A man who was physically abused and helped expose a “paedophile ring” at a former children’s home run by Tower Hamlets Council has called on them to issue him a personal apology.
Paul Connolly, 56, who now lives in Essex, lived at St Leonards Children’s Home in Hornchurch for 12 years with about 300 other students; he suffered physical abuse and was witness to countless sexual abuse on others during his time there, as detailed in a public inquiry.
Connolly was taken into care in Tower Hamlets when he was abandoned in the street at just two weeks old. At the age of eight he was sent to St Leonards, which was run by the Council.
Tower Hamlets Council has issued a public apology read out by Richard Baldwin, current Divisional Director in children’s services to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Baldwin said: “I would like to start by offering my sympathy to all of those children who suffered abuse, either sexual or physical, at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for and for protecting them. I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the borough to all of the survivors and thank them for their courage in coming forward to seek justice for themselves and for all of those whose lives were impacted by these terrible events. Thank you.”
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council also said that they will be sending a letter directly to Connolly, via his solicitor, in the coming days.
However, Connolly said that this response is “too little too late”. Connolly told EastLondonLines that what is needed is “proper compensation to the families of the children who didn’t even make it to adulthood.”
He said: “This apology has put them in a position where they have been forced to make an apology, but they don’t want to make an apology. It’s a box ticking exercise. This is just the establishment making themselves feel better.”
The home closed in 1984, but the repercussions for what had happened there lasted long after that. Six of the eight boys who lived in Connolly’s dormitory have died from either drug overdoses or suicides.
Connolly told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that the second night he arrived at St Leonards someone tried to take him from his bed. The school’s superintendent, Alan Prescott, would come back from the pub late at night with friends intending to assault the young boys.
It was only 15 years after St Leonards’ closure that the first two abusers were held to account for their crimes.
Prescott, now 79, was sentenced to two years in prison at the Old Bailey in 2001 after admitting to indecent assault on four boys in his care between 1970 and 1980. Prescott was previously an assistant director of social services and later a Labour Councillor for Tower Hamlets.
Along with Prescott was William Starling, now 91, a house parent at St Leonards, who was sentenced to 14 years at the Old Bailey in 2001 for 19 offenses including two rapes and indecent assault on 10 girls and one boy as young as five over a 20-year period. Paul Litchfield, 65, a former carer at the home, was sentenced to 11 months just last year at Snaresbrook Crown Court after an unnamed female victim contacted police.
Connolly condemned the council for allowing these men to look after children. He said: “They had a duty of care towards me and my friends, who were like brothers to me, and they failed miserably in their duty of care.”
Connolly was a part of a class action suit against Tower Hamlets Council in the late 1990s. He was ultimately awarded £16,000 by the council but he believes the amount was insufficient. He said: “That’s all my life was worth. There was no apology, no physical support. Nothing. I woke up screaming at night.”
An inquiry into the abuse at St. Leonards Children’s home was published in 2016 by The Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse (IICSA). However, the inquiry came over 30 years after Connolly had left the institution he entered at the age of eight. He believed it came far too late.
At the public inquiry, he said: “With these convictions, there’s simply no justification for the failure of London Borough of Tower Hamlets to hold themselves publicly accountable for what went on and for what we all went through.”
Connolly is now producing a documentary called Six from Eight that will be about his life and the lives of the six boys who died through suicide or drug overdose after living at St Leonards. The film is now in post-production and will be out soon.