SHIRLEY OAKS SURVIVORS ASSOCIATION REUNITE AT THE CARE HOME SITE FOR CANDLELIT VIGIL
MUSIC VIDEO TO LAUNCH AS FINAL CAMPAIGN LEGACY
INVESTIGATION PREPARES TO PUBLISH FINDINGS
LONDON, 27TH NOVEMBER 2016: 180 members of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) reunited this weekend at the site of the former children’s care home situated in Croydon and run by Lambeth Council, South London, currently at the centre of the troubled inquiry into allegations of child sex abuse. The former residents, part of the 700-strong survivor group – the largest represented within the inquiry – met to record a candlelit vigil at the site for a music video created as part of a legacy for the campaign, which has identified over 60 paedophiles and this year has seen a number of convictions for those who worked in Lambeth homes or looked after children in Lambeth in past decades. The music video, entitled ‘Looking For A Place Called Home’, will be released in early December at a press conference where the findings of the two year-long investigation will also be unveiled.
Despite the traumatic memories, the reunion at the site marked the start of a healing process for the victims. The candlelit vigil symbolised facing demons, unearthing the lies and resurrecting the truth. Written by Tanika and conceptulised by SOSA spokesperson, Raymond Stevenson, a music mogul who discovered and nurtured Jessie J, which features X Factor finalist (2015), Max Stone and a Gospel Choir put together from MOBO winner ISAIAH RAYMOND FROM RAYMOND & CO ‘Looking For A Place Called Home’ will be available from iTunes from in DECEMBER and go live on YouTube. All funds will go towards SOSA.
Raymond Stevenson, SOSA spokesperson, said: “SOSA made contact with the Shirley Oaks Village Residents Association and we explained to them that, despite the physical and sexual abuse, Shirley Oaks was a special place that kindled a spirit and has enabled Shirley Oaks ex-residents to unite once again in order to right the evils that were committed by these people. The memories of friendships formed and now reunited have also been an important part of the healing process. Having spoken with a few of the residents it’s clear that they are the right guardians to create new memories whilst respecting the old ones. Despite the negative publicity they have allowed us to hold a candlelit vigil at Shirley Oaks Village for SOSA members who are ready to face the demons, unearth the lies and resurrect the truth.”
Of all the scandals covered up by the child abuse inquiry, currently chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, the story of Shirley Oaks care home is among the most shocking and disturbing of all. Alongside the crisis-hit public inquiry, currently on its fourth chairwoman in just two years with a number of senior lawyers resigning in recent weeks at a cost of over £100 million, SOSA has compiled its own independent report, taking testimony about abuse from 400 of its members.
The report features witness testimony, extracts from official documents that have been leaked to them, as well as former staff and “house parents” who now support them and will prove that Shirley Oaks was infiltrated by paedophiles from the mid-1950s until its closure in 1983. They have identified 60 suspected paedophiles and the investigation has led to a number of arrests outside of official police investigations.
On Friday 18th November, SOSA officially withdrew from the public inquiry branding it an ‘unpalatable circus’ and stating that it has lost confidence in the leadership.
The inquiry, set up by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, has repeatedly stressed that the confidence of victims and survivors in the inquiry is paramount. Yet Professor Jay has not contacted or met with the SOSA since her appointment in August. The inquiry has been beset by difficulties since it was set up in July 2014 to investigate allegations made against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions in England and Wales, as well as people in the public eye.
Three chairwomen – former president of the High Court Family Division Baroness Butler-Sloss, her replacement, leading lawyer Dame Fiona Woolf, and Justice Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge – have already stood down before Prof Jay took her place.
Following the resignation of four barristers over recent weeks who resigned over the handling of the inquiry, QC Michael Mansfield says there has been a “dismal failure” to work with survivors groups when picking candidates to lead the inquiry. In an interview with BBC’s Newsnight he said the inquiry has “crumbled” adding: “What has gone seriously wrong here is a dismal failure to consult with the survivors’ groups from the beginning, about appointments and about the substantive materials that have to be assembled.”
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Shirley Oaks Children’s Home
Shirley Oaks children’s home was based in Croydon, Surrey on a 70 acre site with 52 houses which catered between 8-14 children. Complete with its own school, swimming pool, works depot and a doctor’s surgery it was the only world most of the children would know. It opened in 1904 to glowing reports with the Southwark Annual stating how Shirley Oaks was a model village created for children whose parents had died or were unable to look after them. The mission statement was to train the children in a career away from the physical disadvantage of the crowded districts and also from the morally injurious influences which are powerfully demonstrated in the streets of the great metropolis. Tens of thousands of children passed through the gates of Shirley Oaks. For most vulnerable children aged between 2 -10 years, it was easy to believe they had been sent to an outpost of heaven. Lush green fields surrounded the village style setting with houses branching off the enclosed ring road which would end up being a road paved to hell. Sadly for most of the children they would have been better off to fend for themselves on the streets than being left in the hands of the state controlled children’s homes.
Raymond Stevenson and Shirley Oaks Survivors Association
Raymond Stevenson attended Shirley Oaks from 1967 – 1978. At 13 years old he was kicked out of Shirley Oaks and was sent to a boarding school in Surrey returning to Shirley Oaks at weekends and school holiday until the age of 15 where he was then sent to another children’s home where child abuse took place . Away from the cold, harsh environment he flourished and pursued the one good thing he remembered from the home which was the acting and dancing classes. From here, he attended the Laban Dance Centre and then won a scholarship at The Rambert School of Ballet. At 26 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. After this he started a production company with his business partner Lucia Hinton and staged concerts and ran their own nightclub. Around the same time he developed artists such as Jessie J and produced various government funded campaigns centered around the issues of gun and knife crime. What no one knew during this period is Raymond suffered bouts of depression and he would say his recovery is only now just started. Having spent a lifetime trying to forget the physical and psychological abuse he suffered growing up in the home, Raymond was forced to relive the nightmare when he received a phone call from a person who was in the same children’s home as him. This was the first time Raymond learned about the true horror that happened to other children and that he didn’t suffer alone. The caller exposed what had taken place in Shirley Oaks to their siblings. Joining forces with Alex Wheatle, who also attended the home, themselves and other victims formed the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association. The first demand from the SOSA was that Lambeth council allow all their members and any other children who were in homes in south London to access their files. Reading his own file, Raymond released that along with the beatings and being drugged, the psychological trauma had impacted his life to the detriment. But as he conducted more interviews, he soon realised that his strife was nothing compared to many of his friends who suffered in silence and said nothing even when they played outside together. There were good house parents but they were few and far between and Raymond discovered after speaking to his favourite house parents that those who questioned Lambeth’s failings were quickly moved on.