four decades after boys taught at a Home Office approved school taken over by Devon County Council were brutalised and abused in a horrific regime, the local authority that should have looked out for them as children has finally apologised.
The apology was read out at the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (IICSA) by the council’s legal representative.
Last week, David Enright who represents many survivors of child sexual abuse in the inquiry chaired by Alexis Jay, wrote to councils, police forces and Home Secretary Sajid Javid asking them all to apologise for failing those who as children they should have protected.
He also told the inquiry that it was shameful that the Home Office had not bothered to send a representative to Accountability and Reparations hearings looking into how victims were failed in the aftermath of child sexual abuse.
At the start of these hearings, representatives for survivors explained that not one of them, despite the abuse they had suffered, and justice they had been denied, ever received an admission of liability or an apology.
This week, Paul Greatorex, on behalf of Devon County Council read the response written by Jo Olsson, the local authority’s chief officer for children’s services:
“The council is deeply sorry for the abuse suffered by some residents at the hands of those who perpetrated the crimes.
“The council and I commend their bravery in bringing such painful and distressing memories forward.
“The council will continue to treat any claims from former residents delicately and with respect, recognising that each case involves an individual person not a member of a group.”
Survivors of Forde Park would be offered support and counselling, the letter added.
“These men have fought for up to 45 years to get Devon County Council to acknowledge that they were abused in Devon’s care, for Devon to apologise for that abuse and for Devon to commit to provide support to these men, whose lives have been so seriously damaged by abuse while in the care of Devon County Council,” said solicitor David Enright, who represents former pupils.
“This is a major step forward, and is appreciated.
“However, it is a very great pity that it has taken so many years for Devon to step up and apologise to those it failed in care.”
Children at the secure school and home in Newton Abbot, which harboured a particularly sadistic paedophile ring before it closed in 1985 – then under Devon County Council control – were subjected to horrendous physical and sexual abuse by staff emboldened by a Home Office which permitted corporal punishment of some of Britain’s most vulnerable children at such institutions.
Pupils were used as slave labour and too often left Forde Park more traumatised than educated. Children ended up trapped there through minor misdemeanours, poverty or just having no parents to look after them.
Not all who managed to survive the trauma inflicted there are still alive to receive Devon council’s apology.
Enright said in the time the inquiry had taken to get to this hearing, two survivors had recently died and one is now seriously ill.
Having attended one client’s funeral last month, he had read his client’s poignant plea to an earlier hearing:
“I had my childhood stolen from me.
“The abuse I suffered was never investigated and I have never received an explanation for why staff at Forde Park were able to abuse children without anyone stepping in to stop it.
“I know that I am not the only person who reported abuse at Forde Park when it was going on. The physical abuse was no secret. It was done openly. The police and Social Services knew of it, but allowed it to continue.
“I now know that I am not the only person who made a report to the police at the time. I know that other men reported abuse at the time to the police, Social Services, their families and others.
“I want this inquiry to find out why, when the physical abuse, at least, was so well known about, did no-one in authority do anything.
“I also want the authorities responsible for Forde Park to acknowledge openly that I and so many other boys were treated like animals at Forde Park and I want a public admission that the responsible authority knew of it, or should have known of it, and an apology.”
Forde park was shut down after multiple warnings in 1985. It took a further decade for Operation Lentisk to result in several convictions for brutal physical and sexual assaults against boys who had been sent to the school from as young as ten years old.
Enright told the hearing earlier how the Home Office and Devon and Cornwall Police had investigated child abuse at Forde Park School as early as 1958. Further report of abuse from pupils emerged in 1976, but still no staff member was prosecuted by police. For decades authorities were aware that children were being still placed at risk of brutal violence and sexual abuse.
Then when survivors as adults finally compiled enough evidence for police to investigate seriously and prosecute Forde Park’s predators, Devon County Council instead of investigating survivor’s cases and offering support and counselling, passed them on to their insurance company to limit liability and compensation.