Secure Units

London secure units 1980s

Secure Units 1984 (Blumenthal 1985)
Secure Units 1984 (Blumenthal 1985)
Single secure room provision 1980 (Blumenthal 1985)
Single secure room provision 1980 (Blumenthal 1985)
London Boroughs Regional Planning Committee 26.2.79

Secure Units that Islington children were sent to:

Ave Maria

Cumberlow Lodge

Frant Court

Melanie Klein House

Milton House

Middlesex Lodge

Orchard Lodge

Stamford House

Detention Centres and YTC’s mentioned by ISN survivors

Ashford Remand Centre

Birchbrooks House

Blantyre House

Camphill

Court Lees

Duncroft

Feltham

Glen Parva

Hollesley Bay

Kidlington

Latchmere House

Loudham Grange

St Christopher’s Bay

Turners Court

Walsh Manor

Woodvale

THE DEVELOPMENT OF SECURE UNITS AS A LOCAL AUTHORITY RESPONSIBILITY 1970 – 1980s:

A Brief history

ISN has included this short history of secure units to provide a background to the placement of many Islington children in secure accommodation. Policy changes from 1970 provided the perfect environment for child sexual exploitation to flourish within the child care systems. The Home Office, advised by Paedophile Information Exchange member (number 51) Peter Righton, led the shift to very small units, run by local authorities and placements to be made outside of the courts. For those paedophiles who had infiltrated local authority child care this was a field day.  The units had high staff ratios to fulfil the aim of so called treatment programmes based on one-to-one staff relationships with children. Intimacy was officially approved of supposedly in order to replace the impact of ‘broken’ homes and social deprivation. The reality was grooming and sexual exploitation in a context of physical brutality (including PinDown), psychological abuse and neglect.

[PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) set up in the early 70s (or even earlier) and campaigned to abolish the age of consent by which a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual acts. As a campaign organisation they were also a base for networking and promoting pro-paedophile views. Islington is often referred to as PIE Central as it was the centre of many of the meetings and gatherings of PIE members some of whom infiltrated Islington children’s services. This ISN website has compiled the links between PIE and Islington child care systems. https://islingtonsurvivors.co.uk/isn-reports/ ]

Smaller, intimate units with high staff/child ratios

This policy of smaller units enabling intimacy and intense staff relationships with children was give much attention in the social work literature of the time and became the prevailing accepted form of practice under the guise of ‘innovation’ and ‘change’ from prior punitive regimes. This was a model much promoted and endorsed by self professed paedophiles and those who wrote pro-paedophilia. It was implemented not only in secure units run by the local authorities but also in residential children’s homes. In 1982 an Islington Councillor was questioning the cost of the high staff ratio in Sheringham Road children’s home as being 2 staff to 3 children (Community Care 18.11.82).

In 1977 Peter Righton, self professed paedophile, wrote in the social work professional publication Social Work Today an article on ‘Sex and the residential social worker‘ (15.2.77). He said, ‘It remains true that staff are much more likely to be forgiven seven times for vicious cruelty to a resident than once for a sexual liaison with him – even when the relationship is full desired and enjoyed by both.. Provided there is no question of exploitation, sexual relationships freely entered into by residents – including adolescents- should not be a matter for automatic enquiry, nor should a sexual relationship between a resident and a worker be grounds for automatic dismissal’.

Len Davis, another well known social work academic with pro-paedophile views, wrote in ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ (1983) discouraging the need for reporting to the authorities or suspension of staff accused of sexual abuse of a child. ‘It must be remembered that frequently adults and young people who have become linked in this way have previously had and still have – an established relationship and its destruction by formal and sometimes legal action can leave the young person with unbearable guilt about the part he or she has played’.My experience is that from the moment of investigation societal violence may often be so strong that all involved are damaged or destroyed in the process’. Interestingly it was Islington Council policy, as clarified in 1984 in a council meeting, whereby decisions about reporting to police staff who had committed crimes and been suspended had to be first discussed with the Chief Executive and Chair of Personnel to ensure no member of staff was subject to police investigation unnecessarily and to decide if the council’s own disciplinary protocols were more appropriate. This provided a potential loophole for allegations and evidence of serious crimes against children not to be reported to police.

Council minutes 31.7.84

A prolific social work author and teacher with an audience of social workers through the British Association of Social Work publications, Davis wrote about the ‘need for intimacy’ in residential children’s homes – a policy which led to greater opportunity for self professed paedophiles to access children. ‘A boy needs close relationships with males who are not going to disappear from his life whenever he chooses to report that one of them has been playing with his ‘willie’ and understanding as he grows through adolescence that sex is neither nasty nor dirty’ (Davis 1983). Davis acknowledged Righton as making suggestions to his draft manuscript ‘Residential care- a community resource‘ (1981). Social work publications of the 70s and early 80s were much influenced by self professed paedophiles who found a powerful voice within the social work profession. The website Spotlightonabuse.wordpress.com covers this subject in some depth.

Davis cites Righton as saying that “chronological age by itself is both arbitrary and misleading as an indication of a person’s need to be ‘ protected’ from adult sexual advances‘. (Righton 1981 ‘Perspectives on Paedophila’ Batsford). Righton himself boasted to an Islington social worker of his relationships with boys. A BBC Inside Story programme in 1994 The secret life of a paedophile’ exposed Peter Righton’s crime networks.

In 1983 John Picton a residential worker in Conewood Street children’s home abducted a boy. A paedophile magazine criticised Islington Council’s intervention to protect the child and described that a ‘strong relationship formed between a boy and an older man whom he accepted as surrogate father‘ and wrote of the right of both to an ‘affectionate self determined relationship‘. ISN Survivors say that Picton continued to have contact with children in the children’s homes after he was convicted. This was one example of a paedophile who had infiltrated the Islington child care system and who clearly had connections with PIE through the magazine.

It was Len Davis (1981) who suggested that children’s homes were named by the street address which many of the LBI homes were. He said that hundreds of homes were named after trees or ended in the word ‘field’ and instead he suggested that a street number and name was ‘less conspicuous particularly if the home was going through a difficult phase and the young person had to give his address when seeking employment‘. This practice further blurred the distinction between a family home and a local authority children’s institution.

It is absolutely clear that secure provision was no longer for serious offenders and older teenagers but for young children from age 14 who may have stolen to survive poverty and neglect or who were traumatized from all forms of social and economic deprivation and disadvantage, bereavements, abandonment, excessive caring responsibilities, racism and discrimination. As the secure units developed, they facilitated child sexual abuse by organised networks of sexual exploitation and provided a frightening threat to children who were beginning to disclose the abuse or express the impact of the crimes committed against them.

The Home Office and PIE

In 1977 Tim Hulbert worked at the Home Office as a consultant and he gave evidence in 2019 to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) of his understanding that the Home Office provided funding to the Paedophile Information Exchange. He stated that he had raised his concerns at the time with his boss at the Home Office Voluntary Service Unit, Clifford Hindley, and been told that PIE was a bone fide campaigning organisation, even if its objectives appeared objectionable, and that it was funded at the request of Special Branch who found it useful to identify people with paedophile inclinations and to keep an eye on the membership. This evidence was interrogated during the IICSA hearings and is available in much detail on the IICSA website. The changes to residential care as outline above were led by the Home Office.

The National Inquiry (IICSA) remit did not include the Approved Schools which were run by the Home Office until the late 60s. This was despite a vigorous survivor campaign from those who had been in the Approved Schools and wanted them included in the Inquiry.

1947- 1964

Prior to the Second World War the means given in the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act for children to be locked up were rarely used. Approved schools were residential schools for education and training where children could be sent by the court for reasons including their own protection or as punishment for crimes. The Home Secretary had responsibility for approving the schools under the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act.

Post war, there were two incidents of rebellion by children in Approved Schools which influenced subsequent policy. A murder at the Standon Farm Approved school in Staffordshire and boys caused damage and then ran away from the Carlton House Approved school, Bedfordshire.

In 1947 at Standon Farm Approved School  ,9 boys obtained rifles from the School army cadet force armoury and set up a complex system in the headmaster’s office so that the gun would fire when the door opened and kill him. Instead of the headmaster, it was a woodwork teacher who entered the room and was killed. Four of the boys were found guilty of murder and imprisoned, while five other boys admitted a charge of conspiracy to murder, two being sent to Borstal, one to another approved school and two detained within the mental health systems.

In 1947, a Committee of Enquiry into the conduct of Standon Farm Approved School and the circumstances connected with the murder of a master at the school on 15th February 1947 (Maude, J and Corbett M), found that the criminal act was the ‘result of the grievances of the ringleaders’. These grievances, which had built up over a period of time, were centred around the delay in release, isolated position of the school, lack of recreational activities and the extreme severity of the discipline which led to the loss of privileges and severe collective punishments. The report described the ‘unimaginative system of rewards, privileges and grading in operation’ which the boys said led to unfair treatment.  Freedom to go outside the school was granted only to ‘selected boys on very special and infrequent occasions’. As a punishment boys were deprived of recreation. The number of canings had increased to from 25 in 1945 to 50 in 1946 and most of the convicted boys had been punished with canings. The headmaster ran a ruthless regime of intimidation and severe punishments. The report concluded that the regime, in a school of 65 boys, had led to an overwhelming hostility to the headmaster. He was subsequently dismissed and the school closed.

The second incident occurred in August 1959 at Carlton House Approved School, Bedfordshire, when a group of boys rebelled against the school headmaster and staff.  They climbed onto the roof and threw stones, causing much damage and numerous boys also ran away together. The boys involved the press and made allegations of ill-treatment by staff, lengthy detention at the school and interference with their mail. The school built to house 30 boys had then housed 115. This led to a debate in the House of Commons in 1960

Although no one was killed in the Carlton House incident, the childrens actions attracted a great deal of press attention. A Home Office inquiry by Durand QC found that some staff had regularly used illegal types of corporal punishment on boys and the headmaster imposed lengthy detentions. Durand QC concluded by making recommendations for improving the practice and management of Approved Schools. His proposals also led to the setting up of secure units to ‘manage some of the more difficult residents’. Three secure units were established. (Carlton House became a Community Home with Education in 1973).

Three secure units opened in 1964-5 Kingswood in Bristol, Redhill in Surrey and Red Bank in Warrington were designed for;

  • Persistent absconders
  • Exceptionally unruly and uncooperative boys
  • Exceptionally disturbed boys requiring psychiatric help
  • Medical misfits eg epileptics and diabetics (Home Office 1960 cited in Blumenthal 1985)

It was thought that by having highly secure facilities in a few specific institutions this would keep Approved Schools more open for a wider cohort of children. The government response to the voices of the children who had rebelled against cruel institutional regimes and who had committed criminal acts, was to focus on locking them up out of sight, rather than addressing the reasons for their behaviours.

1965 – 1970’s

In 1967 there was discussion about the need to define Approved Schools not as custodial but instead to use progressive methods of ‘treatment and therapy’, whilst maintaining security. The 1969 Children and Young Persons Act promoted a model of treatment based on the idea that all children in Approved Schools had deprived backgrounds and emphasized the importance of achieving interpersonal relationships between staff and children to compensate for past deprivation (Home Office Advisory Council 1970).

This meant setting up units of small groups of children and staffing them with a less hierarchical structure. Decisions would be delegated to as low a level as possible so that all staff would feel they had more control and be more able to help the children. The units would be more like children’s homes rather than a school. The name Approved School was changed to Community Home with Education (CHE). Importantly control passed from the Home Office to the Local Authorities who had little understanding of secure provision. The courts could not send children to these institutions but placed them into the Care of the Local Authority which would make the placement decision. The provision included girls. Perpetrators who had infiltrated the local authority care system now had increased power over decisions about the children. The last Approved School was reclassified to a CHE in 1974.

Without the option of the custodial Approved Schools, there was then a rise in children being sent by courts to borstals and detention centres and a rise in children being placed in secure accommodation within CHE’s.  This led to an increase in secure units within the child care system.

In 1972 a government report ‘Development of Secure Provision in the Community Homes’  considered the concept of ‘treatment by relationships’ and stated that children stressed by treatment attempts may regress to earlier childhood states and that this regression gave opportunity for further treatment.  It was also said that much younger children should be sent to secure units as early as possible to satisfy their treatment needs in that setting. The report recommended units for just 4 children with minimum facilities. The result was claustrophobic conditions and a lack of educational and recreational facilities.

Some critics like Cawson (1979) thought that a secure setting should instead be a last resort.

In the early 1970s, in spite of the revised policy, few new secure units were built. The government needed to provide incentives to Local Authorities which were now responsible for the secure unit costs. It was thought that a requirement for small units would be more likely to persuade the Local Authorities to assume control of them. ‘It is unfortunate that consideration of administrative convenience rather than considerations of how to provide best for the care and development of the children, seems to have been used to determine the size of the units’ (Blumenthal 1985). Given the involvement of Righton in this plan, and the subsequent recruitment of paeophiles widely into the system, ISN consider that this policy was in part designed to create easy access by abusers to children in the care system under a disguise of a ‘progressive child centred’ policy. Based on the ideas presented in ‘Care and Treatment in a Planned Environment’ (Home Office 1970) a report in 1978 (DHSS) stated that, ‘staff gave up their own time to help the boys, provided treats, outings or facilities for school recreation from their own pockets and often welcomed boys into their own homes’.

This change in staff approach was explained as a result of the recruitment policy. The Report (1970) made it clear that the CHE’s would replicate families. Control would be based on relationships not sanctions and tailored to individual needs. In a smaller unit this became defined as, ‘not the making of rules to suit individual boys or situations but as the breaking of rules to suit individuals‘. With staffing levels of 2 to one child this approach enabled the grooming and manipulation of children through rewards such as allowing them to watch TV, stay up late etc. It was basically a behaviour therapy form of controlling rewards and punishments (positive and negative reinforcement) to facilitate the abuse of the children.

(It was not until 1989 that the Director of Social Services, John Rea Price, ‘discouraged’ staff from taking children in care to their homes). There was a long history in the 70s and 80s of residential staff taking children into their own homes. Whilst some of the experiences were positive for children many survivors tell ISN of abuse that took place.

Islington Gazette 28.9.89

The average age of the children became much lower (14 years) and the reason for admission was petty crime or behavior defined as ‘socially unacceptable’ which the treatment was intended to reduce or stop.  Very few of the children had committed serious crimes. ‘Treatment’ implied and enabled a medical approach to children who were not sick. The criteria for admission was ‘severe misbehavior or persistent absconding’ but the units were also, since the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, thought to be suitable for the under 17 year olds who had been previously remanded to borstal or prison. Young children with no offending history were exposed to older teenagers who had committed serious crime.

It was thought that the success of ‘treatment’ was better if there was greater contact between staff and specific children and provided a rationale for staffing levels to be increased.

The expansion of secure units continued until 1979. It became clear that individual staff relating intensely to individual children created relationship difficulties in a group context especially within the physical confinement of small units. Control and treatment was seen to become very difficult in the units when based mainly on staff/child relationships. The following account explains how the ‘intimacy’ worked in practice ‘ breaking the rules as stated above.

‘The way staff and children develop mutual relationships in a residential situation is for both parties to signal preferences for one another. Inevitable this process involves a private breaking of unofficial rules and norms of behavior and in some cases the breaching of formal edicts such as turning a blind eye. All these negotiations are delicate and require careful synchronisation’  (Milham et al,1978).

The controlling and custodial functions of the staff were seen to be at odds with staff being ‘treatment agents’. A DHSS report (1978) began to critique the medical model as applied in secure units. It was based on an assumption that assumed that healthy people are not disruptive to society and that anti-social behaviour is a symptom of individual or family pathology. ‘By this reasoning any measures taken to prevent a recurrence of anti-social behaviour can be defined as ‘treatment’ or ‘therapy’ rather than punishment‘. It stated that there is considerable evidence to suggest that though behaviour may be linked to severe personal or family problems, ‘in fact many environmental, socio-economic and educational factors are influential.’ It criticised the concept in ‘Care and Treatment in a Planned Environment‘ (Home Office 1970) which used the words ‘care’ and ‘treatment’ interchangeably and defined neither. ‘Treatment might refer to specialist facilities for ‘physical or mental disorders’ but also to a whole environment including the attitude of staff to children in a ‘milieu therapy’. sense.’ The report found that the concept of treatment led to much confusion and different approaches to rules and sanctions relating to staying up late, what the children were allowed to eat and drink, taking showers etc. ISN survivors give an example of tomato ketchup and some staff allowing it and others not with different meals such that they did not understand what was allowed by whom, when or why and were punished severely when they got it ‘wrong’. Survivors describe being in a constant state of anxiety and fear unable to anticipate the response of staff to everyday situations.

Staff were also providing ‘therapy’ or ‘counselling’ without any relevant qualifications. The 1978 report commented that many assistant staff ‘showed uncertainty and inexperience‘ relating to providing counselling, care and control. ISN have some accounts of hypnosis being used by residential staff. Survivors also speak of being drugged and raped. Therapy and the medical model easily provided a rationale and justification for the abuse of children in plain sight. The ISN files show that, while some social workers were concerned, most accepted the secure unit and residential children’s home regimes and explanations for abusive practices as the norm and did not challenge the staff or protect the children.

1980s

By 1981 a government report, ‘Legal and professional aspects of the use of secure accommodation for children in care’ (DHSS 1981) showed that children in the secure units did not stop offending and that non-offenders and less serious offenders were disadvantaged by being on the units. It was considered that many of these children should not have been placed in secure units. ‘It still has to be established that the majority of juvenile offenders are in need of ‘homes’ rather than good schools or that removal from home into an institution populated by other delinquents is advisable at all. On the contrary most available evidence suggests that such establishments are criminogenic, reinforcing rather than correcting delinquent attitudes and behaviour ‘ (DHSS 1978).

The report said children should only be in secure placements if they presented a risk to themselves or others and alternative accommodation was not available. This included children labelled as ‘persistent and serious offenders’, ‘absconders’ and ‘self harmers’  Also those who had been ‘highly disruptive in other institutions’. Few units were built after 1979. In 1980 there were 438 places in secure units and it was up to Local Authorities to decide the aim and nature of each unit. Children had no right of representation or appeal against the decision to be placed in secure accommodation.

There were new regulations in 1983 which no longer allowed the use of single secure rooms within the units. Some units closed after falling numbers and others had received critical inspection reports.

With very small units, the demand for places fluctuated within such small catchment areas and it was difficult for local authorities to justify staffing levels. The units lacked all kinds of facilities, social, educational and recreational, causing children to be subject to sensory deprivation. Children were frustrated and angry confined in cramped conditions. Fences and masonry walls gave a prison like impression and there was lack of ventilation. Units were described as ‘claustrophobic, dull and bare without light or air and the length of stay was longer than anticipated’ (Milham et al 1978).

Image from ‘Teenage Remand Centres (1977) World in Action Vol 4

The model of care had gone further than the secure units to many of the newly established residential children’s homes set up within local authorities in the 70s. The film of Gisburne House entitled ‘Teenage remand centres’ (World in Action Vol 4) described it as a Community Home. ISN survivors speak of being kept in locked rooms in the children’s homes including in Highbury Crescent and Sheringham Road. PinDown and excessive physical punishment was policy in many homes and some untrained residential staff adopted forms of inappropriate ‘treatment’ in the guise of behavior therapy, regression therapy or hypnosis. Survivors describe being drugged and raped by staff. Such a pretence of treatment enabled extensive control of the children by those staff who were sexually harming them. The context of ‘treatment’ also gave increased power to those psychiatrists and psychologists who colluded with the abusive staff.

Reference to;

Blumenthal G J (1985) Development of secure units in child care. Gower.

Cawson P and Heal S (1975) Organisation and change in children’s institutions’ in Tizard  J, and Sinclair I and Clarke R (Eds) Varieties of residential experience. RKP.

Cawson P (1979) Children referred to closed units. DHSS

DHSS (1978) Community Homes. A study of residential staff. Research Report 2. DHSS

Home Office Advisory Council on Child Care (1970) Care and Treatment in a Planned Environment. HMSO

Maude, J and Corbett M (1947) Committee of Enquiry into the conduct of Standon Farm Approved School and the circumstances connected with the murder of a master at the school on 15th February 1947 

Milham et al (1978) Locking up children. Saxon House.


1990s Voice of the Child in Care Advocacy Group had the sole authority from the Home Office to advocate for children in Secure Accommodation. This was their map of the units at that time. The role of VCC was interrogated during the Islington Inquiries of the 90s.

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