Shirley Oaks: ‘House fathers led abuse’ at children’s care home

Archive picture of the site
Image caption An archive picture shows Shirley Oaks children’s home – located in Croydon but run by Lambeth Council

Vulnerable children were routinely abused by men appointed “house fathers” at a south London care home, an inquiry has heard.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard children as young as two were assaulted.

Shirley Oaks had up to 350 children under the age of 17 living there until its closure in 1983.

Barristers representing victims accused Lambeth Council of knowing about the abuse, but doing nothing.

The inquiry hearing, which is due to last four weeks, will investigate whether there were child protection failures by public authorities.

‘Split eye’

On Wednesday, the panel heard evidence from three former residents of the home between the 1960s and the 1980s.

The first witness said she was thrown into a table so hard by the house father that it broke.

“I remember very clearly, and he threw me into the table and my eye split,” she said.

The witness, who was two-and-a-half at the time, described being sexually abused by the house father.

She told the inquiry the man would get into bed with the young girls claiming he was checking to see if they had wet themselves.

“It just felt that that’s what happened. It didn’t feel wrong because I didn’t know it was wrong,” she said.

A second witness said he was raped by a house father after being sent to the home at the age of nine following his mother’s suicide.

“I’d wake up at night and [the house father] would be in my bed – telling me it was winter, and he was just keeping me warm.

“At nine years old, I suppose you just accept it and don’t think about it.”

The third witness described suffering months of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of other children.

He claimed adults in the home did nothing to prevent it and failed to step in when he was raped in a playground.

The witness said he believed one of the male staff members was encouraging the abuse.

The inquiry continues.