Address: 26-28 Northampton Park, Canonbury, N1 2PJ
Open: 1977 -1998
‘Residents were beaten physically and there was sexual abuse.’
‘I got a black eye.’
‘Saw a disabled boy get restrained. Head butt, wrist bent back, thumb bent back. Upsetting.’
‘They didn’t care about us at all’
‘There was a kitchen and games room in the basement which led to the garden. There was a ground floor living room, office and toilet. The first floor flat was for girls and the top floor for boys. It was a big house with a massive garden.’
‘Northampton Park was locked rooms. Locked in bedrooms. Big room at the back where they were locked in. Lockers in front room. TV was on top of the lockers. Back room was for games. Dorms on one side and as you’d been there a while you moved along. Always a man on duty on the top floor with the boys. On the 2nd floor, the manager had a flat in the middle of the front next to the girls dorm.’
‘I remember a big room people were locked in. It happened to my good friend.’
Survivors describe Northampton Park between the mid 70s to the early 80s as a home which included physically, and mentally, disabled children. Yet they observed a lack of specialist care of these children and a lack of appropriate resources. A similar experience is expressed by survivors of Gisburne House.
Survivors remember one boy who wore ‘calipers and a brace’ and another who used a wheelchair. Some children assisted the disabled children to get up and downstairs as there were ‘no proper facilities’. There are references on files of children being ‘good with the handicapped.’
‘There were no lifts. Disabled children had to walk up and down stairs. One used a wheelchair.’
‘I felt so sorry for him in a wheelchair. He was left on his own a lot. He needed someone to care for him 24/7.’
(ISN survivors 1976-1988)
‘Northampton Park has handicapped children’ (Residential worker record 1985)
In 1989 one young person was said to be living in a bed sit at Northampton Park as a stepping stone to independance.
Numbers of ISN survivors who lived in Northampton Park children’s home: 17
9 boys aged 7-15 years and 8 girls aged 8-16 years
1970s: Boys 1 Girls 1
1980s: Boys 4 Girls 4
1990s: Boys 4 Girls 3
Numbers of children named by ISN Survivors and 3 ISN witnesses as living at Northampton Park children’s home
36 children: 17 girls and 19 boys
Numbers of children who lived at Northampton Park children’s home named by other sources
Autumn 1985: 4 children. 3 boys and 1 girl (residential peripatetic worker)
1988: 9 children lived at the home. At the time of a fire there were 6 children and 2 staff in the building ( Islington Gazette: 4.9.87)
In 1988 council minutes described Northampton Park as a home for 8 children
1990: 12 places ( Islington Survivor file entry)
1992: 6 children. 2 girls age 16 years, 1 15 year old boy, one parent and baby, 2 younger boys. Additional staff were recruited to attend to specialist needs of some children. (Residential staff record)
May 1991: Building closed (Islington Gazette 25.3.93)
1993: 5 boys arrested , 2 aged 15, 2 aged 13 and 1 aged 12. (Islington Gazette 23 and 25.3.93.) 3 staff on duty
Residential staff in Northampton Park children’s home named by ISN survivors and former staff
42 staff between 1979 and 1994. 17 men and 25 women.
Life in Northampton Park children’s home
Northampton Park was a smaller home than some of the others and although at times it was a disrupted and unsafe environment, some children valued it being a quieter home in contrast with larger establishments like Gisburne House. Some also appreciated the games room with its large snooker table.
This small home seemed to have a very strange and confused remit – some children went there in emergencies for respite or to get away from another homes – they generally settled well having come from difficult situations as they found the home smaller and more calm. Others were young teenagers and some were disabled physically, but some also psychologically, and needed one-to-one care. There are two accounts of babies placed there – one with a young mother and another with a young father. Yet there were also older teenagers who had been in numbers of previous childrens homes and other often harsh placements.
Separation of siblings
It is a theme throughout ISN enquiries that siblings were often separated and sent to different children’s homes. The Assistant Director Social Services, Lyn Cusack, instructed a social worker that 2 sisters must be kept apart. The social worker described these children as, ‘very bright and close to one another’. Both girls endlessly attempted to be together even travelling long distances alone to reach the other one. Sheringham Road children’s home would not allow visits from the sister but Northampton Park did allow visits and had a more compassionate approach. There seems to have been no consistent policy and no reason for these children to have been split up. The painful legacy from such cruel decision-making about the lives of children who only had each other to care for – is obvious.
Two brothers were also split up in the mid 70s from an older brother despite them making it very clear they wanted to be together. Residential staff said the older boy had too much responsibility for his younger brothers. He was placed in a different home. Without very good reason, every effort should have been made to keep them together. They were left to vote with their feet and to go missing and then be found in other children’s homes on visits. ISN survivors who are twins were split up causing great distress for them even 40 years later.
ISN consider that it was often an abuser’s agenda to keep children separate from their close siblings to discourage them being effective witnesses to abuse or in general getting in the way of it. We do not think this is a far fetched theory.
1987: Northampton Park fire
The press coverage of the fire in 1987 at Northampton Park provides just one side of a complex picture. Here is one survivor’s account of what happened;
‘No-one knew who exactly did it as the girls stood together. We wanted to see what was written about us in the files – that they had recorded the abuse. They wouldn’t let us see our files. The files were taken from the office and burnt in the bath. We were all split up. I was moved into a home where I was neglected and isolated. One girl was put in a secure unit and another sent outside London. The newspapers wrote about us all being drunk but it wasn’t about alcohol, it was about abuse. I didn’t even know anything about drinking at that age.’
An ISN survivor remembers travelling in the minibus from Gisburne House to collect 4 girls, a baby and one boy to take them there away from the fire damage.
Three children were charged with arson and received supervision orders. The Islington Council response to this protest was punitive and criminalised the children who were raising the alarm about abuse. ISN have not seen evidence of any inquiry and survivors do not recall any investigation into the reasons for what happened.
‘They didn’t care about us at all. We told them why it happened but no one asked us anything. They just didn’t care.’
During the 80s there are various survivor accounts of abuse within this children’s home.
As with other homes there are reports of pin down forms of ‘restraint’.
One staff member is described as a very large woman who carried keys and was unkind. ‘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.’
‘Saw a disabled boy get restrained. Head butt, wrist bent back, thumb bent back. Upsetting.’
Visiting staff in their own homes
‘A member of staff had a flat round the corner. He drank and took children there. Gave me advocat and I got drunk on it.’
Visiting staff in their own homes was commonplace and abuse took place in these situations but also some children had a genuinely good time with well-meaning staff. One survivor mentions going to staff homes quite regularly for weekends in the early 80s and having a very good time including meeting their families. John Rea Price the Director of Social Services said staff should be ‘discouraged’ from taking children in care to their homes. There should have been a clear directive.
There were serious disturbances – reported in the local media in the early 90s. In 1993 one former staff member is quoted in the Islington Gazette as saying the police are called almost every night. She said the home did not used to be like that.
In 1984, 2 survivors remember some of the residents stealing the safe and also the minibus, others remember older boys being abusive to them and reporting this. The fact that some children were allocated one-to-one agency workers, and were placed in rooms on their own, indicates that the staff group could not manage the range of ages and needs of the children. One residential worker commented that ‘all the needs, behaviours and problems of the children make this placement unsuitable for a younger boy.’
In 1992 a residential worker expressed concern about the safety and suitability of a younger child coming into the home as there was ‘no alternative placement…’ She described a home in chaos – drugs, alcohol and theft. The press reported that Islington Council set up an investigation.