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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

‘Pen portraits’ from children in custody

Peter Smith

Peter was placed in care when he was eight because his parents had difficulties looking after him. He was placed in several institutions, including one known as “the black hole of Calcutta”. He spent a few months at Aycliffe Assessment Centre and saw other boys being beaten. In 1963, aged nine, he was moved to Stanhope Castle Approved School. There was a degrading and physically violent atmosphere at Stanhope. Deep bruises from beatings by the staff would stay on the boys’ bodies for weeks and Peter recalled rampant bullying by older boys.[1] 

Peter was sexually abused many times. The incidents he described were just the “tip of the iceberg”. Within a few days of arriving, two older boys made him give oral sex to one, while he masturbated the other. One of the boys tried to anally rape him but he was too small. He told the teachers, who did not believe him and beat him, saying he was lying. For the next two weeks, he was made to wear two boards that read “I am a pig” on the front and “Treat me like a pig” on the back. On numerous occasions older boys attempted to anally rape him, and he was orally raped by other boys. He knew it was wrong but hoped that if he did it, the older boys would take care of him. There was also an ex-pupil in his mid to late 20s who was not a teacher but had returned to the school (CI-F108). He would give Peter chocolates before attempting to masturbate him under the bedclothes.

Peter’s first thought every morning was “How do I get through today without being abused or assaulted?” He lived in constant fear with no-one to help him and felt powerless. He reminded us that there could be a young lad called Peter in custody now, and he urged us to stop and think “How does Peter see the world?” [2]

Peter Robson

Peter Robson went into care in 1963, when he was 11. He was placed at Stanhope Castle Approved School from 1963 to 1967. It was a strict, “military” place, with regular violence committed by the children and the staff. He was caned across his bare bottom by the headmaster, which he saw as a sexual and sadistic act. In late 1963, an older boy who was in the next bed started to touch his penis and raped him. This type of abuse then started to occur every night. Peter does not know how the prefect and nightwatchman could not have known this was going on. He strongly suspects he suffered further sexual abuse which he has “blocked out”. He said there was no opportunity to speak privately to or build a trusting relationship with anyone at Stanhope. He did not want to be seen as a “grass”, so did not feel able to report the abuse. Peter said he had become institutionalised and frightened of the outside world by the time he left.[3]


CI-A17 had experienced a difficult home life and was placed in care because he ran away. He was detained at Aycliffe for four weeks, before being detained at Stanhope Castle from 1963 to 1967. Aycliffe staff were very violent towards the boys on a daily basis. He was slapped, punched and caned regularly. The boys would often need medical treatment, but there was never any investigation as everybody knew what happened and the violence against the boys was seen as “normal”.[4]

When CI-A17 was around 10 or 11, a former resident of the school who had returned as an unofficial member of staff (CI-F108) forced his penis into CI-A17’s mouth when he was in the bathroom one night, saying “Don’t say nothing”. He was so shocked he wet the bed and was caned as a result.

CI-A17 told us of a particularly shocking incident of sexual abuse. Around Christmas 1963, when he was about 11, CI-F108 anally raped him in one of the dormitories, while the deputy head (CI-F11) orally raped him at the same time and then anally raped him. CI-A17 collapsed on the floor in tears; there was blood on the floor.[5]

After this incident, CI-A17 lived in constant fear of being raped and started carrying a concealed nail in his sock to enable him to fight back. On one occasion, CI-F108 tried to assault him in the school play area toilets but his screams alerted other boys which caused CI-F108 to leave. He said he never reported the attacks because he did not know who to trust or who to complain to, not least because the people in positions of authority to whom he otherwise might have disclosed the abuse were also his abusers. He also feared reprisals from the teachers.[6]

Colin Watson

Colin Watson was sentenced to an approved school in 1958 and spent short periods in remand homes where he was physically abused. He then was moved to Aycliffe, where he was subjected to significant staff violence and absconded several times. He was moved to Stanhope Castle in 1960, when he was 11. Again he experienced staff violence, including being dragged across the dining hall and slammed into a wall, which broke his nose. Later that day, when he was alone in the sick bay, the head of house (CI-F110) anally raped him and said “Say that I’ve been here and I’ll kill you”. Shortly after this incident, the deputy headteacher (CI-F11) took him to the store rooms at the back of the gym and forced him to masturbate him.[7]

Colin Watson detailed at least 35 examples of times when he was raped and sexually assaulted by four members of staff and a former pupil resident (CI-F108). On several occasions he was choked unconscious while being abused. He also witnessed other boys being abused. He believed there was an organised group who knew of each other’s abuse and abused together. This group included the head of house (CI-F110), the deputy headteacher (CI-F11), a female teacher who lived in the school (CI-F114) who groomed and controlled him and a former pupil of the school (CI-F108). He was also abused by a teacher and Scoutmaster (CI-F116) who forced him to masturbate him. The violence meant he was too frightened to report the abuse, but when he did tell a police officer about the abuse in 1961 the officer’s response was to punch him and tell him “That’s our friends you’re talking about”.[8]


CI-A34 was placed in a custodial institution due to his family breaking down. He spent time in Aycliffe but did not recall any abuse there. In 1968 he moved to Stanhope Castle, when he was 11 or 12. There was a culture of violence there; he was hit at least once or twice a day by members of staff. A housemaster (CI‐F112) offered him cigarettes in return for masturbation and, when CI-A34 initially refused, he threatened to make his life hard in the school. This continued throughout his time at Stanhope Castle. CI-F112 took CI-A34 to his home twice and forced him to masturbate him there. When CI-A34 began to refuse, CI-F112 started hitting him more and more for no reason.[9]

CI-A34 used to run away, but could not tell his father about the abuse. When he told a female member of staff about the abuse, she apparently reported this to CI‐F112 as CI-F112 announced publicly CI-A34 had been spreading lies and then gave him the hardest beating of his life. The consequences of his disclosure taught him to suppress thoughts of the abuse and he did not report it again. When he was 17, CI-A34 was moved to Medomsley Youth Detention Centre, where the violence was worse than at Stanhope and where he knew of other boys being sexually abused.[10]


In 1970, when he was around eight or nine, CI-A30 was placed in custody due to his parents failing to take him to school and unsatisfactory home conditions. He had previously been sexually abused by a family member. He went to Vinney Green and Kingswood, and then Forde Park from around 1973. There was violence between the boys and the staff would cane the boys publicly at Forde Park.[11]

One of the older boys tried to sexually attack him, but CI-A30 managed to fight him off. However, there was extensive sexual abuse by staff. CI-A30 was sexually abused by a maintenance worker (CI-F121, who touched CI-A30’s penis inside his shorts while playing with his own penis); another maintenance worker (CI-F122, who touched CI-A30’s penis in the showers and tried to make CI-A30 touch his erect penis); the Scoutmaster (who slapped him, perforating his eardrum, and then put his hands down CI-A30’s trousers and grabbed his penis); a woodwork teacher (CI-F24, who beat him with a piece of wood in the workshop, before touching him in a sexual manner, asking CI-A30 to perform oral sex on him and pulling CI-A30’s head towards his groin); and a gardener (who put his hands down CI-A30’s shorts while he masturbated himself and who anally raped him in the garden shed). One of the PE teachers (CI-F125) also showered naked with the boys and appeared to show an interest in them, which made CI-A30 feel uncomfortable.[12]

CI-A30 described Forde Park as a centre for paedophiles who were well cemented within the organisation. He did not report the abuse because he had been threatened by CI-F122; he felt he would not be believed and would be punished. The only people he could have reported it to would have been other paedophiles or their friends.[13]

Recent complaints from the Inquiry’s case study material

HMYOI Feltham

  • A 17-year-old detainee submitted a written complaint after being searched by a female prisoner officer in September 2009, saying “She sexually assaulted me by squeezing my penis a couple of times. I have several witnesses who saw the assault”.[14]
  • A detainee at HMYOI Feltham disclosed to his advocate in March 2012 that an officer had come into his cell to hand out lunch and then grabbed him by the genitals.[15]
  • There was a report made to Childline by a child who said he had witnessed other children raping a child in the shower.[16]

HMYOI Werrington

  • In April 2013, a detainee stated “A female officer touches my bum and dick and grabs me during searches on visits”.[17]
  • In August 2014, an unidentified person told Childline he had been informed by a person recently released from HMYOI Werrington that a 16-year-old had been raped while detained there by an inmate from a rival gang.[18]

Medway STC

  • In October 2015, a male trainee reported that another detainee had pulled a knife on him, tried to kiss him and inserted his finger into his bottom, then hit him three or four times. He said it had happened in a classroom where there was no CCTV. As a result of the incident, he suffered from pain when he went to the toilet. He complained about not seeing a doctor.[19]
  • In April 2016, a 16-year-old trainee contacted police and described a male member of staff touching him in the groin area.[20]
  • An allegation was made in April 2016 that a female member of staff had formed an inappropriately close relationship with a trainee. Another person had said “He follows her around like a puppy. They sit on the sofa. It appears like something is occurring. It’s uncomfortable to watch. It looked like a physical interaction.” [21]
  • It was reported in April 2016 that a female member of staff had masturbated children there.[22]
  • According to an allegation made in April 2016, a member of staff overheard a child tell another child he had received a love bite to his chest from a member of staff.[23]

Rainsbrook STC

  • In November 2010, a male trainee said staff member B had inappropriately touched his genital area while carrying out searches and had then said to another trainee “Get your knob out”.[24]
  • In May 2011, it was alleged that staff member B had restrained a female trainee and touched her inappropriately, trying to remove her top. She said “I’m disgusted by this incident”.[25]
  • On 30 April 2013, a 14-year-old trainee telephoned Childline and reported that people at the institution knew he was “gay”. He said others thought they could do what they wanted with him when he was in the shower. He added he had dropped the soap and someone put their willy in his bum, and that prison guards had laughed at him when he told them. He was worried if he wrote a letter to his solicitor that the guards would read it and not pass it on.[26]
  • In April 2014, it was alleged a staff member had restrained a 16-year-old boy, which was caught on CCTV. The staff member had stood over the boy, who was sitting on a sofa, and put his knee on the boy’s stomach. The boy threw a DVD cover at the staff member, who then tickled and bear-hugged the boy. The boy ended up on all fours with the staff member squatting behind him, thrusting his hips towards the boy, who was crying. The boy said he had found the experience degrading.[27]
  • In July 2014, a child told his mother (and made a written complaint) that a staff member had threatened, if he did not behave and calm down, he would rape him.[28]
  • It was alleged that in October 2014 a female member of staff permitted a male trainee to put his hand on her thigh and also permitted other trainees to touch her in a sexual way. It was also suggested she had kissed at least one trainee.[29]
  • In December 2014, it was alleged members of staff had permitted two young people to go into a bedroom together, knowing that one of the young people was going to defecate on the other’s face and observed while this happened.[30]

Vinney Green SCH

  • It was alleged in February 2010 that a member of staff told a female resident she had a “nice arse” and asked if she would “like to be part of a threesome”.[31]
  • In March 2010, a female resident told a social worker that a male staff member had entered her bedroom and then touched her bottom and thigh in a sexual way. She said he would not stop when asked but rather made inappropriate comments such as “You’re just so sexy” and also  commented on how her breasts looked.[32]

Aycliffe SCH

  • In February 2016, a 15-year-old female resident said a member of staff touched her breasts and vagina during restraint.[33]
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