Address: 95 Gammons Lane, Watford
Open: Mid-1960s – 1996
A history of Gisburne House is available on the Children’s Homes website.
Gisburne House is one of 42 Islington children’s homes that functioned between the 60s to the 90s. ISN have been contacted by more survivors and former staff of Gisburne House that from any other LBI children’s home. Gisburne seemed to be a training ground for residential staff who went onto other homes. As one example Nick Rabet was working at Gisburne before he went to Grosvenor Avenue.
Views of former staff
‘If you opened your mouth you’d get the sack’ Former staff
‘We witnessed at Gisburn sexual abuse, theft, racism, deprivation of food, and multiple assaults by a drunk member of staff.’ Former Staff
‘There’s a mountain of evidence. It will be impossible for them to deny it.’ Former staff
‘I was in my early 20s I felt powerless but it was ‘ not right’. Former staff
‘I will stand up as a witness for the young people, as will xxx.. And make these abusers accountable.’ Former staff
‘Lie child down and hold down. Use what force you can’ Former staff describing how she was trained
‘The managers were against the Unions on issues such as being paid for sleep-ins and insufficient staff. One residential worker was a labour councillor and he brought the LBI recruitment standards in to show us.’ Former staff
‘There was some kind of internal inquiry into the finances – especially about money raised for holidays.‘ Former staff
‘I hope to God XXX is not still working with children’ Former staff
‘The managers told staff that the exposure of the paedophile networks was nothing to do with Gisburne House.‘ Former staff
‘In Gisburne House children were allowed to practice witchcraft – they had a ouiga board. It was disgraceful.‘ Former staff
‘I was never witness to any sexual abuse but in retrospect and in the light of what I now know , what were deemed perfectly normal practices within the culture of Gisburne house at that time now seem deeply inappropriate.‘ Former staff
‘One member of staff hit a child and he got moved to work in another home.’ Former staff
‘Social workers didn’t come to see children. ‘They’d say they were busy with more important things and I would say nothing is as important as seeing this kid here ..’ Former staff
‘I never once felt safe – not once’ ISN Survivor
‘No-one cared for me’ ISN Survivor
‘Evil people worked there.’ ISN Survivor
‘It was the innocence of being a child – who could you possibly tell?’ ISN Survivor
‘On my first night in care I had a terrible beating. I was in the dormitory and the bed next to me caught fire. I woke to a noise of a fire alarm and we were all dragged out of the dorm. The children were taken into the hallway. I was taken into the bathroom on my own and severely beaten by the manager– worse than anything I had ever experienced.’ ISN Survivor – age 7 yrs in Gisburne House
‘For 2 years in Gisburne House I was not fed.’ ISN Survivor 90s
The 58 survivors who have come forward to ISN have spoken of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, racism and neglect. ISN does not think it appropriate to include these extensive and detailed accounts on this website. Since ISN began in 2014 we asked the council for an investigation into Gisburne House and the managers we met with at the time had not heard of it. This whole story has to be told. 11 survivors spoke to the Islington Gazette about Gisburne House in 2017.
Numbers of ISN survivors who lived in Gisburne House children’s home: 58: 24 women and 34 men. Among these were young women with newborn babies. ISN do not know why they were placed in this home.
1960s : 3 men and 3 women
1970s: 12 men and 11 women
1980s: 18 men and 10 women
1990s: 1 man
Numbers of children named by ISN survivors & former staff as having lived in Gisburne House children’s home: 205: 117 boys and 88 girls. This is an underestimate as some children are remembered by survivors or on file with only a first name.
|1960s: 3||1960s: 1|
|1970s: 34||1970s: 45|
|1980s: 48||1980s: 69|
|1990s: 3||1990s: 2|
Numbers of children at Gisburne House children’s home listed in council documents and a changing description of the purpose of the home.
In 1913 The LCC purchased the property and it became an industrial school. In 1954 Gisburne House was a London County Council Approved school for 52 girls age 10-15. In 1956, it was no longer an approved school and became a small children’s home. The earliest ISN can find Gisburne House as Islington Council home is in 1966. Derek Duker was certainly a manager there in 1966 as alleged offences against him were dated from then and Mr and Mrs Smith were also there.
Sheila Pyke was employed as a trainee assistant housemother in 1968 when she was 17 years old. It was a Reception and Remand Centre for children aged 3 – 17 years. It was the initial placement for children entering care and she did not notice them moving into longer term placements. She describes about 40 places and the staff were all residential.
An advertisement in New Society (1971 Vol 18 p 206) described Gisburne House as a ‘Special Reception Centre’ and ‘Group One Community Home’ with 32 places.
In 1971 recruitment advertisements referred to 32 children at Gisburne House age 3-17 years and one senior houseparent to be responsible for 11 children age 2-19 yrs. The wide age range included very young disabled children – some are described by survivors as autistic or with severe learning difficulties and others as with physical disabilities. ISN seriously question whether this home was providing suitable care for these most vulnerable children.
In 1973 Gisburne is described in an advertisement in Health and Social Services Journal (Vol 83 p208) as an Observation and Assessment Centre run by LBI.
1977 in a World in Action programme entitled ‘ Teenage Remand Centres’ heralded Geoff Wylde-Jones at Gisburne House and shows footage of the interior and a child’s birthday party. The emphasis was the care of young people who had come before the courts. This is not ISN’s understanding of the children who were in this home.
1979 – Social Work Today advertisement (Vol 11. Issue 1-12. p32) describes Gisburne as providing education and planned training for 32 boys and girls and there being a multi- disciplinary team of child care officers, teachers, field social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists as well as our clients.’ By April 1980 the number of children was 30 and the work with adolescents. (No mention of the ‘intermediates’ (young disabled children) or the young women with newborn babies.
‘This was my first job after leaving university . I was just 21.
During my time there I received no training whatsoever, and worked with profoundly vulnerable children categorised as the “Intermediate group” These children had a variety of learning and physical disabilities from autism to acute epilepsy to moderate learning disabilities. There was also an adolescent boys group and adolescent girls group. Gisburne house was labelled as a “Therapeutic community. This could not have been more inaccurate” Former staff 1981
1983 an Islington recruitment advertisement described Gisburne as a ‘residential establishment providing care, education and planned training for 30 boys and girls.’
In June 1985, council minutes referred to just 12 children at Gisburne long term and the need for it to close. The Social Services Committee decided there must be no further admissions. This plan was not realised as due to a council target of 148 places in residential care across the authority not being reached Gisburne had to remain open. The Committee aimed to use the receipts from the sale of Gisburne House to secure premises for residential child care in the Borough.
Numbers of residential staff named by ISN survivors & former staff: 92 men and 89 women between 1960s – 1990s.
This total is an underestimate as file entries frequently only provide a first name particularly on the Gisburne House log books of which just a few have been located and added to the survivor’s files. These provide a detailed insight into the daily routines at Gisburne House. Through the years there were a number of married couples working as staff in Gisburne House. One manager also lived with one of the women staff in his upstairs flat. The involvement of trainees enabled a fast turnover of very young inexperienced staff who felt lacking in confidence to challenge the abusive regime and to do so would surely have impacted on their training.
Life at Gisburne House children’s home
She saw the manager with a girl on his knee [described sexualised behaviour] and said ‘this is ridiculous – she is a child’ . He said the children were starved of affection and this was his justification for what he was doing.’ Former staff
‘Anyone could visit this home. There were social aunts and uncles. Some were men on their own.’ Former staff
‘A manager from Social Services came to meetings and said it was sexist for men not to work with women and so the men went into girls bedrooms and dealt with personal stuff. She also introduced non-gendered toilets.’ Former staff
‘I saw staff hitting kids cracking them around the head, clipping their ears, dragging them.’ Former staff
‘The senior management team both used physical force as the routine method of discipline at Gisburne house. I witnessed children being frequently dragged along corridors, restrained with what seemed excessive force, and thrown heavily to the ground or against walls. This atmosphere of threatened violence permeated the entire place and my job ended up being one of protecting the “intermediates” from the two adolescent groups who targeted these children as the lowest in the pecking order. Female staff had great difficulty in keeping control since the control culture was based on physical dominance by the male management. I often felt fearful whilst working at Gisburne. I reported assaults and nothing was done.‘ Former staff
‘The psychiatrist’s Wednesday sessions. He said to us, ‘do whatever you have to do….’ Former staff
‘xxx got pissed and came in early hours of the morning and if kids were up he went absolutely mad – everyone was scared of him – staff and children.’ Former staff
‘One day xxx leapt over the table and attacked a child and punched him to the floor.’ Former staff
‘We went to ASDA in the minibus and spent £1000. Some staff took the food for themselves’ Former staff
Excerpts from The horrors of Gisburne House by Liz Davies (updated)
Gisburne House was built in Watford, Hertfordshire in 1912 as an industrial school for girls. The photo above on the left is from a World in Action (1977) programme – the one on the right was taken by a residential care worker in 1985. In 2017, Islington Council officials have no knowledge of Gisburne House and no documentation of any kind about it. When we ask them to check names of staff alleged to be abusive, it seems these staff have vanished into thin air. It is as if all corporate memory of 30 years, and hundreds of childrens lives, has been erased.
Not of course in the minds of the survivors who come forward to Islington Survivors Network (ISN) to tell of their experiences during the 70s and 80s. They describe how they still cannot sleep because of the flashbacks and in the daytime they are traumatised by all kinds of smells, situations and events which trigger memories of sexual crimes, emotional devastation and extreme violence. They show us the physical signs of long-ago beatings, have intense concern about child victims of cruelty which they witnessed and question why seemingly nice social workers did not hear their repeated cries for help. After years of being on constant high alert, trying to protect themselves and others from abuse, I always ask – ‘Is there anywhere now where you feel safe?’ After a long pause, even from those who now have settled relationships and very supportive, loving families, the answer is generally ‘No’. They now seek justice.
Islington Council took Gisburne House over in the mid-60s as a long term placement for young adolescent boys and girls. As an Islington social worker, I visited a 12 year old boy at this old rambling house in the mid 80s. As I was escorted from room to room doors were locked behind me and unlocked in front of me. I felt trapped and was puzzled as it was not a secure unit. A colleague told me that she felt it was unsuitable for young girls and at a meeting had felt scared herself of being hit by the man in charge. This view was repeated by a residential worker who told the Islington Gazette that in 1979 she had also felt unsafe; “The overriding feeling I had there a lot of the time was that I was not personally safe,” she said. “The culture of the place was one of male physical power. I remember seeing staff dragging children into offices and pushing children against walls.” At ISN we can only begin to imagine what it was like for the children, boys and girls, who were placed there sometimes for years and as a punishment denied family contact.
No one has ever been accountable for what happened in response to the many reported allegations and why managers were allowed to resign and disappear. Yet some people of relevance and influence, such as senior council officers and councillors, are alive and quite able to answer key questions. 13 Inquiries in the 90s did not look in any depth at this specific home. But then ISN still don’t know who the White Inquiry interviewed and have still have never seen most of the Inquiry reports. I was interviewed for 4 hours by the Cassam/McAndrew Inquiry in 1993 and when I recently read that Interim Inquiry report obtained through a Freedom of Information request, I only then realised that not a jot of my evidence was in it. In 1995, Ian White asked to see me ‘off record’, and stupidly I agreed, so none of my evidence was in that report although much of its commentary relates to my work and completely undermines it. I still have a letter from Ian White confirming payment of my fare to Oxford – the only proof I have that I did visit him and co-author Kate Hart.
As I now meet so many survivors of this particular children’s home, I am absolutely convinced 100% that I was not wrong in 1990 in my perceptions of an organised crime network targeting children in the care system.
Pin Down as a form of cruel ‘restraint’ and training courses.
‘Arm up your back – knee in chest – hold you down – knee on neck. Wait until you almost blacked-out/ choked out and then lift off the pressure but if you got angry the knee would go back on your neck.‘ ISN survivor from Mildmay Park children’s home
‘She jumped on top of me on the floor. Dont know why. She held her arm across my throat so I couldnt move. This went on a few minutes.’ ISN survivor from Northampton Park children’s home
‘It was foot on neck’ ISN survivor from Elwood St children’s home
‘She had to be held for over an hour as she was out of control.’ Staff record from 80 Highbury New Park
‘He was a little boy of 6 yrs. Staff violently restrained him. I can see it now. I will never forget it.’ ISN survivor from Colgrain childrens home
‘Pin Down caused miscarriages.’ ISN survivors
The Pin Down Inquiry took place 1990-91 in Staffordshire.
It concluded that ;
“Pin Down was narrow, punitive and harshly restrictive”, and that under the system children suffered “despair” and “humiliation”. It consisted of “the worst of institutional control” was “inexplicable” and “wholly negative”. The report asserted that Pindown was intrinsically “unethical, unprofessional and unacceptable” and breached Community Homes Regulations and Secure Accommodation Provisions. It lacked professional oversight.
There has been no similar inquiry into the use of Pin Down in Islington children’s homes. Yet not only is it widely reported by ISN survivors, who still experience the trauma from being held down by brutal force, it was also a method promoted in internal LBI training courses for residential staff and said to have been validated by a psychiatrist as a trainer.
Pin Down was widely used at Gisburne and ISN have accounts of the exact same types of force used on young children by staff as described by former staff and the survivors. Staff have told ISN that they were trained in Pin Down by an Islington child psychiatrist and the head of the home. They were told if it didn’t work to use any force necessary ‘do what you have to do’. Yet from 1968, Gisburne advertised itself as a training establishment for residential workers on a CCETSW (social work) course. It stated that Gisburne House was for full assessment of children and ‘interim therapy.’ They aimed to recruit those ‘interested in devising new assessment techniques for disturbed and deprived young children.’
Duker, the manager, advertised for young people aged 18-20 to undertake the Home Office certificate in training (cost £90) at Gisburne ‘ who wish to make a career in residential social work with disturbed children.’ He also advertised for Senior Houseparents – qualified residential social workers experienced in reception and assessment work. It is not known how many trainees he recruited and Peter Righton had a key role at that time in the Home Office running the training and policy on residential child care.
Sheila Pyke spent two days a week on a Certificate in Residential Care course at Southwark College with another young Gisburne residential worker. She says there were a lot of students on short term placements including a young man from Jersey.
A former residential worker remembered that in the mid 80s Geoff Wylde- Jones held red carpet training events and described him as having charisma. ISN do not understand if the Islington Training Department had a role in monitoring and sanctioning this training. It appears, as it was in Staffordshire, than the residential staff held all the power over the children with no management oversight.
Decision to close Gisburne House and bring children’s residential homes within the Borough.
In 1985, a council meeting decided to bring Islington children back from the Home Counties into new children’s homes within the Borough and the decision was made to close Gisburne House as it had only 12 children there. This decision was not implemented as children continued to be placed there in order to reach the council target of 148 children’s LBI residential care placements. It was finally demolished in 1996.
Police have told ISN to ‘bring them a victim’ or ‘ring in to the 101 police hotline’. Proactive intelligence led policing, multi agency strategy meetings and joint investigation with social workers, are multi agency protocols of the past eradicated from statutory guidance since 2013. Police will currently only investigate when a victim comes forward. Islington Survivors Network would not generally recommend calling through to 101 about something so complex (and some survivors do not have computers or the means to complete a form online) – ISN needs police officers we know we can trust, who we can recommend and who will treat survivors sensitively. The Gisburne children, now adults, must be in safe hands though the process of re-living and re-stating their evidence.
Gisburne Manager and residential care worker arrested and charged but not convicted as there was no trial.
There was an Islington police investigation in 1998 as this letter illustrates;
‘Two remanded on charges of indecency’, Watford Observer 27.03.1999
In 1999, it was reported in the Bristol Post that there were arrests of 2 managers in the 70s for sexual abuse of children. The head of Gisburne House and a care worker were charged with sexual offences. The cases were not taken to trial. An ISN survivor was to be one of the witnesses as was a former member of staff who went to Snaresbrook court only to be told she was no longer required.
Geoff Wylde Jones worked for Islington children’s homes between 1971 and 1985. His names comes up in many file records as being in many homes. Some dates overlap. Perhaps he filled in for other managers at times. He certainly had much influence within residential child care in the Borough.
- Hutton Poplars (ISN survivor account)
- Highbury Crescent 1971-2
- Gisburne House 1972-84
- 29 Highbury New Park 1975
- Conewood St 1977-82
- Harlow 1981 (ISN survivor account)
- Grosvenor Avenue 1978 & regular visitor
- Mildmay 1982-3
- Dixton 1985
There were other allegations about Geoffrey Wylde-Jones who the children made up a song about:
Gisburne House song
I know a children’s home down Gammons Lane where we get beaten up 10 times a day. Egg and bacon we don’t see We get sawdust in our tea, that’s why we’re gradually fading away. 6’o’clock in the morning you hear Jonesy shout ‘Get out of bed, get out of bed before you get a clout’. I caught the scarlet fever, I caught it very bad, they wrapped me in a blanket and threw me in the van The van was very bumpy and I nearly tumbled out when I got back to Gisburne House I heard the kids all shout ‘Mummy daddy take me home from this fucked up children’s home I’ve been here for a week or two and they make me scrub the loo. No more English, no more French no more sitting on the old school bench and if us kids don’t agree they put us in the lavatory. Come to Gisburne Come to Gisburne It’s a place of misery There’s a notice in the doorway Saying ‘ Welcome it’s a treat’. Take no notice Take no notice It’s a load of bloody lies If it wasn’t for Jonesey It would be a paradise Build a bomfire Build a bomfire Put Jonesey on the top Put the rest of them in the middle And burn the bloody lot!
ISN are aware of at least 4 women who were alleged child victims of Mr Jones. A survivor spoke to the Evening Standard in 2003, ‘I felt I was a bad person,’ she says tears rolling freely down her cheeks. “I wanted to tell someone. But who was going to believe me? Who? He was respectable and I was just a kid’. At ISN we have heard that senior social workers had reported him a number of times although they still haven’t gone on record about this. It is confirmed in council minutes dated the 23rd April 1985 that Mr Wylde-Jones resigned. He died in 1986 in Norfolk. Richard Gentle took over as the next manager who had previously been manager of an Islington home called New Park House in Cuffley. John Rea Price was the Director of Social Services from 1972-92 and residential workers raised concerns about Gisburne House with him in 1983.They received no response despite submitting it twice.
In 2000, Michael Taylor a residential worker was convicted for sexual offences against boys at Gisburne House in the 70s and received a sentence of 4 years imprisonment. In 2016, Hertfordshire police responded to a Freedom of Information request and confirmed that they had conducted one investigation into Gisburne House which resulted in No Further Action.
Operation Redrail 15.3.2018: Report presented at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
Islington police and the Director of Social Services Paul Curran both requested a wider investigation into child abuse following the White Inquiry 1995. The request went to Det Supt Akers who held the Metropolitan Police portfolio for child protection. She replied that there was ‘insufficient tangible evidence on which to base a holistic enquiry on the scale that would be necessary in the circumstances.’ She made direct reference to an investigation concerning Gisburne House. ‘Whilst accepting that much of the factual and anecdotal matter contained in there report has not been fully tested, any investigation would of necessity involve tactics that have recently failed to produce a satisfactory judicial outcome (I refer to the Gisburne House enquiry where methods used to obtain evidence allied to the historical nature of the complaints, were deemed an abuse of process.’ ‘There are marked similarities between the nature of the Gisburne House situation and other potential sites of enquiry that on balance tend to indicate poor odds of success in the courts assuming there is sufficient relevant evidence in the first instance.’ She goes on to say that, in reaching the decision, she had considered the position of Islington Social Services, the wider public interest and the likely effect on potential victims of abuse.’ With the Met police shutting down the possibility of a wide scale investigation in 1999 following 14 Inquiries, it is no wonder that ISN have faced nothing but brick walls in trying to work with the Met Police ever since. The suggestion of abuse of process in the Gisburne case may relate to the Snaresbrook court case that was suddenly closed down. There was at the time a backlash against police investigations which tried to trace multiple known and alleged victims of abuse. It became termed ‘trawling’ for evidence and was discredited mainly because Insurance Companies threatened that if this was done they would not uphold the claims.
The Report of the Inquiry into the Management of Child Care in the London Borough of Islington – commonly referred to as the White Report (1995:p3) included a quote from the Evening Standard dossier presented to the Inquiry, police and Department of Health (this dossier has disappeared), ‘Over many years and at practically every children’s home, children have alleged abuse by named workers, often staff shared their fears that management has been slow to investigate, sometimes refused to involve police and suspected staff mostly quietly resigned even when they apparantly admitted the abuse’ .
The police additionally confirmed the extent of an Islington based organised child abuse network in an article in 1993:
Child abuse sex ring found (1.8.93), Sunday Times
“Britain’s biggest police inquiry into organised sexual abuse of children has been launched by Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad.
The investigation into networks of paedophiles who have been paying for sex with boys and girls, has uncovered several groups across London and other parts of southern England who link up to swap information and abuse children. For the past five months officers from the squad have secretly liaised with directors of social services in more than half a dozen London boroughs amid fears that organised gangs have targeted vulnerable children in their areas.
Several of the most prominent offenders under surveillance are wealthy businessmen. They have been linked to a sex ring abusing young people living in children’s homes in the London borough of Islington.”
“The police inquiry has produced evidence that the north London borough has been a magnet for child molesters over the past few years, as a result of the council’s lax control over the young people in its charge.”
“On the same day the government ordered its health watchdog, the Social Services Inspectorate, to examine evidence that officials in the Labour-run council repeatedly ignored junior social workers who warned that paedophiles were preying on children in care.”
Det Supt Akers refusal to launch a wider police investigation in 1995 is covered in this Mail on Sunday article.
Survivors tell us about Gisburne House that:
- there were very young children living at Gisburne, known as ‘the intermediates’ who had a range of physical and learning disabilities. The survivors worry deeply about what happened to these most vulnerable children because they tried so hard to protect them and feel that they ‘failed’. It was nowhere part of the official description of Gisburne House that it had standards of care suitable for disabled children.
- as very young teenagers they had no sexual experience but were put on the pill at a young age.
- the girls had no protection from sexual assault by some boys – as well as by male and female staff – and they knew the boys to also be victims of abuse by staff.
- the children were sent on holidays with group passports to Spain and they met children from other homes from as far away as Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- some of their friends in care died, they say, as a consequence of the abuse experienced at Gisburne House.
- that there was an attic which had mattresses laid out in it where children were taken and where men were waiting for them.
- a local police officer quizzed them when they arrived at Gisburne including talking with them about intimate personal subjects
- that there were some staff who they liked and one person in particular who owned a house nearby with horses and took the children to see them
- if they began to speak about the abuse then they were threatened with being sent to secure units. This did happen to some. They were also threatened with excessive house duties and deprived of family contact and visits home.
- that some girls who became pregnant had terminations
- that boys who got drunk had their stomachs pumped
- that children were sent out all day and could not return to the house and if late for supper were denied food. They got bored and hungry wandering around Watford and stole food and drink. One member of staff followed them to make sure they were OK as this policy greatly concerned her. ‘GH used to chuck them out telling them to find a job and they couldn’t come back all day‘ Former staff
- it was a military regime and continuous degrading and humiliating of children
- some staff removed children’s treasured possessions, destroying/cutting up their clothes and personal belongings and making them walk for miles and miles until they fainted with exhaustion.
- physical violence was extreme, punching, slapping, pinching and some still bear the marks. ISN hear the same repeated accounts of heads being banged against walls and hands clasped around throats.
The Inside School
‘There was no education in this school, we took no exams.’ ISN Survivor
It seems from the council minutes below that the Director of Social Services preferred children to be best served by separate educational provision. This must have been over-ruled because the Inside school was within Gisburne House. Survivors speak of a very harsh regime in the school from which there was no escape. One woman teacher however was much liked and some survivors stayed in contact with her long after they had left.
ISN have heard an account of a cage structure (unclear) just outside the Inside School where a boy was seen kept inside it and then dragged out of it by 3 staff.
A former residential worker who was young and inexperienced described to ISN how there was no staff at the school and she had to step in and had no idea what to do.