Brothers 'beaten and humiliated': One of the young men who is suing a local authority, alleging physical abuse while in care, describes his experiences. Tim Kelsey reports

WHEN Reno Grech was two-and-a-half, he and his three younger brothers were taken into care. Their mother had deserted them; their father was unable to cope, and he asked for them to be taken from him. Reno, who is now 27, says he suffered such misery in care that he has been left with a severe personality disorder.

When Reno was six, the brothers were moved to a foster home with professional foster parents, who often had 10 children living in the house. The first year, Reno remembers, was not too bad. But he and one of his brothers were bed- wetters, and for this, they claim, they were subjected to constant humiliation. 'We were given punishments, you see. One consisted of wearing girl's clothes, having to stand on a chair with lipstick on, and having to bash pan lids together like cymbals. We would have to say: 'I wet the bed] I wet the bed]' over and over.' Reno was called 'Urinal stink' by his foster father. 'It sounds childish, but I've always remembered that.'

The brothers allege that they were often deprived of their evening meals, and made to have cold baths because they were told this would save on heating. 'We were made to wear nappies, even when we were nine. Once the foster father told me to go to school with the nappy on - and I was half way there when he called me back.' They were frequently beaten with a shoehorn, which the foster father called a 'policeman's cracker'. The foster father also allegedly wrung urine out of Reno's bed sheets onto the boy's face.

They ran away from the home on several occasions. Once they were not found for three days. 'We were in an adventure playground and lit fires and survived on fish and chips by begging for a few pence. To keep warm we found an old car. The windows were smashed. We bricked up the car and then we were all cuddled up.'

Once they had been returned to the home, the foster mother then allegedly took off her stiletto heeled shoes and beat Reno on the head. He was taken to hospital, where he required stitches. He claims that he was told to say nothing to the doctor. He remained a bed-wetter until he was 17.

Sometimes, he says, he was made to put his head down the lavatory bowl after school and forced to say 'I must learn to use you' for up to two hours at a time. During the winter holidays, the children were told to leave the house all day. Reno lost his big toe nail because he suffered from minor frostbite after being left out in the snow on one such day.

Reno says he repeatedly complained to his social worker about his treatment, and documents in the possession of the Independent confirm that he did so. The social services, to whom the complaints were referred, either ignored or dismissed them. In 1980, shortly after Reno had been taken out of the home and placed in a special school, a social work case report noted: 'Visited Reno. He is still making accusations about events there (at the foster home), including one that he had his head put down the toilet, was forced to wear nappies, and also was hit with a shoe horn. I am not sure to what extent these allegations were taken up at the time, but I feel that they should be at least investigated if they have not been . . . He then went on to describe incidents which to my mind indicated adult involvement.'

The social worker went on, in a report the following year: 'Remain concerned about the (home) functioning. I do not feel that the (foster parents) have a sufficient understanding of the problems of the adolescent child.'

Senior social workers dismissed the allegations as lies, and they were not investigated. They attributed them to the intervention of the brothers' father, who occasionally came to see them at the home. Reno denies that his father encouraged them to make up any of the stories: 'My father is Maltese and can't read and write English very good. He has no chance against the DSS.'

Reno's brothers remained in the home after he had left. The last to leave did so in 1987, just before it closed. Only two of the three have joined him in his action. The fourth and youngest boy has said that he wants to 'let it go'.

After leaving the home, Reno was dogged with a fear of authority figures and the perception that everbody believed he was a liar. The remaining years he spent in care were, he says, fine, and he suffered no further abuse. But by the time he was returned to the community, aged 18, he was a very confused, unstable young adult.

His life after that was spent in odd jobs, and on the dole. He tried to kill himself - although he says he was not making a serious attempt - and briefly took heroin, but contracted hepatitis and stopped. He turned to petty crime - small incidents of deception and the theft of a car. He was put on probation, but breached his probation by setting fire to his girlfriend's flat. In 1989, he was given 18 months for arson which he served in Brixton prison.

This was something of a blessing. For the first time, he was examined by a psychiatrist who diagnosed a serious personality defect; this was the first time he had been made aware that there was something wrong with him.

Once he had been released, he determined to do something about it. He sought legal advice, and has since been both an in-patient and out-patient in special psychiatric facilities. The most recent report concludes that he would not have been able to consider legal action against Manchester City Council sooner - within the statutory limitation period of three years - because he was not capable of doing so. Proceedings for compensation are allowed if a plaintiff's mental health precludes action before the end of the limitation period.

The action of the Grech brothers, if successful, is likely to prompt a host of similar claims from others who still suffer the after-effects of their abuse while in care, but are too old, under current rules, to do anything about it. Mr Grech was encouraged by the prosecution of Frank Beck, the Leicestershire social worker who systematically abused children under his 'pin-down' regime of punishments, including extended solitary confinement. 'After pin-down, I feel that I will now be believed,' said Mr Grech. 'That's very important to me.'

In the mid-1980s, the foster home was closed, when Manchester Council restructured its approach to children in care. It refused to say yesterday whether there had ever been an investigation into the complaints, but said that it was waiting for a detailed statement of claim from Mr Grech and his brothers. 'We have acted properly in this matter,' a spokesman for Manchester said.

(Photograph omitted)