Address: 1 and 3 Elwood Street, London N5 1EB
Open: 1966 – 1988 (and until 1994 as a Young Families Centre)
The whole area knew about Elwood St – the children mixed on the estate – we could see what was going on and could see the staff were dodgy.’ Islington Survivor
‘Treatment at Elwood St was rough ‘ Get your clothes on’. We had to be got out of the way at weekends and got sent to people on the estate. All the children were under 11 yrs.’ Islington Survivor
‘Elwood and Conewood children went to Devon camping on holiday together. There was a lot of abuse.’ Islington Survivor
‘Boy wet the bed he was hit with a belt. When he came with the belt we ran for our lives. Many times I was hit with the belt.’ Islington Survivor
‘A male worker was alcoholic. He was a child beater.’ Islington Survivor
1 and 3 Elwood Street were two separate houses. From 1976 when Bernie Bain became Superintendent. 1 Elwood Street was only accepting boys. The home was for younger children -mainly for those under 12 years. ISN have heard from 5 victims of abuse by Bain. 3 Elwood St was longer term accommodation. Survivor experiences of these two homes are very different. In 2010, 3 Elwood Street was converted into Islington Children’s Services. Because of his experiences in both 1 and 3 Elwood St, survivor, Bobby Martin, felt very strongly that 1 Elwood St had been consigned to history as the road numbers now begin at 3. He requested of the council many times that a plaque be placed on the new building stating that it was built on the site of 1 and 3 Elwood St children’s homes. ISN were promised that the plaque would be placed on the building but this has not happened.
Planning Committee proposal for change of buildings
PLANNING COMMITTEE (Majors) AGENDA ITEM NO: B2
Date: 8 July 2010
Site Address: 1 & 3 Elwood Street, 14 (Conewood Children’s Centre) & 14A
Conewood Street, Islington, London, N5
Proposal Replacement of existing buildings fronting Elwood Street with a
larger four storey office building, plus erection of a two storey
link building to existing two storey building fronting Conewood
Elwood Street children’s homes became Family Centre
Elwood St had already been the subject of major development in 1988 when the houses changed from children’s homes to a family centre.
Numbers of ISN survivors who lived at 1 and 3 Elwood Street children’s homes: 19 – 10 men and 9 women
1960s: 1 boy 1 girl
1970s: 6 boys 5 girls
1980s: 3 boys 3 girls
Numbers of children named as living at 1 and 3 Elwood Street children’s homes by ISN survivors and a former member of staff: 54
1960s: 2 boys 6 girls
1970s:9 boys 15 girls
1980s:8 boys 14 girls
Numbers of residential staff named as working at 1 and 3 Elwood Street children’s homes: 39
10 men and 29 women between 1966 and 1986
Life at 1 and 3 Elwood Street children’s homes
‘Bain had a frightening temper.’ Islington Survivor
‘I was slapped on the face and saw a boy dragged by his hair.’ Islington Survivor
‘I was put on the pill and I’d not ever had a sexual relationship.’ Islington Survivor
A member of staff caught Bain putting his hands where he shouldn’t – I thought this was reported to police at the time.’ Islington Survivor
‘There are a lot of agency staff and the constant changes of staff are unsettling.’ Social work record 1985
‘I had night terrors from what happened in the night in Elwood St.’ Islington Survivor
‘Bain was a big bully who slapped us across the face‘ Islington Survivor
‘I met one RSW in Elwood St who I knew from before and he was a bastard and shouldn’t be working with kids.’ Islington Survivor
‘One member of staff gave kids pills to get high.’ Islington Survivor
‘One man came into my room – he was drunk on duty.’ Islington Survivor
‘One member of staff was very cruel. I came out of hospital and was made to walk a long way in the rain when I was so unwell.’ Islington Survivor
‘The was a joke that most of the staff had more food in their own cupboards than there was in a home for 6 children’
ISN have heard various accounts of staff purchasing food which did not reach the children. This has been alleged at Gisburne House where survivors speak of going out in the children’s home van to collect the out of date Marks and Spencer food.
‘They fetched food from M&S – they’d say ‘ the children won’t eat this’ what they got it wasn’t all suitable for the children. Maybe 30 bananas – children couldn’t eat them all. Biscuits and other food went home in the bags of staff. We used to say staff had the biggest shopping bags.’ ISN witness statement referring to Gisburne House.
‘They fed us Winalot biscuits. They locked the larder. We broke in and got to the biscuits we were so hungry. The food went to Conewood Street.‘ Islington Survivor
ISN have frequently heard that food in the homes was minimal and children were denied food as a punishment. In some homes kitchens and food cupboards were locked and there were incidents where hungry children broke into them in order to be fed. There are accounts of children being arrested for stealing very small amounts of food when hungry. When stealing bread from a college kitchen, one of the college staff let some children have it realising they were hungry. This Islington Gazette record concerns Elwood Street.
1994: One of the two children who were living in a garage was from Elwood St.
‘There must be a reason why these children set up home in a garage. If a child decides to do this it says something about the state of our children’s homes.’ Clive Blackwood Islington conservative councillor.
1995: Further allegations of abuse at Elwood St
Detective Inspector John Sweeney was head of of Islington police child protection team between 1995 and 1998. He investigated a number of boys who were victims of Bernard Bain. In 2006, he stated:
“When I first learned about the homes, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But it was worse. Does Islington share responsibility? Any opportunity to intervene that was lost is an absolute tragedy…I was deeply affected by how much pain and trauma these men inflicted on really young children. They were brutal”Detective Superintendent John Sweeney cited by Eileen Fairweather: Mail on Sunday 11.06.06
ISN have learnt about allegations of abuse at Elwood St in 1995. It is not known if these were investigated and if so what the outcome was. One Islington councillor raised questions with the Chief Social Services Officer.
Demetrious Panton: Survivor and campaigner
Demetrious Panton was assaulted by two members of staff when a child living in Conewood St and Elwood St children’s homes in the late 70s. In 1981, one of the abusers, Martin Ashley Saville, pleaded guilty to charges of gross indecency and indecent assault and received a 3 month suspended sentence. The other abuser was Bernie Bain, children’s home manager of 1 Elwood Street. Bain was later convicted and imprisoned in Morocco for possession of abusive images of children and subsequently committed suicide in Thailand. Demetrious, as a child, had reported to Islington social services his abuse by Bain who was allowed to resign from his post without facing prosecution.
‘I only wanted her to listen’ Daily Mail 15.11.2003
Mail on Sunday 11.6.2006
This article covered the case of Nicholas Rabet ( Grosvenor Avenue children’s home manager) and Bernard Leo Bain (Elwood Street)
‘Last month this man killed himself in Thailand after being accused of sexually abusing 300 boys’ Mail on Sunday, 11.06.2006
The Telegraph 06.04.2014
This article covered Savile but references Elwood St
‘Jimmy Savile Sex Abuse: Islington Is Still Covering Up’, The Telegraph 06.04.2014
‘Detective Chief Superintendent John Sweeney, who took over Islington police’s child protection team after the scandal was exposed, traced long-ignored victims. He told me: “When I first learnt about the homes, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But it was worse.”
In the years since the White Report of 1995, more victims and abusers have come to light. However, Islington’s wholesale destruction of key files has enabled the council to avoid responsibility. I was asked in 2009 to help a solicitor representing one of Bain’s victims, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Islington denied that this person was in their care as a child, and even that they ever employed Bain. The basis of their denial? They had no records for either.
Mr Panton revealed last week: “Just yesterday, I made a witness statement on behalf of someone who was also horribly abused by Bain. I knew him as a kid and his life and health have been destroyed by what happened to him. But Islington has denied any responsibility. So Islington is still covering up.”
Bobby Martin wrote about racism, extreme physical assaults in 1 Elwood St – ‘It was really me in this world on my own.’
‘We heard Bobby screaming every night.’ Islington Survivor
We thought he was being killed’ Islington Survivor
‘I grew up with Bobby from the day he arrived. From the start all the kids were abused.’ Islington Survivor
‘I was 9 yrs old when I met Bobby. He said to me ‘ Dont come here.’ Islington Survivor
Bobby Martin’s account of Life at Elwood Street children’s home
‘I remember coming to 1 Elwood St, Highbury N5 (This home would later feature in a notorious history of abuse suffered by children in the care of Islington Social Services), and jumping over the wall instead of walking through the gate. The home was about 200 yards from the old Arsenal Stadium. While in the early years at this home I was the only Black child in there. I hated it. I felt different because I was different. There was 5 other children 2 brothers 2 sisters and another girl. Everything about this place was different. It never had the colours of Aunt Rachel’s home or the homes of her friends. No pictures on the wall or colours of flags. There was a very large front room, but it never had a gramophone. Everyone had a gramophone didn’t they? Where was the soulful music in the home? The sounds of music that would make my head rock and my feet move. It was nowhere to be heard. The food was different, they wanted me to eat eggs that hadn’t been cooked. The meat looked like it had just been killed. Blood was still coming out of it. This ain’t right. I hate this place.
I was the youngest but yet this still did not seem to matter when things went wrong. Whenever I got into a fight with another child I was always the one that was punished. Made to sit in isolation on the stairs and no one would be allowed to talk to me whilst there. They would walk past me while I was at the bottom of the stairs, go into the kitchen and get their biscuits and snacks. Then they would walk back again past me.
At this point things had changed for me at the children’s home. I was now no longer there. I had very recently been fostered. The woman who had been in charge of the home I had been in for almost the last 7-8 years had decided to foster myself and 3 others from the home. She had asked us individually if we wanted to be fostered by her or stay at the home as she was resigning from the job. I wasn’t sure, so I asked her if she wanted me. She said yes. This made me feel good. It made me feel wanted like I was part of something. About 2 weeks after being expelled from school, all of us from the foster home went to a house warming party in Homerton, Hackney. It was for the deputy manager of 1 Elwood St my previous home of some 7-8 years. While at this party ..I fell over and collapsed. Up to this day I don’t remember what happened. All I remember is arriving at the house. However when I woke up I awoke in very familiar surroundings. Colours, shapes and smells that I had grown used to over years. But this should not have been happening. How did I get here? Why was I here? What was going on? None of these questions were ever answered all I knew was that I was back. Back in “that home”. Back at 1Elwood St.
The foster career didn’t want me. Was I too Black? Was I means to their ends? They had managed to get a big house in Tufnell Park by claiming to want to foster all of us. This time the set up of ! Elwood St was different, there was different kids in the home. New staff except for the deputy manager, but it was the same children’s home my hell hole. But this time around things were going to be different very different. There was a new man in charge of the home. A man of charismatic qualities. A 6’ Australian, with very different methods of control. He appeared to have most of the staff under his “spell” he could do no wrong.
Instead of being disciplined with isolation I was now being disciplined with isolation and physical assaults. The man in charge of the home Bernie Bains would often punch me and kick me and push me down the stairs. Meanwhile all the time calling me all forms of racist slurs and abuse. Don’t get me wrong I would try and fight back. As much as a 12/13 year old “4 foot and change” boy could against a 6foot odd adult. All this would happen and none of the other staff would support or defend me. It was really me in this world on my own. I would often fight other children in my home in particular one boy who always seemed to be treated more favourably than everyone else. I didn’t think this was fair. To tell you the truth I was quite jealous. This was my home, although I hated it. I had been here the longest. I was the only one here who had no parents. All the rest could go to their “other home” which they did from time to time. But me, I had to suffer this I had nowhere or no-one else to turn to.
On a particular occasion we were all on holiday in Brighton. …When we got back to the house that we were renting. I was sent to my bed as punishment. When I started to get undressed in my room and was down to my underpants, Bernie came in and started to punch and kick me, shouting abuse at me and asked me how I liked it. The attack was frenzied and caught me by surprise I wasn’t able to defend myself. To tell you the truth on this occasion I was quite afraid. I felt vulnerable. Little me in my underpants and Bernie, a big a**e man fully clothed. He then made me stand to attention by the wall. However I was not allowed to touch the wall. Every time he caught me leaning against the wall I would be further physically assaulted. Meanwhile the other member of staff who was at the home, … whose home I had got drunk in, just stood by and did nothing to support me. I remember going to see my social worker when I came back to London, telling him what had happened. The response I got was one of “you must have deserved it”. This got me angry but confirmed to me that I was on my own. This was the last holiday that I would go on with 1 Elwood St, but it wasn’t the end of my physical abuse at the hands of Bernie Bains.
On this particular day I decided to run away, so I managed to get hold of the keys to the safe. I knew Bernie kept his money from his private business in there. Bernie ran a motor caravan hire business from outside the home. He would use us as the kids to clean and wash the cars on a paid basis. He rarely used me as I weren’t up for that. ….
Bernie asked me this day to go to the sweetshop next to the Gunners pub on Blackstock Rd and get him some cigarettes. So I said yes very willingly. I had made up in my mind what I was going to do to get him out of the home. I walked there quite slowly and deliberately went into the shop and never asked for a thing and then just came out and then came back and told Bernie that the man in the shop wouldn’t serve me. This made Bernie have to go himself to by his cigarettes as the other boy in the home was younger than myself. As soon as he left, I was watching out the office window to make sure he had crossed the road. I had to make sure that he wasn’t turning back for any unexpected reason. It was only when I was sure that I got the key opened the safe, emptied it and ran out the back garden. I gave some money to the boy who would be the victim of my anger more than anyone else and told him to look after himself. I then jumped over the fence and ran towards Holloway where my friend lived. I didn’t run the usual way of down Blackstock Rd towards Finsbury Park, instead I took the back streets around Drayton Park and Holloway Rd. As I didn’t want to be seen by Bernie or anyone for that matter.
I only stayed there for one night as the police came there looking for me and I had to climb out the window and down the drain pipe. I stayed at a few different friends for almost a week. Sneaking in their homes when their parents were asleep and then having to leave early in the morning making sure I wasn’t caught. While in the day time spending it at the pool café. At this time it came to my attention that my name and business was being spread at Archway School.
I soon found out who it was…. The deputy head came to me in the school playground and tried to reason with me and find out why I had run away from the home. I wouldn’t tell him. Besides who would believe me?. At this same moment police cars pulled up into the playground. My heart started to beat fast. I knew that they had come for me. I looked around and there was nowhere to run, I was trapped. I was arrested, it was embarrassing but at the same time I felt hard like a big man. I was placed in the back of the police car and taken to Hornsey Road Police Station. There I was briefly questioned. The deputy head teacher was in attendance. He surprisingly lied on my behalf and said I was about to give myself in. I was taken from Hornsey Road Police Stn to Blackstock Road Police Stn and further questioned. Although this was a new experience for me I handled it like a veteran. I gave the police nothing. They wanted to know what I had done with the money, I told them I bought lots of McDonald’s and sometimes Wimpy. They wanted to know where I had been staying, I told them on the bench in Finsbury Park. I wasn’t going to get my friends in trouble. These people had helped me when I needed it. Despite how I had been dealt with in my heart I was a loyal person. I was later taken down stairs to be cautioned, when Bernie quietly said so that only I could hear, “you’ve had your fun wait till you get back”. On hearing this I didn’t wait to be cautioned I ran straight out in the road and was on the run again for another week.
It was a Friday night and I had just come from “late night” at Holloway Odeon. Late night was fun. The cinema would be full of the man from the area. All watching kung-fu movies. Films like “Drunken Master”, “Snake in Eagle’s Shadow”. We would then all come out and all think we were kung-fu experts. Doing fly kicks on each other, with some exaggerated defensive moves. This night I was about to go to my friend’s dad’s home, but it wasn’t convenient to go in yet, as his dad was still up. So I had to stay on road a bit longer. It was dark and I was only small (I remember being measured the previous week at the police station and I was 4’10” high). …. At that same moment I noticed a police car parked up. My heart almost stopped, “not again” I thought. “I ain’t getting caught again”. .. I ran around the corner and ducked under a car. My heart was beating I could feel it and hear it. I was keeping as still as I could on this dirty gravelled floor. However I used to suffer from asthma. I’d suffered from it for years. I’d even been to hospital and been placed on drips due to the severity of it. My breathing was now becoming very heavy. The police heard me and roughly pulled me out from the car. I felt myself being dragged across this dirty gravelled floor like a dog. There was nothing I could do and no one I could turn to. I was placed in handcuffs behind my back. A big hand was placed on the back of my head while I was pushed into the back seat of the police car.
I was again taken to Hornsey Rd Police Stn. Held in the cells for a few hours. That same Saturday morning I was waiting to be taken again to Blackstock Rd Police station, but this time I was sent to Highbury Corner Magistrates Court. I was about to be introduced to the criminal justice system. I was initially remanded to spend some time at Stamford Hse Remand & Assessment Centre. I spent a week in there before I returned back to court and was found guilty of theft of £280 from the safe of Bernie Bains and for stealing two bottles of milk.
This was the end of my chapter at 1 Elwood St. I do give God thanks for this. I was to later find out as a result of speaking to police at Islington’s child protection unit, the extent of the abuse in the home. I found out that Bernie had been sexually abusing a number of the children in the home. That is why he was giving them gifts. However my assaults and beatings were being done to keep the other children in “fear & check”. I remember having a conversation with the police officer saying “God knows why that didn’t happen to me and I truly give Him thanks coz I would have kill it”. To which the officer replied “ many of the people we interviewed said that they couldn’t have taken the beatings and abuse that you suffered”. I never found out none of this until I was in my early 30’s many years after leaving care.
1983: John Picton, LBI children’s home worker, abducted a 13 year old boy from Elwood Street
John Picton as a care officer met a boy in Conewood Street assessment centre but kept in contact with him at Elwood Street in 1983. The boy was found 2 months later in France and returned to the UK.