Kesgrave Hall: what do I hope to achieve?
Last month I gave an interview to a journalist from the Ipswich Star, a local newspaper in Ipswich (which is near where my boarding school, Kesgrave Hall, was), over the phone to a journalist called Colin Adwent, who is the author of the above article. The same day, I spoke over the phone to a detective inspector from the Suffolk police force after being told by Josh Halliday of the Guardian, to whom I had spoken about my experiences there last November (this finally appeared in the paper on 14th December). The Ipswich Star piece gives more detail about what I personally experienced and witnessed, but Adwent asked me one question and my reply to that didn’t make it into the paper, which was: what do I hope to achieve by re-opening the inquiry?
One thing that will not be achieved is criminal charges against anyone; the Suffolk police DI told me that the offences I had described were common assault, which were at the lower end of criminality, could only be tried in a magistrates’ court and it had to be within six months. Some financial compensation would be welcome, but the school no longer exists, the company (Kesgrave Hall School Ltd) was wound up in 1997, and insurance company money would not mean much as it would not come from the people responsible, and it would be no skin off their nose if an insurance company they had paid premiums to years ago had to cough up some money. As for the local education authority (Croydon, in my case), this has already been tried and failed; an old pupil from another special school, Berrow Wood in Worcestershire, attempted to sue their LEAs and failed in 1999. This is wrong; there should be legislation passed such that LEAs have a responsibility to ensure the best interests of those in their care, especially those with special educational needs statements (SEN is always a local authority responsibility; it is not under the academy system).
What I want to come out of it is that lessons are learned so that things like this do not keep happening. I’m glad there are fewer schools like Kesgrave around now, and there is better inspection of those remaining. There are more specialised schools for EBD children and those with autistic spectrum disorders now, and ASDs are more readily diagnosed; it is recognised that the two groups should not mix. It was normal, until the 1970s, to send variously disabled children, including those who were deaf or blind, to boarding schools, often from age 4 right through to school leaving age. It took longer for such schools for children with problems which manifested in behavioural terms to close; a possible reason is that while you cannot blame a child for being blind, it is easier to blame them for what you regard as bad behaviour, even if it stems from a recognised disorder or disability. I want people to realise the damage these places do. As a country we simply have not been able to produce institutional care which is consistently without abuse, whatever the profile of the people receiving the care. This applies to chronically sick adults and elderly people as well as to children with special needs of whatever kind.It must be the responsibility of local schools to teach local children, unless their welfare, or those of other children, are at serious risk, and nobody with a purely educational need or disability who can live with their families should be separated from them.
I also want people to realise the value of rights, because any time people mention rights it excites groans from people who associate the concept with undeserving people trying to get money, and this has gone to such an extreme that repealing the Human Rights Act, which enshrines a set of human rights which is broader than the US Bill of Rights (although weaker in terms of guaranteeing purely political rights), has become a major demand of the British political Right. When the inquiry about abuse at Kesgrave was first opened in 1992, I heard people mutter that “it’s all this children’s rights sh**” and had earlier heard senior staff (particularly Eric Richardson) tell us we had no rights. To have no rights means people can treat you however they like, take your property and dump you like rubbish. Without rights, the majority of laws are entirely redundant. Rights, as explicitly enshrined in law, are usually claimed by those who are vulnerable, unpopular because of their status, people whose rights are inconvenient to someone else, or all three. We also commonly hear the slogan “there are no rights without responsibilities”, which is simply untrue: people often do have rights considerably in excess of their responsibilities, especially children.
The recent spate of interest in historical child abuse has mostly been the result of publicity following the revelations about Jimmy Savile, and we are in danger of focussing on personalities rather than the circumstances that allowed abuse to thrive. It thrived because people were sent away from society to live in closed communities, often in the countryside, often far from their families and friends, to get them out of the way, to save people a bit of extra stress or difficulty, and people looked the other way when they were being abused because to do something about it would have been inconvenient. I want people to know that when they moan about rights, or about integration or political correctness gone mad, they are griping about something that makes their life, or their paid job, a little bit more challenging, but which saves someone an unnecessary separation from their loved ones and their familiar surroundings, and from abuse. Unless we challenge these backsliding complainers, there will be more abuse.
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