Saturday, 23 March 2013

Little Acton Assessment Centre

This community home was purpose built and was handed over by the builders to Clwyd County Council on 1 April 1974. The site in Box Lane, Wrexham housed the assessment centre itself, a residential nursery and a hostel building with a day nursery on the ground floor.
However, the rest of the hostel building was never opened because of financial constraints. Behind the assessment centre was a large field that had been grassed over and could be used for games and there was a tarmacadammed area between the centre and the hostel that could be used as a playground.
The centre had three separate units within the same building: one was designed as a semi-secure unit and the other two as open units.
Each unit was a self-contained flat to accommodate five children with a sitting room and a kitchen with facilities for preparing breakfast, tea and supper snacks, plus a bed-sitting room for sleeping-in staff.
There was also a school attached to the building, providing 30 places for assessment of 15 residents and 15 others attending daily.
Residential accommodation in four flats was provided for the Officer-in-Charge, his deputy and two senior houseparents; and there was a substantial service area for the whole building, comprising a main kitchen, a dining area, a laundry, administrative offices, a medical room, lavatories and a staff room etc.

Little Acton Nursery
To provide accommodation for up to 21 children aged 0 to ten years. Available for Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and East Monmouthshire. Latterly (to 1978) it provided 12 day care places for young children up to seven years.
Nothing further needs to be added here as there were no complaints against the staff of the nursery.

Little Acton Assessment Centre
A new home to be completed by March 1973 and to be used by Flintshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire for children needing open assessment (category C) and by all six North Wales counties for children needing semi-secure assessment (category B). Maximum of 15 to be accommodated (12 category C, three category B). Under the 1979 Plan there were to be five assessment places (three regional, two local) for girls aged ten and over. Up to 12 reception beds were also to be provided.

Difficulties in securing the services of suitable senior staff were experienced from the outset. After advertising the post of Superintendent twice, it was thought that candidates of appropriate calibre had not applied. Nevertheless a third advertisement was not authorised and Peter John Bird, one of the existing candidates who was then 32 years old and had obtained the CRCCYP at Salford College of Technology in 1971, was appointed with effect from 1 December 1973.
He had been brought up in Stockport and trained as a painter and decorator until he became a regional organising secretary for the Church of England Children's Society in 1962.
His subsequent experience was of work in a probation hostel, then a remand home and finally successive appointments as Warden and Deputy Superintendent of children's homes in the London area.
He remained in post at Little Acton until 20 April 1978, when he was suspended for nearly six months and then re-employed as a craft instructor at Marchwiel Adult Training Centre, having admitted eight specific allegations (of a total of 19) of failure to carry out his duty.

The response to advertisements for other senior posts was said to have been equally disappointing. The Deputy Officer-in-Charge, Huw Meurig Jones, did not take up his post until 21 July 1974 and remained only until 31 March 1976, when he resigned.
On his appointment he was 25 years old, and like Bird, he had obtained the CRCCYP at Salford (in 1973). He had become a houseparent, employed by the City of Liverpool, at the age of 18 years and he had served as an RCCO at Chevet Hey from 1 February 1972 and then briefly as Deputy Officer-in-Charge there after his course at Salford.
Following his resignation from Little Acton, he became an unqualified social worker for Clwyd County Council at Wrexham and then Colwyn Bay.
He failed the first year part of the course for the CQSW at Cartrefle College in July 1980 and ultimately resigned from Clwyd's employ on 28 July 1981, following periods of suspension from 19 December 1980 onwards, during successive investigations by the police of allegations of sexual abuse that had been made against him.

The appointment of a Deputy Officer-in-Charge to replace Huw Meurig Jones was equally unfortunate. His successor was Carl Johnson Evans, whose employment in that capacity lasted from 1 May 1976 until 8 October 1978 but who was suspended from duty from 13 January 1978, following an allegation of rape made by a girl resident against him on 8 January 1978 and during the subsequent investigation by Clwyd County Council of other allegations of misconduct on his part.
It appears that Evans was the less favoured of the two candidates who were "pre-interviewed" for the post on 2 April 1976 and it is unclear whether the panel saw any (and if so, which) references before making a recommendation. However, they reported to the Personnel Committee (Appointments) that Evans appeared to have the necessary qualities and experience for the post but that they doubted his ability to relate well to staff and children in difficult situations.
They assessed him accurately as an "over-confident type of person who might cause friction in difficult circumstances". They doubted also his sincerity and drew attention to the fact that he had no experience in dealing with girls.

Carl Evans' background was that he had left school at the age of 15 years and had then had varied employment, as a trainee forester, salesman, army musician and assistant manager of a finance company, for 14 years before starting residential care work.
By the date of his appointment to Little Acton he was 40 years old and his experience of residential care had been at two approved schools and then as Third-in-Charge of an assessment centre for just over two years to February 1976.
He had obtained the CRCCYP in 1967, having taken the housemasters' course at Lemorby Park. Immediately prior to his appointment at Little Acton he had been employed briefly by Care Concern at Ystrad Hall, Llangollen, where he had received an official warning for criticising the standard of the home in the presence of a new student.
He had also secured an appointment as First Deputy at a remand home in Manchester but had been unable to take this up because of the needs of his foster child.

In the event there were major difficulties at Little Acton throughout the first four years of its existence as an assessment centre with the result that the Chief Executive of Clwyd County Council requested the Director of Social Services to conduct an investigation into the establishment.
The Director of Social Services appointed a team of four (a training officer and two homes inspectors from the Social Services Department plus the social services group auditor from the Treasurer's Department) to conduct the investigation in January 1978.
They were required to enquire into the conduct, administration and management of the assessment centre with particular regard to the circumstances leading to the disciplinary measures taken against Valerie Halliwell (Matron), Leslie Wilson (Senior Houseparent), and matters relating to the Deputy Superintendent.

The section of the report dealing with Valerie Halliwell can be dealt with briefly. She had worked as a housemother at Chevet Hey for just over a year before taking up a similar post at Little Acton on 4 December 1973; and she was appointed Matron from 1 March 1975.
Both Bird and Evans became suspicious of her activities by Christmas 1976 and began to carry out spot checks. Bird made a report to the Director of Social Services on 3 June 1977 and the matter was reported to the police.
On 2 December 1977 Halliwell pleaded guilty at Wrexham Maelor Magistrates' Court to offences of theft, obtaining money by deception and falsification of records and was fined a total of £80.00.
She resigned with effect from 9 December 1977, having been absent on sick leave almost continuously from 21 March 1977 and suspended without pay from 15 November 1977.

The prosecution of Leslie Wilson resulted from a report initially by Arnold to Bird in a letter dated 27 May Wilson had been appointed a housefather at Little Acton on 1 August 1974 and then a senior housefather from 19 April 1976. He was also secretary of the Clwyd Residential Care Association.
Arnold had become concerned that Wilson was visiting at Bryn Estyn a boy who had previously been at Little Acton for assessment between December 1976 and April 1977. The visits appeared to be upsetting the boy and Arnold asked Bird for his confidential opinion as to whether Wilson was a suitable person to continue visiting the boy.
According to Bird's statements to the police, he warned Wilson to leave the boy alone on receiving this letter, but a month later the boy absconded from Bryn Estyn and was found on 5 July 1977 in Wilson's flat at Little Acton. Bird and Evans then returned the boy to Bryn Estyn and three days later Wilson confessed to two members of staff that he had "slept" with the boy.
The facts were reported to Geoffrey Wyatt, who referred the matter to the police. Wilson meanwhile had left, pleading sickness, never to return to Little Acton. He was suspended without pay from 15 July 1977 and was charged with buggery a month later.
Ultimately, Wilson pleaded guilty on 22 December 1977 in Chester Crown Court 169 to offences of indecent assault, gross indecency and attempted buggery, for which he was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment; and he was dismissed by Clwyd County Council on 28 February 1978.

Three complainants, each of whom gave oral evidence before us, alleged that they had suffered physical assaults on them by Peter Bird. The first of these, who was a ten year old boy at the time, in late 1974 and early 1975, said that he spent a lot of time in the "lock-up" because he kept running away. He recalled a specific incident when, after he had tried to "sneak out" of the unit, Bird behaved like a lunatic and slapped him across the face and all over the room. The other two complainants were girls who were both 14 years old when they were at Little Acton

The evidence before the investigating team indicated that there had been continuous friction between Bird and Evans from the date of the latter's appointment as Deputy Officer-in-Charge onwards. Soon after Carl Evans took up his post members of staff asked for a staff meeting because they considered that Evans had made their position intolerable by disregarding accepted policies and undermining staff but Evans monopolised that meeting. Further complaints to the RDCO at the time (Veronica Pares) resulted in another staff meeting on 23 November 1976, arranged by Wyatt and Pares. This did result in a number of agreed policy decisions, which were minuted, but the conclusion of the investigating team was that each decision had subsequently been broken or ignored by Evans and that, in consequence, many of the staff had felt seriously undermined.
Apart from this general case against Evans, there were allegations against him by the staff that he had given children alcohol, sent staff off duty when they were rostered to be on duty and nevertheless authorised payment to them, put "staff and children's heads down the toilet" and flushed it, and had physical contact with adolescent girls in care exceeding the staff's own self-imposed limits.
By way of example of the last allegation, it was said that Evans had encouraged girls to sit on his lap and had encouraged other male members of staff to follow his example and reference was made to alleged specific incidents on 21 and 22 December 1977.
It was alleged also that Evans spent far too much time allegedly "counselling" girls, on occasions disturbing the running of both the school and the centre, and without any productive feedback to other members of the staff.

We heard perturbing complaints also about the conduct of Huw Meurig Jones from three witnesses. The former boy resident who alleged that he had been slapped across the face by Bird claimed also that a member of the staff called "Hugh" had made advances to him immediately after the Bird incident, when he was in "the secure unit" sitting on his bed.

Two other staff were named to the tribunal but there was no subtantiated proof put forth and charges were not laid.

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