14 Conewood Street

Address: 14 Conewood Street, Highbury, London N5 1DL
Open: 1971-1991 (Later was Park Place Family Centre and then Social Services offices)
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Conewood Street – part of the building survivor’s recognise but now converted to LBI offices. ISN photograph
Number of ISN survivors who lived at Conewood Street children’s home:

Total 60

1960s: 2 men

1970s: 14 men 7 women

1980s: 17 men 16 women

1990s: 2 men 2 women

Number of children named by ISN survivors as as living at Conewood St children’s home: This is an underestimate as some children are remembered by survivors or on file with only a first name.

Total: 126: 72 boys and 54 girls

1960s: 2 boys

1970s: 36 boys and 21 girls

1980s: 32 boys and 31 girls

1990s: 2 boys 2 girls

Number of children at Conewood St children’s home named in council documents:

No records found

Number of residential staff named by ISN survivors as working at Conewood St children’s home:

1960s:  2 men

1970s:  21 men  18 women

1980s: 19 men  24 women

1990s: 6 men   9 women

Total: 99


Originally Conewood St was used as an assessment centre and children stayed for a few weeks as decisions were made about where next to place them or if they could return home to their families. There was a tuition unit as part of Conewood St and some children attended that but were not always resident in the children’s home.

‘It was a 6 week assessment and an education unit. When I went home I still went to the Education Unit.’ ISN Survivor

The home was for children age 4-16 years.

 Conewood St later became Park Place. Elwood Street homes were demolished and the new social work building is on that site and some of Conewood Street was also developed. The view from the back of the building was taken by a survivor who went to Elwood Street to collect her files and recognised her former bedroom window from the back of Elwood Street building. ISN no longer go to Elwood for files as it was cruel to expect survivors to revisit the homes there.

Life at Conewood Street children’s home

Descriptions of life at this home vary depending on the management and ethos of the home at different times. In 1977 and 1982 there are reports of Geoff Wylde Jones being the Superintendent there. Andrew Davis, self professed paedophile, was also a manager. Survivors speak of sexual and physical assaults in this home by staff. They also speak of abuse by some older children and visitors. The home was not effective in providing a safe environment particularly for the younger children and there was a lack of supervision of the older children. A local child sex offender was a regular visitor to the home and children went to his house. Survivors say that Islington Council knew about this. Also John Picton was a member of staff at Conewood St and survivors also speak of going to his house.

‘All the staff, bar 2 or 3, were paedophiles at that time.’ ISN Survivor 1970s

‘I slept with my clothes on.’ ISN Survivor

‘Conewood St staff got us involved in a football team and we got abused.’ ISN Survivor

‘The boys were being abused then some of them had sex with the girls‘ ISN Survivor

‘The boy looked poorly turned out. Scruffy.’ Judge’s comment in the 80s

‘There was bullying by the older boys in the school unit.’ ISN Survivor

‘I was put in a room neglected and isolated.’ ISN survivor mid 80s

‘I witnessed PinDown on the boys. It was terrible.’ ISN Survivor

‘I was well looked after there’ ISN survivor mid 70s

Assaulted by boys in Conewood St.’ ISN Survivor 80s

‘It was open to anyone to come in and out.‘ ISN Survivor 70s

‘The older boys brought in their friends.’ ISN Survivor 70s

‘One boy committed suicide.’ ISN Survivor 70s

‘Manager from Village Road home used to regularly visit Conewood St.’ ISN Survivor

‘Children as young as 5 were smoking.’ ISN Survivor 70s

I’d heard stories about Conewood St – about girls being prostituted outside the area.’ ISN Survivor

‘I was assaulted by my Key Worker.’ ISN Survivor Mid 80s

‘Classroom was downstairs. There was cooking. Making things. Not a book to read anywhere.’ ISN Survivor

‘Nothing Happened in Conewood St’ ISN Survivor 70s

‘When I was there John Picton one of the staff abducted a boy and took him to France. I had been to his house.’ ISN Survivor

‘Saw male and female staff hit children in Conewood. It was terrible.’ ISN Survivor 70s

‘One girl had a baby at Conewood – it fell behind the radiator.’ ISN Survivor

‘No privacy at Conewood St.’ ISN Survivor

‘Put in van, minibus, and beaten up’ ISN Survivor

Council minutes from December 1991 announcing the opening of Park Place.
9.2.79 Islington Gazette recruitment advertisement

Letter to The Stage magazine, 03.01.1980

Press Coverage

In December 1985, Jason Swift, said to have been attending Conewood Street Assessment Centre, was found murdered in a field in Essex.

I have never before written that 14-year-old Jason Swift, killed in 1985 by a paedophile gang, is believed to have lived in Islington council’s Conewood Street home.

Two sources claimed this when I investigated Islington’s 12 care homes for The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper, the London Evening Standard, in the early Nineties.

But hundreds of children’s files mysteriously disappeared in Islington and, without documentation, this was not evidence enough.

‘I have known about Jersey paedophiles for 15 years, says award-winning journalist’, Daily Mail 02.03.2008

In October 1986, 13 year old Islington child Tony McGrane, who had attended Conewood Street Assessment Centre, was murdered. The police investigation at the time inquired whether there were links between Tony McGrane’s murder and that of Jason Swift and other boys (Operation Stranger)

Press coverage of 2 boys from Conewood St convicted of a sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 yrs. She was 13 years old.

‘There was quite clearly inadequate segregation of the sleeping quarters of the sexes, inadequate supervision and unsatisfactory discipline.’ One of the 16 year old boys already had 47 charges including of assault and had been in institutions since the age of 6. The other also had convictions for robbery and assault. The judge said they both had ‘sad’ backgrounds. The Director of Social Services, John Rea Price, said that there was a lack of senior experienced staff in the home. The superintendent have been on extended sick leave and the home lacked one assistant and 2 group leaders. He said that younger children now go to foster parents leaving many precocious and difficult adolescents and young offenders in the home and many are sexually experienced. He said the buildings did not allow for segregation of the girls and boys.

Institutional abuse involves ‘hierarchies of abuse’ where the oldest young people being abused by the staff and/or managers may replicate the behaviour by being abusive to younger more vulnerable children. This suits the abusers who can then use this knowledge as a threat to the older ones to remain silent. The younger ones, especially but by no means always the girls, were in constant fear of sexual and physical assault by both the staff and some of the older boys.

Islington Gazette, 22.03.1990
Islington Gazette, 22.03.1990
Islington Gazette, 29.03.1990

Organised abuse: Andrew Davis: Islington childrens home manager

ISN have heard of Andrew Davis being manager of Conewood Street Children’s home in the mid-70s as well as the mid 80s. He also worked as a court officer in Youth Justice. ISN do not know the exact dates of Davis’s employment with Islington as a residential worker and manager.

Now deceased, Davis was cited as believing children were able to consent to sexual activity with adults and was exposed in Today newspaper (9.8.95) whilst working for Westminster council as Youth Justice Manager from 1993. Westminster said all the appropriate checks had been carried out.

The media raised concerns with Westminster council in 1995 following an allegation by an agency residential worker who said he was abused by Davis while working in a Highbury home that Davis managed. The former agency worker said he had reported this alleged assault to the Assistant Director Childrens Services but no-one listened. 

In agreement with Westminster Council, Davis was interviewed and risk assessed by a vetting company. He spoke about children of 8 years old possibly being of a level of maturity to provide consent to sex with an adult. ‘I don’t think it is a question of age, it is a question of ‘consent’.. any age with consent and any consenting relationship as far as I am concerned is acceptable‘.  Davis then took special leave and was one of the adults listed in the White Inquiry confidential annexe as unsuitable to work with children.

ISN consider that there should have  been a full investigation into Davis and his role in Islington Childrens Services.

Industrial Action

In 1981, Conewood Street children’s home staff were on strike and one survivor explained that children had to stay at the homes of residential workers. More on Industrial Action at islington children’s homes here.

Holidays

See the Holidays page for more information on Conewood Street.

Evening Standard,03.11.1981
The Guardian, 12.01.1983
The Guardian, 17.01.1990
The Guardian, 27.06.1990
The Guardian, 09.01.1991