Friday 22 March 2013

Bersham Hall

Bersham Hall is a large red brick house set in just over an acre of land in a small village about one and a half miles from the centre of Wrexham, and, within its grounds, is a small three bedroom cottage with its own garden.
It is believed that the house was occupied as a family residence until it was acquired by Denbighshire County Council with the intention of providing an observation and assessment centre for up to 12 boys to be used by the six North Wales counties (and Radnorshire) under the 1971 Regional Plan. It was to be a community home with education, described as a secure/semi-secure observation and assessment centre, and was to be available for use from August 1972.
It is convenient to consider the history of Bersham Hall in two distinct phases, namely, from 1974 to 1980 and from 1980 to 1993, because its function changed in 1980 and it closed for a short period at that time. It re-opened as an assessment and reception centre for up to 21 boys and girls, taking over many of the functions performed until then by Little Acton Assessment and Reception Centre. As we understand it, however, the assessment process was limited to girls181. At this time the cottage began to be used as an independent training facility for children of school leaving age. Education continued to be provided on the premises until 1990, by which time the majority of residents had been provided with school places locally. The teaching staff at Bersham Hall, however, were employed by Clwyd Social Services Department until 1987, when they were transferred to the Education Authority.
The community home closed in September 1993 but it was re-opened the following year as a private (registered) children's home called Prospects (now Prospects for Young People, registered at Pentre Saeson Hall), which we visited on 19 March 1997, co-directed by Stephen Elliott.

We are aware of 19 complainants who have made complaints of abuse suffered prior to May 1980 at Bersham Hall. However, seven of these referred only to incidents before Clwyd County Council came into existence and another referred partly to incidents in that earlier period.

The main subject of these eight complaints was the conduct of Michael Taylor, the Deputy Officer-in-Charge from 26 September 1972 to 31 July 1973. There were three complainants who alleged sexual abuse by Taylor and all of them gave oral evidence before us.
There was a complaint also by a former resident of Chevet Hey Children's Home that Taylor had indecently assaulted him when Taylor was staying there briefly in the summer of 1973 whilst waiting for his college accommodation to become available; and that witness too gave oral evidence before us. All the allegations were of indecent assaults, usually committed in the witness' bedroom, involving masturbation of the witness under the bedclothes and mutual masturbation, and often in circumstances in which Taylor was purporting to comfort the witness; and we are fully satisfied that the complaints are true.

The other allegations of abuse at Bersham Hall prior to 1980 are more difficult to deal with because they are much more diffuse and consist mainly of complaints by single individuals against single members of the staff. Moreover, seven of the 19 complainants were unable to identify the member or members of staff against whom complaints were made and another three were unable to do so in part.
Of the rest, it is sufficient to say that there were four who alleged physical assaults by Michael Barnes, (one of these complainants was in Bersham Hall before 1974) and two alleged physical assaults by Nefyn Dodd (again, one before 1974). One complainant, for example, who was there in mid-1974, alleged that he had been punched by Barnes on three or four occasions and had seen him assault other boys. The same witness said that he had been physically assaulted by Nefyn Dodd on many occasions but the word "many" is of uncertain meaning in this context.
A pre-1974 witness claimed to have been punched in the stomach, thrown to the floor and spat on by Barnes and yet another, at Bersham Hall in 1975, said that he had been picked up by the scruff of the neck, kneed in the back and thus thrown into a corridor by Barnes, after fighting with another boy. He complained also that he had been put into ill-fitting clothes by Barnes after absconding.

Gary Cooke had been employed for two weeks only in a Clwyd children's home, Bersham Hall, probably in or about 1972.

(Arthur) Graham Stephens, was a co-defendant in the proceedings. He pleaded guilty to an offence of buggery and one of indecent assault and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

John Ilton was accused off several physical assaults during the late 1980's, yet remained at Bersham Hall until March 1992, when he was arrested by the police in the course of their major investigation. After the decision not to prosecute him had been made by the Crown Prosecution Service in or about May 1992, he was on sick leave until he returned to teaching later that year at a day school for problem children known as Wrexham Unit.
Finally, he was employed from 1 January 1993 at a special school in the Wrexham area, St Christopher's, until he was suspended again from 13 December 1993, as a result of further allegations about his conduct at Bryn Estyn. Although he returned to teaching at St Christopher's briefly early in 1994, the strain caused by the allegations against him and the surrounding local publicity had affected his health and he took early retirement on 31 March 1994, at the age of 54 years.

1987 On 16 January 1987, in the Crown Court at Mold, David John Gillison, linked with Jacqueline Thomas by family friendship, pleaded guilty to two offences of gross indecency with a male resident of Bersham Hall, aged 16 years9
. He was sentenced to three and a quarter years' imprisonment and was dismissed by Clwyd County Council from his employment as a social worker for the physically handicapped in the Rhuddlan area office (but it was not alleged that the offences had been committed on Council premises).
Gillison's co-defendant on this occasion, William Gerry, a former resident of Bryn Estyn, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for an offence of buggery with the 16 years old boy and four offences of gross indecency involving both the latter and a 15 years old boy. Gerry committed suicide on 1 December 1997.

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