Coventry City Council’s Safeguarding Children Board has launched an inquiry to review its response to incidents of child abuse which occurred at the former children’s home Wisteria Lodge.
The announcement follows the conviction in February 2016 of Alan Todd and Kenneth Owen, two former child care workers at Wisteria Lodge, for multiple counts of child cruelty and assaults against children in the 1980s.
Wisteria Lodge was a residential unit in Earlsdon, Coventry, which primarily provided placements for children over the age of twelve who had been received into care, and was also used for the temporary management of children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.
During the recent criminal trial at Warwick Crown Court, the jury heard testimonies from former residents describing a wide range of abuse at the hands of staff members. This included bullying and psychological abuse as well as physical and sexual assaults.
Sentencing Todd for eight years and two months, and Owen for four years and four months, Judge Alan Parker condemned the abuse as ‘regime of terror’ which went ‘far beyond the depths of wickedness and depravity’.
Coventry City Council have since offered an apology to the survivors from Wisteria Lodge, and affirmed that it now has to safeguards in place to “make it a priority for the voice of the child or young person to be heard”.
Questions are now being asked about how Todd and Owen were able to operate at the Children’s Home for so long without scrutiny from Coventry City Council. This has been echoed by Judge Alan Parker, who concluded that other staff ‘knew full-well the extent and nature of the mistreatment’ at the children’s home.
In a recent BBC interview, John Gregg, Director of Children’s Services at Coventry City Council stated that he was ‘confident’ that times have changed since the abuse at Wisteria Lodge occurred, recognising that ‘failings had taken place’.
Whilst the commitment to review the Council’s practice in relation to Wisteria Lodge has been widely welcomed by survivors, no details have as of yet been provided as to the nature and scope of the inquiry.
Alison Millar, Head of the Abuse team at Leigh Day, which represents a number of survivors of abuse at Wisteria Lodge, has urged Coventry City Council to ensure that the inquiry properly addresses the survivors’ concerns: “Whilst nothing can undo the widespread and targeted abuse which occurred at Wisteria Lodge, the council now has the opportunity to show its commitment to a full and transparent inquiry which provides the former residents of Wisteria Lodge with the answers they deserve”.
West Midlands Police have confirmed that they are continuing to investigate concerns that Todd and Kent worked at other care homes in the Coventry area during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and have urged any witnesses to contact them on 101.