Staff Members Speaks of Abuse at Gravesend Children's Home
By Tom Acres
November 6, 2017
New details have emerged of the horrific abuse inflicted upon young girls at a Church of England children’s home during a callous regime lasting more than three decades.
Dozens of harrowing accounts from Kendall House in Gravesend were told in an independent review published last year and in a follow-up report, which both featured stories of how girls as young as nine were injected with drugs, kept in straitjackets and raped.
Most reports were based on interviews with women kept at the home in Pelham Road as children and teenagers, but now a former member of staff has spoken openly.
In an exclusive interview with the Messenger, the 62-year-old man, who asked to be referred to as L Simpson, said recalling his time at Kendall House brought back “terrible memories” which made him “feel sick”.
He worked there during the summer of 1975, between years of study at Kingston University, where he was working on a sociology dissertation. He was offered work there through his flatmate, whose father was a vicar with connections to Kendall House.
Mr Simpson, who was 20, soon realised it was not the placement he was expecting.
“I started on the same day as another chap called Ron. He had very little experience, and I had only done some volunteering at a short stay unit in Putney over Christmas,” he said. “We were asked to wait in the garden and this young guy came up to me and said, ‘I would ask to leave here. What goes on here isn’t right’.”
Last year’s report named Doris Law as the home’s superintendent and its chief psychiatrist was Dr Perinpanayagam.
But Mr Simpson said in his experience another woman seemed to be in charge.
He said: “The first thing she said to me was, ‘I will ask you to do things and I will only ask once’, so it felt almost like a prison camp.
“She was a very large lady, very overbearing physically, and the way she spoke was like one of those army marshals you seen in movies. It frightened the life out of me.
“There was an oppressive atmosphere. It reminded me of Clockwork Orange. But the feeling I got was that the behaviour had become so normalised. Any sense of child care was nonexistent and the atmosphere was of secrecy.”
Mr Simpson’s job was mostly to keep the girls in line from moment-to-moment, and it was obvious there was something wrong.
It was a rare instance when they were not reeling from the effects of drugs, but it had become so routine that they thought nothing of it.
Mr Simpson and Ron saw some of the girls’ files and secretly took notes on what was being administered, but nobody would acknowledge their concerns.
“I sent a letter to the Guardian and heard nothing,” said Mr Simpson.
“I went down to the National Council for Civil Liberties in Euston and spoke to this chap. He sympathised but said he had nothing to go on as hand-written notes wouldn’t get very far in court.
“From what I’d heard other people had reported it to the police in Gravesend but they were doing nothing, so I didn’t see the point.”
Mr Simpson said the girls’ records showed they were being given drugs at every meal. He also saw one girl kept in a cell for almost 24 hours for trying to run away.
Mr Simpson stayed in another property nearby and recalled neighbours complaining about screams coming from the home.
“It’s really upsetting that we tried to do something and got nowhere,” said Mr Simpson.
“Until the report came out I had tried to bury it. It brings back terrible memories and makes me feel sick.
“Not enough people wanted to say anything at the time and it makes me so angry.”
Mr Simpson still has the notes he took secretly of drugs administered to girls, listed under “breakfast, tea and supper” and some poured into cups of tea.
He noted oxytetrin, a veterinary product used to treat infections, thioridazine, used to treat schizophrenia and psychosis, and dalmane, which is for insomnia.
“Some of the girls had pretty troubled backgrounds but I didn’t see any behaviour that suggested they were any different or outlandish," he added. “It’s an emotional time for young teenagers going through physical and emotional changes.
“Drugs are not the way to deal with these problems. These were young kids. It’s just awful.”
This year it also emerged that the priest overseeing Kent social services while Kendall House was open never reported staff to police.
In an interview recorded in 2006, and since uploaded to the British Library’s sound archive, the Rev Nicolas Stacey said that youngsters in care could be “incredibly manipulative” and make things up.
Mr Stacey was a director of social services from 1974 until 1985. Kendall House was shut down the following year.
Girls were injected with drugs, locked in an isolation room, kept in straitjackets, given electric shock treatment at a mental health hospital and raped.
Despite such crimes being reported by the children at the time, staff were told never to go to the police.
Dr Sue Proctor chaired the review into the home and described it as “the most troubling thing she had ever worked on”. She had previously chaired the investigation into disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile.
She tweeted that the interview was “appalling” and Mr Stacey had “failed” those at Kendall House.
A spokesman for Kent County Council said at the time the interview would be investigated.