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Girls drugged and abused at Church of England children's home, says report

Published 13/07/2016

An independent review has highlighted abuse at Kendall House in Gravesend, Kent
An independent review has highlighted abuse at Kendall House in Gravesend, Kent

Vulnerable girls at a "toxic and destructive" Church of England children's home were drugged and sexually and physically abused over nearly 20 years, a report has revealed.

Revelations of sexual abuse, ill-treatment and physical abuse at Kendall House in Gravesend, Kent, between 1967 and 1986 were outlined in an independent review.

It disclosed how girls as young as 11 were routinely, and often without medical assessment, given powerful anti-depressants, sedatives and anti-psychotic drugs.

Those that resisted, challenged or overcame the drugs' effects faced sanctions, including being locked alone in a room for days on end or emotionally abused.

Others told how they were raped after being imprisoned in an isolation room and locked in alone overnight. And for some, the trauma of living at Kendall House lasts to this day, the review said.

The review said: "The findings are harrowing. They reveal an institution which had weak governance and oversight, a place where control, containment and sometimes cruelty were normalised.

"A place where vulnerable girls, many previously and repeatedly let down by their parents, social services and other agencies, were caught in a regime that in many ways sought to rob them of their individuality, of hope, and in some cases of their liberty."

It added: "The evidence we have heard and read during this review tells of a place which was, on the whole, toxic and constructive to the girls placed there."

Drugs were administered in dosages which exceeded usual prescribed adult levels to control girls' behaviour, placing them in a constant stupor, and restricting their ability to communicate or learn, it added.

Launched last year by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev James Langstaff, the review found the effects of the abuse have led to many "broken lives".

The report named consultant psychiatrist Dr Perinpanayagam, who was a medical advisor to Kendall House, as a key adviser on drug treatment for residents. He retired in 1983 and died in 1988.

The 137-page report also revealed how:

:: Every resident placed at Kendall House was "vulnerable to the risk" of emotional, physical or sexual abuse by staff, other residents or third parties;

:: Every former resident spoken to by the review team had suffered abuse;

:: Some girls were placed in straitjackets, and

:: Some former residents went on to attempt suicide;

Claims had been made before the review that some former residents who had been drugged went on to have babies with birth defects.

But review panel member Ray Galloway said: "Birth defects were not a significant element of what was mentioned by the ladies in interview."

Although around 20 legal claims brought by ex-residents have been made, none have been brought relating to birth defects, Mr Langstaff said.

The review said residents were frequently sedated to an extent where they could not walk, speak or have control over their normal daily activities.

None of the perpetrators of the abuse are still alive. The review also noted that the home operated under a "regimented, rigid culture, where docile conformity was demanded".

Girls were supervised by a largely unqualified workforce led by a "dominant and authoritarian" figure, Doris Law, who is now dead.

The review recommends the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury make payments to all ex-residents who took part in the review.

Opened in the 1920s, Kendall House was a home for vulnerable girls aged from 11 to 16 who were mainly placed there by their local authority. It closed in 1986.

Since 2006, pressure has mounted on the Church to examine the slew of claims of abuse and mistreatment from former residents of the now-defunct home.

Then last year Mr Langstaff set up the review, chaired by Professor Sue Proctor, who led the inquiry into Jimmy Savile's reign of abuse at Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

Prof Proctor described the Church's initial response to allegations about Kendall House as "woeful" and inadequate". And she said the administration of powerful drugs appeared to have an "experimental approach".

She described the commissioning of the review as overdue. And she said that for the vulnerable girls, Kendall House was a "frightening, violent and unpredictable" place.

Mr Langstaff said the diocese "apologised unreservedly" for the suffering caused.

David Greenwood, a solicitor who has represented 15 Kendall House survivors, said: "Many of the ladies I have represented have suffered poor quality lives as a result of this treatment.

"Many have been sexually assaulted and most were physically abused. It was only when the Home Office inspectors advised the church to alter the way they deal with drugs that this treatment was brought to an end."

The Bishop of Dover and Canterbury, the Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, said the Church would act on the report's recommendations speedily.

He said: "It is clear that we in the Church failed in our oversight and that abusive practices were permitted to prevail at Kendall House for many years.

"We know that words cannot undo the failings of the past, but I would like to echo both Bishop James's apology to former residents of Kendall House and his thanks to them for their courage in contributing to this report."

In a statement, Bishop Paul Butler, lead bishop on safeguarding for the Church of England, acknowledged the "harrowing regime" at Kendall House highlighted in the report.

He said: "The appalling standards of care and treatment should never have been allowed and, on behalf of the national Church, I apologise unreservedly to all the former residents whose lives were and continue to be affected by their damaging experiences at Kendall House."

He said the report will be shared across the whole Church, adding: "There are serious lessons to be learnt from this review both at diocesan and national level to ensure that this never happens again."

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