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Shirley Oaks victims could be entitled to compensation

Lambeth Borough Council has recently admitted that countless children were physically and sexually abused at Shirley Oaks Children’s Home.  The Council intends to compensate the children, now all adults, although the terms of the scheme remain to be ironed out.

How has this state of affairs arisen?

The children's home at Shirley Oaks was opened in 1904 by the Bermondsey Board of Guardians.  It was designed as a beacon of progressiveness that would allow children to, “be brought up in a home environment rather than a large, regimented institution … living in small groups with house parents, on a site including school, workshops, administration block, infirmary in a self-contained community.”

With up to 400 children on site at any time, the home was a new way to deal with vulnerable and troubled children from boroughs all over London.

When the London Boroughs were formed in 1965, Lambeth took over Shirley Oaks.  It closed in 1983 and the site has since been developed into houses and flats. 

The residents who now live on the former grounds now call it Shirley Oaks Village.  It’s a large estate, with lots of new homes, woodland and flat, open fields. At first glance, nobody would guess it had a past, although there are hints of it on the plaques outside some of the bigger, older properties. Now divided into flats, they were once the heart of a community – and the names of these houses Birch, Aster, Ivy, The Lodge have become synonymous with cruelty, child abuse, incompetence and cover-up.  In short Shirley Oaks was infiltrated by paedophiles from the mid-1950s until its closure, and the abuse didn’t stop at Shirley Oaks. It wormed its way into all of Lambeth’s children’s homes, and continued until the early 1990s

Raymond Stevenson was a child in care at Shirley Oaks one of them.  His parents split up when he was two years old. He and his older brother stayed with their father, but it was too much for a working dad.  So the two of them were put into Shirley Oaks. It would be Stevenson’s home until he was 18.

Stevenson, now 53, and his long-term business partner, Lucia Hinton, put their business to one side and set about finding out as much as possible about Shirley Oaks, the people who ran it and the children who went through it.

So far almost 700 former residents of Shirley Oaks have approached him, and the support group he set up the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (“SOSA”) has taken testimony about abuse from 400 people.  SOSA has identified some 60 suspected paedophiles.  It transpires that more than 600 children had suffered abuse on an “industrial scale” according to evidence given to the Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) inquiry.

However, by way of a further twist the survivors of sexual abuse at the Croydon children’s home pulled out of the IICSA inquiry because they do not feel it is independent.  The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association said it had lost confidence in the Independent Inquiry into which has seen multiple resignations since it was set up two years ago.  The group announced it would now conduct its own investigation, describing the Home Office’s inquiry as a “stage-managed event”.

A distressing report detailing the abuse and poor care suffered by hundreds of children under Lambeth Council care when it ran children’s homes has now been released.

In December 2016 the Shirley Oaks Survivors Group released its own report which includes testimony by those who were abused over the decades during their time at the home which closed in the 1980s.  The SOSA investigation has shone further light on the suffering of those entrusted into the council’s care.  Lambeth has accepted that children were let down and has publicly apologised.

Lambeth Council are currently preparing a redress scheme which looks to compensate survivors of sexual, physical and psychological abuse in former Lambeth Children’s Homes dating back to the 1930s to the 1990’s.  The Scheme has not yet been finalised but it seems it is intended that survivors will be able to apply to the scheme without the need to instruct a solicitor, which Lambeth say will lead to substantial costs savings.  As to whether this will result in survivors receiving an appropriate award for their pain and suffering and financial losses remains to be seen. However, it must be a welcome step that Lambeth is seeking to right the wrongs for their past failings towards these children placed under their care.

Robsonshaw solicitors specialise in sexual abuse compensation claims and have successfully won substantial claims against local authorities for numerous children’s homes, including Bryn Estyn, Kendall House, 103 Gavestone Road and Taff Vale.  If you would like to speak to one of our solicitors on a confidential no obligation basis please contact us on 01392 345 333 or email enquiries@robsonshaw.uk.