Council `turned blind eye to abuse claims'

Former residents of children's home seek damages over alleged brutality . Tim Kelsey reports
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A council in south London has been accused of ignoring allegations of brutality in one of its children's homes for more than 10 years. Four former residents who are seeking compensation from Greenwich council for their treatment while in care all ege they were physically and sexually assaulted by a member of staff who was not even qualified to be a care worker.

The Greenwich legal actions are the latest in a number of test cases seeking to challenge the fact that local authorities, unlike hospitals or schools, are immune from prosecution over negligence in child care. Later this year, the House of Lords is expected to rule whether or not this immunity should remain.

The Greenwich cases are also testing the present statutory restriction on seeking compensation for events that happened more than three years ago. If the restriction is lifted, lawyers predict a flood of similar claims against local authorities across the country.

Two of the Greenwich claim-ants have been granted legal aid, despite the legal uncertainty, and have already issued writs against the council. The other two individuals are preparing to take legal action. In each case, the council faces compensation claims in excess of £50,000.

The individuals in Greenwich allege that children in council care were routinely assaulted, buggered, humiliated, and terrorised. Senior council officers were said to have turned a blind eye. The local authority announced last year that it was to undertake an investigation into the home - five years after it closed, and nearly 10 since social services were allegedly first made aware of the claims. A spokeswoman admitted last week, however, that the council had yet to begin the inquiry.

The council confirmed that several former members of staff at the home were still working for the authority, but a spokeswoman said the council was only aware of allegations against the former head of the home, Harry Rodden, who committed suicide last year after police launched a criminal inquiry.

One of the alleged victims is a 29-year-old man, who was taken into care with his brother and sister when about six years old. His sister has also issued legal proceedings. Both have requested anonymity.

When he was seven, he was sent to a children's home at Gavestone Road. This home had accommodation for up to 15 children. Mr Rodden was deputy head when the children first arrived. He would routinely beat the residents. On one occasion he called several children into his office: "He went down the line asking us all what we thought we were doing. The last one was B ... Harry hit B in the stomach but B stayed standing. Then he came back and hit me in the stomach and I fell on the floor ... B still didn't go down so Harry kicked him in the nuts." This allegation is repeated by a number of other witnesses. Later, Mr Rodden allegedly forced the boy's head into a basin full of excrement.

The man also alleges serious sexual assault: "Harry used to come and knock on the door and pretend to walk away. He could be very quiet. Then when you opened the door he would be there. After a while I got wise to this and I wouldn't open the door. Harrythen just punched the door open ... he tried to French kiss me ... he put his hand over my mouth and pulled back the bedclothes ... it was very painful and I was bleeding ... he hit me and told me to go and wash." The boy was nine or ten years old at the time.

There were other instances of rape, including an attempt while the children were on a caravan holiday. Other former residents - girls as well as boys - have claimed sexual as well as physical abuse. They allege that most of the staff were aware of Mr Rodden's alleged abuse.

Mr Rodden, it has emerged, was a welder when he joined the care home. In 1985, he left Greenwich - with references - and found work with another local authority. It has been alleged that Greenwich knew of the allegations at the time, and forced his departure from the authority but did not pass on the information to his new employers or initiate any kind of inquiry.