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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

C.6: Beechwood: 1981–1998

Composition and function

55. By 1989, Beechwood had been re-designated as a community home following a recommendation in a County report into residential care in 1984.[1] It was to continue to provide 37 places, with children aged 10–18 to be placed “normally” for less than six months.[2] Each child was to have a designated key worker who would be “the primary care person for the child”. [3] In line with the County’s plan to reduce the number of children in residential care, The Lindens closed in 1990. From then, Beechwood consisted of only one residential unit: Redcot.[4] During the 1990s, resident numbers varied between 11 and 17.[5]

56. Beechwood was officially described in 1993 as “a specialist children’s home which takes all young people remanded from the youth court who are refused bail”, taking in children “without notice”. [6] In reality, in addition to those on remand, it continued to take children with challenging behaviour from other homes as well as taking those in “general welfare care”.[7]

Management and governance

57. Jim Saul retired in 1981, and Jim Fenwick ran Beechwood as Principal until 1991, although he told us he had “minimal” contact with children in the home.[8] In around 1984, Hazel Kerr (Homes Advisor) wrote that:

Beechwood is slowly evolving under the firm guidance of Jim Fenwick … It is well accepted that Beechwood will take on all-comers. They rarely, if ever reject a child.[9]

Jim Fenwick recalled that, when he started, Beechwood staff were “a very much male-dominated group” but he “tried over a fairly long period to change this[10] by appointing more female staff. He said that he made staff aware of the need to use sympathy and empathy with children but recognised that he was dependent on what he was told by staff as to how children were in fact being treated.[11]

58. He also attempted to improve physical conditions at Beechwood, writing in 1989 to Denis Watkins to “elicit … support for urgent attention to … improve the quality of life” of children at Beechwood, adding that staff were in a state of “desperation”.[12] He referred to a visitor who had described it as “horrifying … how is it we can place young people in such atrocious conditions?” Significant criticisms were still being made of physical conditions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

59. Following Jim Fenwick’s departure, Beechwood was run by a series of temporary managers before Andrew Bosworth’s appointment as unit manager in 1995.[13] He considered the management culture at Beechwood prior to his arrival had been one of “autocracy and intimidation” and that there had been “avoidance of issues”.[14]

60. The Inquiry has not seen evidence of any internal inspection of Beechwood during the 1980s by the County’s children’s social care service.

61. Annual reports into each children’s home were required throughout England and Wales from 1991 onwards and within the County these were conducted by the Service Standards Unit (SSU) from 1994.[15] Although we have no SSU reports into Beechwood whilst it was run by the County, it appears that inspections were carried out.[16]

62. Also from 1991, monthly Regulation 22 inspection reports were required to be carried out by children’s social care staff and reported to councillors.[17] However, as Professor Berridge noted, “local authorities were left to their own devices about what happened to these reports, how effective were they and whether they were followed-up.[18]Reports on Beechwood from the early to mid-1990s regularly assessed standards of management and care as high,[19] despite poor physical conditions[20] severe staff shortages,[21] and the criticisms from the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI)[22] and media reports. Many of the positive Regulation 22 reports were prepared by County Service Manager Paul Bohan, who had direct responsibility for the management of Beechwood.

63. Children’s social care internal policy on Regulation 22 visits was revised in 1996, from that point requiring that any allegation of abuse made during the inspection be specifically recorded, and that inspection visits had to be unannounced and conducted by someone without line management responsibility for the home.[23] By mid-1996, inspection reports began to refer to some of the difficulties facing Beechwood. One noted that whilst “great strides have been made in improving the systems and infrastructure in managing the Unit … attention needs to be given to raising the quality of child care”. [24] Another, in 1997, referred to children sharing three beds to a room “putting them at risk”, staff standing guard “to enable a female resident to be safe whilst using the shower”, and “chronic” staff shortages with the unit depending mainly on temporary staff.[25]

64. Reports also recorded the continued high numbers of children absconding each month.[26] A 1997 report recorded 73 incidents of children missing in one month, but said “The Managers within the Unit and staff work closely with the local Police Officer … and all young people are rated as to their risk of vulnerability.[27]

65. From 1981 to 1998 only four reports of councillors’ rota visits are available in relation to Beechwood, all of which date between 1996 and 1998.[28] No issues were identified in three of the reports.[29] A January 1998 report noted that there was “a serious problem with safety of staff” as well as with the safety of “inmates” (referring to residents).[30]

66. We have seen no evidence of the SSI, or any other external agency, carrying out an inspection into Beechwood between 1967 and 1998.[31]

Issues

Absconding

67. In late 1985 and early 1986, Beechwood attracted local and national media interest. There were reports of 400 incidents of absconding in 1985 (including 70 girls who had “fled” the home more than once in a year),[32] a girl’s death following a fall from a window at the home[33] and a trial during which it emerged that girls at Beechwood had been working in a “sex club”. [34]

68. This brought Beechwood to the attention of the County’s Social Services Committee. Committee Chair Joan Taylor, while recognising there was a problem with absconding and the risk of sexual exploitation, suggested that “Often girls sent to us come with a history of being involved in prostitution.[35]

69. Jim Fenwick did not examine the underlying reasons for absconding,[36] whilst Ken Rigby told us that girls “absconded for all sorts of reasons”.[37] For Ken Rigby, some children at Beechwood were “very devious in all sorts of things. Absconding was just but one of them.[38]

70. In March 1989, a national newspaper published an account of underage sex and drugs at Beechwood. David White reported to the Social Services Committee in April 1989 that the suggestion that there was “extensive sexual activity amongst couples and groups of young people” had been “grossly exaggerated”.[39] Although a 14-year-old girl had had sex with a number of boys on different occasions, White emphasised that “At no time did this take part against her will”. White’s report was seen as a vindication of the staff: “we were all quite delighted to receive the inquiry report and your letter that both contained a consistent underlying theme of exoneration”.[40] David White told us that he was “ashamed by this report … in terms of the way that we, as an organisation, reported this matter … and sought to justify what we found.[41] The focus of the report was on the difficulties faced by the staff rather than on the vulnerability of the children.

71. Concerns arose again in June 1994 following the death of a Beechwood resident after he absconded and crashed a car.[42] The SSI criticised the high level of absconding at Beechwood, and one SSI official noted “there could be a case for saying that Nottingham had failed to protect the welfare of the children in their care”.[43] Later that year an SSI official commented that “It is now 4 months since [the child] was killed and it seems to me that nothing has been done during this period to protect the well-being of the other young people who are being looked after by Nottingham.[44]

Culture

72. Several complainants described physical abuse and a culture of violence at Beechwood in the 1980s and 1990s.[45] For example, N1[46] and other complainants[47] say they were made to fight one another, although Ken Rigby and Mark Cope told us that staff organised boxing matches and no child was forced to fight.[48] Some said that this culture prevented them from reporting sexual abuse either because they were scared of the repercussions[49] or because they were not believed when they reported physical abuse so did not think they would be believed about sexual abuse.[50] D33 described staff as “very cruel”, while D34 described physical abuse as “normal”. L22 described physical abuse from staff and other residents, and said she “told the nice staff about the beatings and what was happening, but they didn’t seem to care”.[51]

73. Concerns around the physically abusive environment at Beechwood were also raised by residents at the time. In 1987, a number of children complained to a member of the public about physical abuse at Beechwood and this came to the attention of children’s social care. Jim Fenwick “completely” denied that staff had been taking “children or young people into the office and slapping and knocking them around without witnesses” and emphasised “that this behaviour would be totally unacceptable … and does not happen”. [52] In correspondence with children’s social care, Jim Fenwick defended his staff’s use of “the necessary amount of force to restrain” one resident, whilst recognising that one member of staff had dealt with another resident “in a manner that was not entirely necessary”. He claimed staff had “little or no preparation or training for dealing with situations that become physical”.[53] Within children’s social care, it was noted that “residential staff are constantly vulnerable given the numbers of confrontations which take place in any working day. We are of course placed in the position of requiring appropriately to investigate any allegations made … Mr Fenwick is quite understanding of the fact that we need to fully investigate incidents that are alleged”. [54]

74. There are also recorded examples of allegations against staff of physical abuse. In 1993, NO-F3, a care worker at Beechwood, was suspended following allegations of physical assault of a resident.[55] He was charged but a prosecution was dropped in March 1994, and NO-F3 returned to work three months later.[56] In September 1995, two residents made complaints of physical abuse by staff. One said that he was physically assaulted by NO-F1, who held a senior position. Another complained that a member of staff had held his face and dragged him into the office.[57] It is not clear how these incidents were dealt with, if at all.

75. Andrew Bosworth became Unit Manager in 1995. He found that there were no restraint or incidents books kept at Beechwood, and no systems on restraint “evident in the unit at all”.[58] He was particularly concerned about the attitudes of staff, in particular one individual who had a conviction for grievous bodily harm and who had apparently declared “We sort people out at Beechwood”. These issues should have been picked up sooner by senior staff members and social care management.

76. Former staff denied a culture of physical violence at Beechwood. Ken Rigby said he had never had to reprimand a member of staff for their misuse of physical restraint or contact with residents in 18 years[59] and said it was children who were violent to staff and between themselves.[60] Jim Fenwick told us he never saw a member of staff being physically abusive to a child, although he remembered dealing with a complaint about a member of staff who had threatened to hit a resident with a billiard cue.[61] For Mark Cope, the environment at Beechwood was hostile but not violent, and he recalled the home being far more relaxed in the 1980s than previously.[62]

77. However, as part of a 2011 review looking at allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Beechwood in the late 1980s, the NSPCC concluded:

It is … clear from the file material that Beechwood, and particularly The Lindens, was an environment where violence, bullying and fear were common features and recording suggests that such behaviour was expected … The Lindens would certainly appear to have been an environment within which an abusing adult would be able to abuse young people successfully.[63]

Reports of and responses to allegations of sexual abuse

78. Police records include more than 65 allegations of sexual abuse against staff at Beechwood between 1981 and 1998.[64] Jim Fenwick told us that he was “absolutely shocked” at the number of allegations during his time in charge and had “no idea” how they could have taken place. He said that he should have known what was happening in relation to “the abuse of children”.[65] This was a serious management failure that left children unprotected.

79. L27 said he reported being sexually abused to the police but:

was told to stop lying, and that I was making it up. They just didn’t seem interested at all. I don’t think they believed me, but I find it hard to believe that they didn’t know what was happening in the home.[66]

80. D4 was not able to disclose:

I didn’t think anyone could help me. No one had ever helped me before … Staff know you have no family and nobody cares about you and there is nobody to turn to. That’s why you are there in the first place. You’re vulnerable. You’ve got no family, so who’s going to care?” [67]

81. In 2005, NO-A93 alleged that NO-F7 sexually assaulted her in 1985. The allegations were investigated by the County under its disciplinary procedures as NO-F7 was working in education at the time of the allegations. However, the County decided that the allegations should not proceed to a disciplinary hearing against NO-F7.[68]

Andris Logins

82. Andris Logins, who worked in Redcot from 1980 to 1985, was convicted in 2016 of four counts of rape, 12 counts of indecent assault and one count of child cruelty in relation to four children at Beechwood from 1980 to 1984. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His lawyer said that Logins had been “suckered into a regime he became part of”.[69] Logins was struck off as a social worker in April 2017.[70]

83. In 1991, charges against Logins for indecent assault of residents at another children’s home, Sycamore House, were discontinued by the police. Children’s social care took no further internal action and he was reinstated in October 1991[71] without any assessment of whether he posed a risk to children.[72]

84. In 2011, NO-A155 made allegations of sexual abuse against a “Mr Logan”, but the police did not connect this to Andris Logins until 2015.[73] It was another former resident, NO-A61, who came forward in 2013 following press reports, who prompted a police investigation and others subsequently came forward.

85. Mark Cope remembered Logins being tactile with girls who would sit on his knee.

That was actually done in front of management and anybody else who was around. He didn’t hide what he was doing.

He did not report this behaviour as he felt there was no clear evidence of wrongdoing, but now realised that this could be described as grooming behaviour.[74] Ken Rigby admitted to us that a blind eye was “probably” turned towards the way Logins behaved, adding, “but I have got no knowledge of that”. He grudgingly accepted that in his management role he too was responsible for what happened to children.[75]

Other allegations

86. Although Andris Logins is the only conviction in relation to this period at Beechwood, eight former residents made allegations to Operation Daybreak of non-recent sexual abuse by NO-F1 and four former residents made allegations against NO-F2, in relation to their employment at Beechwood between 1987 and 2000 and 1985 and 2002 respectively.[76] Both are also the subject of a substantial number of allegations of physical abuse.

87. NO-F11 worked at Beechwood for 19 years and died in 2012. He was the subject of allegations of sexual abuse from four former residents relating to the 1980s and 1990s.[77] We are also aware of allegations of sexual abuse against other members of staff relating to this period, including NO-F4, NO-F3, NO-F287, NO-F33, NO-F14, NO-F8, NO-F363, NO-F6 and others who could not be identified by complainants.[78]

88. Despite the large number of allegations made to police and to this Inquiry in relation to this period, there are no records of allegations of sexual abuse made at the time. Several former residents say that they disclosed abuse at the time but were not believed.[79] P14 says she reported abuse to staff but was told that no one would believe her as she was regarded as a suicide risk. P12 says she reported to a member of staff at her next placement, but was told to “piss off to bed”. NO-A188 said she told a staff member who believed her but told her that if she said anything “you will make matters worse for yourself”.

89. Children continued to be exposed to physical and sexual abuse. There was a culture of violence and a lax attitude to absconding. Staff ignored the abuse of children by colleagues, whilst managers did not act to protect children. Senior managers clearly viewed Beechwood as a problem, in which the interests of staff were of greater concern than the protection of vulnerable children and young people.

References

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