Coventry & Warwickshire

Wisteria Lodge: West Midlands Police admits abuse inquiry failings

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Media caption"Sarah" lived at Wisteria Lodge in the 1980s

A police force has admitted it did not properly investigate a victim's account of sex abuse at children's homes.

It meant two alleged perpetrators died before they could be prosecuted.

West Midlands Police upheld a complaint made by the victim, who has asked to be called Sarah, and apologised. It said at least one would have been charged.

The victim said the abuse at homes in Coventry in the 1980s was "horrendous", but added she was encouraged by the change in police investigations.

More on this story and others from Coventry

Two care workers were jailed in February following a subsequent police investigation.

Alan Todd and Kenneth Owen, both 70, worked at Wisteria Lodge, which was run by Coventry City Council, during the 1980s.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Alan Todd, left, and Kenneth Owen were convicted of carrying out "grotesque" abuse on children in their care in the 1980s

Sarah, who described herself as having been a "challenging child", was a resident at Wisteria Lodge and was physically and mentally abused by the men.

She spent time at other homes in the city in the 1980s, and told BBC Coventry & Warwickshire she had been abused by two other care workers, both whom are now dead. She said one of the workers had raped her.

After breaking down in 1999 and confessing to her mother what had happened, Sarah went to police.

Image caption "Sarah" has waived her anonymity and talked about her experience

But after no action was taken, she went back in 2012 and lodged a second complaint.

The force has now upheld that complaint and admitted several flaws in its original investigation.

In a written report from its professional standards department to Sarah, who has shared it with the BBC, the force said it had been "poorly managed and poorly supervised". It said if named witnesses had been traced, the likelihood of a prosecution against one or both of the now-deceased suspects "may have been more positive".

Judgement 'cloudy'

The investigating officer failed to record all inquiries he made and there was a lack of oversight from his senior officers, the report said.

Sarah was not fully believed and the officer's judgement "appeared cloudy", the professional standards inquiry found.

As a result of her 2012 complaint, West Midlands Police reopened a criminal investigation into abuse at Wisteria Lodge, which led to other victims coming forward and the subsequent convictions of Todd and Owen.

Image caption Wisteria Lodge has since been demolished

"It was horrendous," Sarah said of the abuse. "I was 12 years old... [I thought], 'how are they getting away with this'? 'Why aren't other people stopping this'?"

Detectives are also now investigating several people who have worked in a professional capacity with children, including at residential children's homes managed by Coventry City Council.

West Midlands Police said this latest inquiry was being managed by specialist staff within a sexual offences team. The force said it would not comment further at this stage.

The council is starting its own internal inquiry and has asked the local safeguarding board to carry out a review.

'Righting those wrongs'

John Gregg, director of children's services, said he wanted to apologise to victims and reassure them things had changed.

"Given the severity of what's taken place, there's very little I can say that wouldn't sound hollow.

"I recognise the failings that have taken place and, as a council, we are committed to righting those wrongs."

Sarah said she wanted to praise police and the changes they had made to the way they investigate abuse claims.

"I think they have been open and transparent and they've looked at themselves."

Image caption Several people who had stayed at the home came forward to police and reported abuse

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