Islington Suffolk Project

Thornham Magna Estate, Eye, Suffolk

ISN and the Suffolk Project

Some Islington Survivors refer to holidays at Thornham Magna as happy times, Social workers used the opportunity to safely bring together siblings who were otherwise separated in Islington children’s homes.  ISN have no doubt that thousands of Islington children had wonderful holidays on this estate. There has been a single report of an inappropriate and humiliating punishment of one child experienced during an Islington Suffolk holiday.

ISN concerns relate to a founder member of the Paedophile Information Exchange who was living on the estate in the 90s whilst children holidayed there. This was raised in the media at the time, and at Inquiries,but has also recently been the subject of a Metropolitan police investigation presented in 2019 to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

A scheme for poor and disadvantaged Islington children to holiday on the Thornham Magna Estate was set up in 1976 by the 8th Baron Henniker. He offered the use of his land to Islington Council and refers to this in his autobiography ‘We have a camp site with very good washing facilities and another log cabin ( as an addition to tents) which is used a lot in the summer and for many years by groups who came from a very deprived area in Islington.’   Henniker John (2002) Painful extractions. Looking back at a personal journey. Thornham Books p163

The History

The base was 424 St Johns Street EC1

In 1980 it became an independent voluntary organisation and the committee included local Suffolk people. It was set up for, ‘the promotion and provision of a campsite for the use of local groups from Islington Council without distinction of sex, race, colour, political or religious beliefs who would not otherwise get a holiday’

In a 7 acre site, there were tents, a marquee and bedding for 45 people to cook, dine, play and disco. Coaches were provided to and fro including wheelchair access.

Islington Gazette, 12.01.1979

Those who used it were Under 5’s playschemes, youth clubs, foster parents, child minders, physically and mentally disabled adults and young people, women’s groups, ethnic minority groups, single parent’s groups and local Suffolk groups. There were 2 fields, a pond and a wood. 2 site workers were employed to maintain the equipment and visitors take their own adult helpers.

There was a log cabin with 2 bedrooms for about 20 people so that they could go there all year round and about 1500 went every year.

Chair Dave Parre is cited as saying ‘Some of the kids who come out here have never seen the countryside before. .. It’s a marvellous introduction for them’.

As Charity (No: 277378) it was set up on 23.3.79 and closed on 30.9.92

As a Limited Company (No 2152710) Islington –Suffolk Project Ltd was incorporated on 5.8.87

‘to provide holiday facilities and assist in the provision of holidays for poor persons resident in the London Borough of Islington and in particular in the following wards within the borough; 1. St Peters; 2. Canonbury East; 3. Canonbury West; 4. St Mary’s; 5. Holloway; 6. Highbury; 7. Hillmartin; and any other area within Islington at the discretion of the management committee of the association in need of such facilities and holidays by reason of their youth, age, infirmity or disablement or social and economic circumstances.’

The registered address was West Library, Bridgeman Road, N1 1BD and the final set of accounts was submitted on 31.12.98.

The charity was supported by the following organisations:

  • Lord and Lady Henniker
  • Islington Council
  • BBC Children in Need
  • Telathon Trust
  • Help a London Child
  • Cripplegate Foundation
  • City Parochial Foundation
  • Charity Projects
  • Richard Cloudesley Trust
  • Shepheard, Epstein and Hunter
  • Durkan Bros
  • Eastern Angles Theatre Company
  • Kings Head Upper St

The company was dissolved on 11.4.2000

8.3.1983 Islington Council meeting records show that they gave £3233 to the Suffolk Project.

Funding was cut by £10,000 in 1995 and fully removed in 1998

Concerns in 1992

For a comprehensive statement and analysis of issues relating to Peter Righton and the Islington Suffolk Project see Closing Report – Operation Redrail 2: Metropolitan Police. Operation Winter Key

The witness statement of Peter McKelvie to IICSA 15.2.19 addresses documents relating to Peter Righton. Paul Pelham Righton known as Peter Righton (14.4.26 – 12.10.2007) was a social work academic, government advisor and a member (No. 51) of the Paedophile Information Exchange. He was convicted in 1992 and fined £900. He admitted importing and possessing illegal images of children. At this same time he was working on a Government White Paper on a Charter for Young People.

Magistrates at Evesham, Worcestershire, heard that the material included copies of a recognised paedophile magazine and photographs of young boys under the age of 16 posing partly dressed or naked. Peter Righton, 66, of Badsey Road, Evesham, admitted two illegal importation charges and one charge of possessing obscene material. (Daily Express, 17th September 1992)

Whilst on bail and after conviction he lived on the Thornham Magna Estate.

The Evening Standard (6th May 1993) presented the story of Peter Righton and Richard Alston living at Thornham Magna where it was known Islington children stayed for holidays. 

As the extent of his alleged activities emerged, police discovered that Righton had moved to the Henniker estate. Suffolk social workers were alerted to establish the circumstances in which he was living.

Lord Henniker, 77, told the Standard he did not know Righton and was not responsible for him living on the estate. ‘The estate belongs to my son.’

His son’s wife, Mrs Lesley Henniker-Major, said: ‘Mr Righton is a tenant. He came to us through an estate agent with impeccable references.’

The Standard has established that the London Borough of Islington, whose children’s homes are the subject of an inquiry following our revelations that young people in council care were exposed to paedophiles, pimps and child pornographers, sends children to the Henniker estate under a scheme called The Islington Suffolk Project.
Hundreds of youngsters from Islington and other councils have holidayed at the Henniker estate, staying in log cabins, since the mid-1970s.

The Chief Constable of Suffolk and the child protection manager visited the Henniker family to ask that Peter Righton should not be living on the estate where so children spend holidays.

8.6. One of my investigations included the Suffolk Project where thousands of Islington children were taken on holiday to the property of Baron Henniker at ‘Thornham Magna’ in Eye, Suffolk. Peter Righton, PIE member, lived on the estate after he had been convicted in 1992 of possession of abusive images of children and a visit was made by Suffolk professionals to Baron Henniker to ask Righton to leave the estate, but this was refused. (Liz Davies: Report to Morgan Review 18.2.18)

‘Drive to discover more about child sex predator Peter Righton’s time in Suffolk and the links to national abuse inquiries’ East Anglian Daily Times, 11th October 2020

Peter Righton’s activities were exposed in the BBC Inside Story film ‘The secret life of a paedophile’ 1994.

See also ISN Report #10: Pro-Paedophile Activism in 1970s and 1980s Islington: PIE Central and Peter Righton

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