Shirley Oaks abuse: Calls for case of hanged boy to be reopened

By Nick Beake & Josephine McDermott
BBC News

media captionProbe into child's home death wanted

Former residents of a children's home in south London targeted by paedophiles have called for an investigation into a boy's death in 1977 to be reopened.

Three people have been convicted of child abuse at Shirley Oaks in Croydon that took place in the 1970s and 80s.

Survivors of abuse there believe Peter Davis, 15, found hanged there 38 years ago, may not have killed himself.

Lambeth Council has acknowledged "very serious historic failings" and apologised to those abused in its care.

Shirley Oaks, which closed in 1983, was an 80-acre site that included cottages where children in care were looked after by house mothers and fathers.

image captionPeter Davis was found hanged in 1977, two years after he was a witness in a rape trial

The site included a school, swimming pool, sick bay and playing fields.

Survivors of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, some of whom were taken into care as infants, have come forward with harrowing experiences.

But there is one specific matter about which they are demanding answers - the sudden death of 15-year-old Peter Davis in 1977.

image captionRaymond Stevenson says his friend's death felt "unresolved" at the time

He was found hanged in a toilet with a cord around his neck.

A coroner ruled it was "death by misadventure". There were signs of sexual activity.

Friends who grew up with him believe he had been targeted by paedophiles.

The BBC has learned Peter was a witness in a rape trial at the Old Bailey two years before he died.

Music producer Raymond Stevenson, who was physically abused at the children's home, and heads the Shirley Oaks Survivors' Association, said Peter's death seemed unresolved at the time.

"We weren't even invited to his funeral. We grew up with him as a brother," he said.

"And then at one moment he was taken away.

"There was no explanation and we never felt comfortable about it.

image captionThe police say they can only reopen the case if new witnesses are identified

"Right now, having looked through the history of Shirley Oaks and how many paedophiles were operating there, it's quite clear that something untoward took place which has been covered up for years."

When the BBC looked for court documents from the time, we found that in 2003 they had been made secret for 100 years.

Former senior detective Clive Driscoll said reopening the case would be a "great opportunity for detective work".

He said: "I thought that was an opportunity maybe to put that forward to one of our murder review groups and give the opportunity for maybe a fresh pair of eyes to look at that case."

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham, who has constituents who are Lambeth abuse survivors said: "The police should reopen the inquiry into Peter Davis' death.

"I understand there are certain rules and thresholds that apply to these things.

"But they [the police] themselves conceded the investigation that was originally carried out was of its time - that means it did not meet the standards that we would apply today.

"I don't think there is any reason why they shouldn't look into this again, and I think they owe it to the survivors' group to do so."

The Metropolitan Police said officers looked at available material relating to Peter's death in September 2014.

A statement said: "In the absence of further new witnesses or new lines of inquiry, the matter remains closed.

"If new witnesses are identified who are prepared to provide police with statements that challenge the recorded decision then an assessment of that material will be undertaken."

Lambeth Council said it was "supporting the Shirley Oaks Survivors' Association in their campaign to identify further victims and offering counselling to those who have not already received it but feel they would now benefit".

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