'4,000 children abused' in new care scandal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police are investigating the alleged sexual and physical abuse of up to 4,000 vulnerable children who attended private and council-run schools and care homes in Devon.

Police are investigating the alleged sexual and physical abuse of up to 4,000 vulnerable children who attended private and council-run schools and care homes in Devon.

Detectives have questioned former pupils of at least eight institutions, asking them to come forward if they were abused. The investigation follows allegations of sexual and physical abuse made againstteachers and other staff, covering more than 30 years.

The inquiries by Devon and Cornwall police have been codenamed Operation Lentisk and could eclipse the North Wales scandal, in which 650 children were allegedly abused at care homes over 16 years.

More than 60 pupils at one former Devon school are taking a civil action against local authorities and the Home Office for placing them at risk. The ex-pupils, some of whom are now in their fifties, have made a series of "serious allegations" against members of staff.

Devon solicitor Penny Ayles, who is representing some of the victims, said: "It was a complete failure of the system. The local authorities failed the boys in their inspections, in their employment of people and in making sure that the school was properly run."

Operation Lentisk stemmed from allegations made over a year ago and has mushroomed in recent weeks to include thousands more former pupils of community schools, private care homes and approved schools in the region.

Letters and detailed questionnaires were sent earlier this month to former pupils of Pitt House school, Stokeslake School, and Ingsdon House in south Devon, institutions which took children as young as five.

Former pupils, many of whom were referred to the schools by their local education authorities, have been asked to complete forms explaining if they were subjected to, or witnessed, physical or sexual abuse while at school.

In a covering letter, Detective Chief Inspector Tony Carney, head of the Operation Lentisk inquiry - which is based at Totnes police station - asked former pupils to contact officers in confidence. He wrote: "The Devon and Cornwall Constabulary are conducting an investigation into allegations of sexual and serious physical abuse at care homes and educational establishments in this and other force areas."

Several people have been arrested in relation to the inquiry "This is an extremely sensitive and complex investigation which still has a long way to go," a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said yesterday. "Letters have now gone out to these former pupils of these schools. This is a historic case which does not relate to anything in the last few years."

Pitt House school, which catered for 180 pupils with special needs, was closed in 1984. Nearby Stonelake held 120 pupils and was closed in 1981, while Ingsdon near Newton Abbott had 96 pupils and closed in 1978.

Operation Lentisk comes after the inquiry launched last August by Avon and Somerset police into allegations that up to 4,000 children in council care homes may have been abused.Last January, the Waterhouse report into the scandal of the North Wales children's homes made 72 recommendations to bring in sweeping changes to the way that such institutions were run.

Comments