Abuse Scandal: Former resident tells of a stolen childhood

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Tobias Taitt believes his childhood taken from him. In children's homes from the age of three, he says that he suffered harsh regimes that no child should have to endure. His tale is not the worst of the abuse cases to emerge in recent years. He was not raped or repeatedly sexually abused.

But the story he told as he met solicitors and social services yesterday, reveals how physical abuse, too, can wreck lives.

Mr Taitt, now 30, blames the "draconian punishments" at his children's home for the fact he ran away at 14, notched up his first crimes - burgling newsagents - while spending two weeks on the run, and began a spiral of decline which landed him addicted to crack cocaine and in jail for assaulting a policeman by the age of 19.

Although unhappy in previous homes, the main problem began when he was sent to a residential special school aged about 13. It was, he claims, run by former Army and Navy men who brought the tough forces regime to the children's home.

"They would have you scrubbing floors. If you talked at night, you had to do bed pack [folding all your bedding up] and stand with it, or go out and run around the field," Mr Taitt claims.

The worst punishment was being held in solitary confinement, first for a week, then for 10 days and finally for three weeks. "Can you imagine what that did to a child of 13/14? I was just in a state. Nobody was allowed to talk to me." He claims he begged his social worker to take him away, but was told there were no other places available. "I think it was criminal," he says.

Now a convert to Islam, married and with two young children, Mr Taitt, of west London, wants to make something of his life. "I have certain responsibilities to rehabilitate myself. But someone needs to hold their hands up and acknowledge what happened," he says. "I feel as if they have ruined my life. The reality is I've got no qualifications and the only job I can do is something like carrying bricks. It's not the work for a man with a brain in his head."

About five years ago, he re-visited his old home and saw surviving members of staff who told him how it had changed. They told, too, what had happened to his fellow pupils - in jail for murder, manslaughter and drug-running. "It was tragedy after tragedy after tragedy," Mr Taitt says. "Nobody came out of that place any good. It was a hell-hole."