The Beeches

Address: High St, Ixworth, Suffolk IP31 2HJ

Open: 1954-1972

Number of ISN survivors that lived at the Beeches children’s home. None

Numbers of children living at the Beeches home: Between 30 and 40 children

The Beeches as it is now.

‘Other parents have complained quite separately to us about this place and we want these complaints examined. We will go on fighting until we get a proper answer’ (Mr Fitton: Campaign group Compassion in 1972).

The Beeches was a private run children’s home set up in 1954 for children with cerebral palsy, sometimes described as ‘a home for mentally handicapped children’ situated in Ixworth, Suffolk. It was registered and licensed with West Suffolk County Council under the National Assistance Act 1948 (as extended by the Mental Health Act 1959). Sometimes the children are described as ‘mentally subnormal’.

(NB: The terms mentally handicapped and mentally subnormal are no longer acceptable but were in use at the time).

At any one time about 35 – 40 children were resident at The Beeches sent from the London Boroughs of Islington and Hackney. ISN do not know how many of the children were in the care of the local authorities.

In 18 years (1954-1972) 43 children were believed to have died at The Beeches. Some of the parents considered that the deaths raised serious concerns about the treatment at the home. It was confirmed by a government minister that between, December 1967 and March 1972, 8 children had died of pneumonia. Of these 3 had died in a period of just 4 months. (In November 1972 the Minister said in the previous 6 years there had been just 2 inquests. (One was Tara Pratine Naiker – the other a boy of 4 in 1966).

It seems as if there were no inquests for some or many of the children listed between 1967-72. It has been reported that the Coroner at Bury St Edmonds could find no records relating to the 43 deaths in his jurisdiction.

The Inquiry report entitled ‘Mentally handicapped children in residential care’ did not address the concerns relating to cases raised by the parent campaign group Compassion. It did not address mortality statistics for cerebral palsy to provide a comparison with the deaths at the Beeches. This inquiry was an academic exercise that avoided any analysis of the deaths of very vulnerable children at the Beeches.  Essentially it put a lid on the parent’s campaign.

There was NEVER an investigation or an Inquiry in response to the parent’s specific concerns about specific child deaths and specific concerns about the care of the children in The Beeches.

The Beeches closed on 30th June 1972.

ISN researchers have not been able to discover;

  • the records for this home
  • the numbers of children Islington sent to this home (LBI in response to Freedom of Information requests state that they have no records)
  • the doctors who ran the medication regime at the home
  • the names of staff and ratio of staff to children
  • the regime at the home
  • the members of the parent campaign group
  • where children who died at the home were buried
  • the causes of death of the children who died
  • coroners and inquest reports
  • Islington council minutes which make reference to the Beeches
  • Facts made available to the 1974 ministerial Inquiry
  • Mr Michael O’Halloran’s archive as a former North Islington MP
  • Inspection reports

ISN thank the Islington Gazette which reported extensively on the case and alerted the public to concerns raised by the campaign group Compassion  which during the 70s campaigned for justice for the deceased children The press cuttings and excerpt from relevant Hansard records are displayed below.

Key dates

1954The Beeches opened 
1966Inquest: Boy age 4Cause of death asphyxia caused by regurgitation of stomach contents due to gross congenital brain abnormality
December 1967- March 19728 children died at The Beeches. The names were provided by Secretary of State to Mr O’Halloran MP. 
Feb 1972Death of D.A.E an Islington childCause of death bronchopneumonia due to epilepsy due to cerebral palsy (Report to coroner)
March 1972Death of 6 year old Tara Naiker placed in The Beeches since 1970 from Stoke Newington In Hackney.Cause of death bronchopneumonia and hypothermia (Inquest verdict) Director of Hackney Social Services Wally Harbert said the parents had asked 3 times for Tara to be moved. Tara’s parents had complained about conditions in the Beeches.  Tara was not in care to the London Borough of Hackney Alderman Lou Sherman Chair of Hackney Social Services commented that the arrangements for finding residential placements for ‘handicapped’ children needed investigation.
December – March 723 children died in 4 months. The third was Tara NiakerMr O’Halloran MP raised concerns in parliament.
March 1972Mr and Mrs Fitton withdrew their 8 year old step daughter from the home. She had been there 1 year 
19.5.72Inquest; Tara NaikerMr Richard Lloyd-Jones Director of Social Services for West Suffolk county told the Inquest that the home was well run and inspected.
June 1972Mr Fitton from Upper Holloway was very dissatisfied with conditions at the Beeches and made his feelings known. The proprietors refused to give him the name of the doctor treating his child. He wrote to the coroner to give evidence at Tara Naiker’s inquestMr and Mrs Fitton’s daughter needed 24 hour attention and was placed at Great Ormond Street Hospital
30.6.72The Beeches closedThis was  said to be a decision made earlier in the year of the owner to retire
15.9.72The Secretary of State rejected Mr O’Halloran’s demand for an Inquiry as there were  ‘Insufficient grounds’.The Beeches was registered by West Suffolk County Council under the National Assistance Act 1948 and was privately run. The Secretary of State had no jurisdiction over such homes. Mr O’Halloran said he was very concerned at what went on in the home and that there had been conflicting reports about what had happened before it closed in June
September 1972Mr Fitton said the campaign group had independent reports of concerns from parents going back to 1969. They could not accept a decision by Mr Michael Alison a Junior Minister of Health, that there were ‘ insufficient grounds’ for a formal inquiry into the treatment children received at The Beeches. ‘If there are no grounds for an inquiry do they feel the situation there was normal and acceptable?’He said the Boroughs concerned had full knowledge of the complaints and the authority responsible for standards had full knowledge of all the complaints over a long time.   Mr Fitton was concerned at Mr Alison’s statement that the Secretary of State for Health and Social services had no jurisdiction over private homes like The Beeches   Mr Fitton said West Suffolk County Council had not acted even though it knew of the complaints and had licensed The Beeches.
3.11.72Mr O’Halloran MP asked Minister Sir Keith Joseph to reconsider his decision not to call an Inquiry.MP requested a debate where he planned to quote from the parent’s evidence.
7.11.72Mr Clinton Davis MP asked Secretary of State for the Home department how many inquests have been held consequent upon the death of children resident at The Beeches during the last 6 years and if he would publish full details in the official report.Response: As far as can be ascertained 2. One in 1966 on a boy age 4 and one in 1972 on a girl age 6. The causes were respectively Asphysixia  from regurgitation of food and bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.
9.11.72Mr Clinton Davis MP asked the secretary of State for Social Services how many children who had resided at The Beeches had died during the last 6 years and if he would publish details in the official report. Mr Clinton Davis also asked for publication of full details of investigations by the Secretary of State into the administration of the home and the reply was  ‘No’The Secretary of State said he did not have details of the numbers of children.
17.11.72Mr Alison Government minister wrote to Mr and Mrs Fitton saying that his previous decision that there were  ‘insufficient grounds’ for an inquiry was based on the fact the home had closed and his reading tof he documentary evidence. He offered to meet the parents and asked for any fresh information. He gave a broad hint that he would reconsider his decision.Mr Fitton could not see the need to provide fresh information as Sir Keith Joseph had already been sent a dossier of complaints about the treatment of children at The Beeches.
21.11.72Mr O’Halloran received confirmation from Mr Alison junior minister that 8 children died in a 4 year period December 1967- March 1972 at the Beeches. He sent Mr O’Halloran a list of the names of the deceased children.Mr Alison said, ‘Pneumonia was the immediate cause of death in all these cases. Severely mentally handicapped children , as these were, are very prone to contract and succumb to chest infections.’
22.11.72Mr Clinton Davis asked the Secretary of State for Social Services why he will not publish full details of the investigations carried out by him into the administration of The Beeches. Mr Alison, the Junior Minister, responded that, ‘the investigations involved the collection of the views of individual professional and lay officers and of evidence containing personal and medical details which I am not prepared to divulge’
3.4.73Mr O’Halloran MP asked Secretary of State for Social Services if he would institute an Inquiry into the care of mentally handicapped children at The Beeches.   Sir Keith Joseph said he did not consider a need for an inquiry into the Suffolk home but that there were important lessons to learn.Sir Keith Joseph said, ‘I have concluded that a formal inquiry into standards of care in the home would not be appropriate. But there are important lessons to be learned about the special problems which can arise when a child is placed in residential care outside his home area and there should be proper study of the procedures for the communication and investigation of complaints in such circumstances to ensure that the histories and problems of children placed in private and voluntary homes are known to those who may be involved in their care.   Sir Keith Joseph said he hoped the parents, the former owners of The Beeches, the various authorities and all others concerned would give the study group the cooperation they will need to complete its work effectively and expeditiously. ‘
3.4.1973Mr O’Halloran MP for North Islington and the parents campaign group led to an Inquiry into the running of private homes for mentally handicapped children. ‘The Inquiry will bring to light some of the serious deficiencies in the way in which children are cared for in these homes. It’s going to take some time before the report is available as there are dozens of these homes all over the country but the findings will be made public.  Mr O’Halloran MP had asked Sir Keith Joseph if he would investigate the running of the Beeches. Keith Joseph was setting up an independent study from 3 experts to look into the problems of mentally handicapped children who are sent by local authorities to authorities in other part of the country. Mr O’Halloran said, ‘Its been a tough task to secure this Inquiry but with the help of the Gazette which has given valuable publicity to this matter we have managed it’
27.10.2017Council Leader Richard Watts stated in response to a query about The Beeches, ‘the council has no jurisdiction over inquests and should not interfere with criminal investigations by discussing them in a public way that could compromise evidence. I would therefore respectfully suggest you raise these matters with the police’   Matters were subsequently, as suggested, raised with Operation Winter Key – the Metropolitan Police response to IICSA.   It does not seem that Operation Winter Key intends to investigate the deaths of children at The Beeches.It has been clarified by Islington Council that neither the White Inquiry (1995) nor the Sarah Morgan review (2018) considered the issues raised by the parents of children placed at The Beeches during the 70s as this matter was considered to be outside both terms of reference.
1.6.2018In response to a Freedom of Information request,  Islington Council stated that ‘The council’s retention policy states that information relation to Children Looked After is retained for 75 years. However as this is a recent policy it does not cover all records relating to all children looked after going back 75 years. The request information is therefore not held by the council.’Our response is that we do not hold any information about the 43 child care deaths at The Beeches.’    

Department of Health and Social Security (1974) Mentally Handicapped Children in Residential Care. The report of a study group appointed by the Secretary of State for Social Services HMSO

The London Borough of Islington and the London Borough of Hackney are both listed among other authorities which assisted the Study Group. The parents of the Islington children also contributed.  ISN has read the Report and here include some of the introduction as well as the only sections which mention The Beeches. 

‘Mentally handicapped children have become the concern of everyone but the responsibility of no-one’

Introduction

Following the death of a London child placed by a local authority in a private home for mentally handicapped children in Suffolk, a group of parents, supported by some national organisations, pressed for an Inquiry. The events at the home showed that there were important lessons to be learnt when a child is placed in residential care outside his home area. In order to ensure that the histories of the children so placed were known to those involved in their care and that their problems were handled no less effectively than if they were in a local authority home in their own area it was considered that a study should be carried out into the procedures for communication and investigation of complaints. (Page 1)

Terms of Reference

‘In the light of complaints made by parents of children formerly resident at The Beeches, Ixworth, which indicate that special problems arise when a mentally handicapped child is placed in residential care outside his home area, to consider the requirements and procedures for communication between the various authorities and other persons concerned with the child’s care and environment and to make recommendations’. (Page 1)

Members of the Study Group

Chairman: Miss D E Harvie OBE Formerly Children’s officer and deputy Director of social services Kent County Council

Dr K W Browne General practitioner

Mr V L Cornish (Former Director of Care Dr. Barnardos’ (Page iii)

Definitions

The Study included children defined as having  ‘severe subnormality’ ‘Children with IQ below 50’ ‘ Mentally handicapped children’ ‘Educationally Subnormal (severe’) (Page 1)

Legislation

A child might be placed in residential care under the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 in which case the parents retain parental rights just as if the child was admitted to hospital.  Some children would be placed by the local authority as in ‘care’ under the Children Act 1948 or the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. (Page 2)

Total numbers of children in residential care in England and Wales

Out of a total of 8500 children under age 16yrs with severe mental handicap living in residential care :

600 children were living in voluntary homes and 300 in private homes (Page 3)

Authority responsibility unclear

‘For the children placed at Ixworth the situation was complicated by the location of the home. Their families lived in London and arrangements made by social services departments of London Boroughs. .. The distance alone created difficulties for the parents in regards to visiting, and communication was further complicated because the placing had been arranged by a London Borough while it was the duty of officer of the authority of the area where the home was situated ( the registering authority) to visit. The children who had previously been looked after medically by London general practitioners now became patients of a doctor who was not known to their parents.  A further difficulty existed because the regulations governing the oversight of private homes do not place clear responsibility upon the registering authority for the welfare of the children in the home. In fact this authority does not automatically receive information about the individual children who are placed there’. (Page 2)

‘Supervision of all individual mentally handicapped children living away from their homes is not ensured by present legislation’ (Page 3)

‘We are particularly concerned with children in private or voluntary establishments. No specific responsibility for visiting individual children placed by social services departments is laid on either the placing authority or the registering authority.’ (Page 9)

The Beeches

‘One of the circumstances brought to light following the death of the child at The Beeches was that the only medical supervision she received was that available to any child under the NHS. A residential home would normally be visited by a general practitioner only when he is requested to do so by the managers of the home for a specific reason, usually for an acute episode of illness.  But it has been repeatedly suggested to us that mentally handicapped children and particularly those severely affected with multiple handicaps, require more medical supervision than this, because they are unable to communicate their discomforts to those round them in the same was as normal children, and also they are as a generalisation more liable to sudden deterioration in health for reasons that are not always evident.’ (Page 25)

Images above: ‘Eight children died in home’, Islington Gazette 21.11.1972, ‘Child home probe plea rejected’, Islington Gazette 15.09.1972, ‘Demand for probe at home after girl’s death’, Islington Gazette 13.06.1972, ‘New plea for children’s home probe’, 03.07.1972, ‘Parents given hope of death home inquiry’, Islington Gazette 10.11.1972, ‘MP wins campaign for probe’, 06.04.1973, ‘Parents welcome inquiry into children’s home’, 17.04.1973

Images above: ‘MP to try again on home inquiry’, Birmingham Daily Post 25.09.1972, ‘MP wants inquiry into home where three children died’, Western Mail, 1972 (exact date unknown)

Parliamentary records regarding The Beeches 1972-3

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1970s → 1972 → November 1972 → 7 November 1972 → Written Answers (Commons) → HOME DEPARTMENT

The Beeches, Ixworth (Children’s Deaths)

HC Deb 07 November 1972 vol 845 cc137-8W138W

§Mr. Clinton Davis 

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many inquests have been held consequent upon the death of children resident at the children’s home known as The Beeches, Ixworth, Suffolk during the last six years; and if he will publish full details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

§Mr. Lane 

As far as can be ascertained, two; one in 1966 on a boy aged 4 and one in 1972 on a girl aged 6. The causes of death were, respectively, asphyxia caused by regurgitation of the stomach contents due to gross congenital brain abnormality, and bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1970s → 1972 → November 1972 → 9 November 1972 → Written Answers (Commons) → SOCIAL SERVICES

The Beeches, Ixworth

HC Deb 09 November 1972 vol 845 c251W251W

§Mr. Clinton Davis 

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children who had resided at the home known as the Beeches, Ixworth, Suffolk, died during the last six years; and if he will publish full details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

§Mr. Alison 

This information is not immediately available, but I will write to the hon. Member as soon as possible.

§Mr. Clinton Davis 

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT full details of the investigations carried out by him into the administration of the home known as the Beeches, Ixworth, Suffolk.

§Mr. Alison 

No.

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1970s → 1972 → November 1972 → 22 November 1972 → Written Answers (Commons) → SOCIAL SERVICES

The Beeches, Ixworth

HC Deb 22 November 1972 vol 846 c437W437W

§Mr. Clinton Davis 

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services why he will not publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT full details of the investigations carried out by him into the administration of the home known as The Beeches, Ixworth. Suffolk.

§Mr. Alison 

These investigations, aimed at determining the need for an inquiry, involved the collection of the views of individual professional and lay officers and of evidence containing personal and medical details which I am not prepared to divulge.

“The Beeches”, Ixworth (Inquiry) (Hansard, 3 April 1973)

“The Beeches”, Ixworth (Inquiry)

HC Deb 03 April 1973 vol 854 cc56-7W56W

§Mr. O’Halloran 

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute an inquiry into the care of mentally handicapped children at “The Beeches”, Ixworth.

§Sir K. Joseph 

I have carefully considered points made by the hon. Member and by parents and other relatives of children accommodated at this home before it was closed last year, together with the proceedings of the inquest which was held into the death of one of the children.

I have concluded that a formal inquiry into standards of care in the home would not be appropriate. But I have also concluded that there are important lessons to be learnt about the special problems which can arise when a child is placed in residential care outside his own home area, and that there should be a proper study of the procedures for communication and investigation of complaints in such circumstances to ensure that the histories and problems of children placed in private and voluntary homes are known to those who may be involved in their care and that the problems of such children are handled no less effectively than if they had been placed in a home run by the local authority in their own home area.

I am accordingly appointing a study group of experienced people from outside my Department to look into these matters and report, and I hope that the parents, the former owners of “The Beeches”, the various authorities and all others concerned will give the study group the co-operation it will need to complete its work effectively and expeditiously. It is my intention to publish the study group’s report. Its membership and terms of reference are as follows:

MEMBERS:

  • Chairman: Miss D. E. Harvie, OBE.
  • Members: Dr. K. W. Browne and Mr. V. L. Cornish.

TERMS OF REFERENCE

“In the light of complaints made by parents of children formerly resident at 57W‘The Beeches’, Ixworth, which indicate that special problems arise when a mentally handicapped child is placed in residential care outside his home area, to consider the requirements and procedures for communication between the various authorities, and other persons concerned with the child’s care and environment, and to make recommendations.”