Children in care 'were whipped and tortured': Woman sues council over 'treatment that drove her to drugs and prostitution'

THE LONDON Borough of Camden allegedly administered a brutal regime of physical and sexual abuse, involving the use of torture, in its children's homes, according to a former prostitute who is seeking compensation for her treatment. Mychaela Cook, 28, claims that staff in one of the homes she lived in during the 1970s and 1980s often held the hands of naughty children over a gas fire, and whipped the young residents with a belt. There was sex abuse, and many of the children were on drugs and involved, as she was, in regular prostitution.

She is seeking damages for the way she was treated while in care and for loss of earnings from the age of 17 until retirement at 65 on the grounds that she is unemployable as the result of her experiences.

The Legal Aid Board, which is funding the action, has accepted that there is a case to be made, even though it falls outside the normal time limit. It is understood that psychiatrists believe her history of nervous illness is attributable, at least partly, to her alleged experiences as a child in Camden. Camden council said last week: 'The truth or otherwise of these allegations will be tested in the court. The case is now in the hands of our solicitors.'

There are understood to be several other people considering legal actions against Camden council in the wake of the case by Ms Cook. Some did not leave care until as late as 1990. Ms Cook left in 1985.

Ms Cook, who now lives on disability benefit because of nervous illness, was three years old when she was put into care. Her mother had left the family home and her father, a gas fitter's mate, was left to bring up four children, all under the age of four. He could not cope and called in the social services. 'I remember that day,' Ms Cook said. 'The social worker was putting us in a taxi. My dad was running up with toys saying 'I'm sorry'. Then we were taken to a big building.' Her father died two years ago, but she kept in touch with him while she was in care.

Until 1977, she lived in a home in St John's Wood, which has since been closed. Her writ alleges that the regime was 'brutal and aggressive'. Physical punishment included smacking, often said to be severe, and kicking. Some staff are alleged to have burnt children's hands over a gas fire, forced them to take cold baths, to stand on their heads before going to bed, and made them sleep with their heads at the bottom of their bed under the sheets. One man is claimed to have regularly whipped children with a belt, and to have abused Ms Cook and masturbated in her presence.

She also says she was sent to a special school in Camden for sub- normal children, despite the fact that she was not sub-normal.

She was later sent, with her two brothers, to live with foster parents in the borough. She became close to her foster mother, but her foster father, 70, abused her. 'He was nice for the first few months, but he was an old bloke. He kept coming to my room when I was getting undressed or when I was in the bath making some excuse. I was about 13.'

Eventually she walked out and was taken to another home where she claims the regime was as brutal as the first.

She claims she was subjected to a form of punishment similar to the 'pin-down' method which came to public attention following a report into children's homes in Staffordshire three years ago. Like the Staffordshire children, she says she was kept in solitary confinement and forced to wear the same clothes for days on end.

After this period, Ms Cook became a drug addict and can remember little. She lived in several homes, was placed with foster parents again, but habitually ran away. She was also working as a prostitute while in care. 'There were girls as young as 14 working on the streets. It was because we didn't get other attention. I was told I was uncontrollable but I just wanted someone to love me.'

She ended up staying in a hostel for young people in Camden, which was intended to prepare her for adult life. 'One girl in the house who was 17 was pregnant - and one girl was having affairs with members of staff,' she said.

She was not ready, when released, to live in a council bedsit and went to stay with her mother-in-law. She was 19 and married. 'I got married to get out of care,' she says. She was married for seven years and had two children but is now divorced. The council is currently threatening to take her children into care, according to the writ.

She has been told that she now suffers a permanent psychotic disorder, with symptoms including fear of open spaces and depression. She has weaned herself off drugs, and no longer works as a prostitute, but she is addicted to alcohol: 'I drink to forget what has happened.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Wind Energy Due Diligence Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Wind Project Engineer

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Proposals Engineer

£50000 - £55000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices