Man who survived 12 years in children's home blighted by abuse calls on council to issue personal apology

A man who survived 12 years in a children's home blighted by a "paedophile ring" told a public inquiry how he cowered under his bed most nights as he called on the council who ran it to apologise to him directly.

Paul Connolly, 56, spent 12 years living at St Leonard's Children's Home in Hornchurch while staff routinely attacked boys in their care.

Mr Connolly this week told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse how he arrived just before his eighth birthday and noticed the dormitory "raids" on his second night at the home when someone tried to take him from his bed.

He said the home's superintendent, Alan Prescott, used to return drunk from the pub with other men with the intention of sexually assaulting boys.

St Leonard’s Children’s Home (Historic England)

He gave a harrowing account of the abuse to the inquiry, where he described “at least five or six” paedophiles returning to the home “stinking of booze”, sometimes wearing balaclavas to disguise themselves.

Mr Connolly, who now lives in Essex, said: “Prescott used to come back from the pub, boozed up, and lean against you and try and rub up against you and stuff. I managed to fend that off most of the time."

Six of the eight boys who lived in Mr Connolly’s dormitory have since committed suicide or died from drug overdoses. 

Mr Connolly was taken into care at just two weeks of age after being abandoned in the street.

He was never raped in the home but suffered beatings and was once attacked by a member of staff for trying to stop them from raping a young girl, the inquiry heard.

Former house parent Bill Starling was jailed for 14 years in 2001 for a string of sexual assaults over a period of 20 years and two rapes against children.

Mr Prescott, who was also a Labour councillor and magistrate, was also jailed for two years at the same time for indecently assaulting four boys between 1970 and 1980.

Paul Setchfield who was convicted of abuse at the children's home (Metropolitan Police)

Last year, former carer Paul Setchfield, 64, was jailed for nine years for 11 counts of sexually abusing a young girl and boy between 1978 and 1981.

Mr Connolly was part of a class action against Tower Hamlets Council in the late 1990s. He received £16,000 in compensation but no formal apology. He said it was “barely £1,000 a year for each year I spent in that awful place.”

He says he only accepted the “pittance” from the council “because otherwise there was a good chance I would get nothing. I left the civil justice process very pissed off.”

Mr Connolly is now demanding an apology from the council and wants them to hold themselves accountable for the horrific abuse suffered in the home.

He said: “They had a duty of care towards me and my friends, who were like brothers to me, and they failed miserably in their duty of care.

“Not only did Tower Hamlets fail to protect us, they employed most of them."

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“If I had not hidden under the bed most nights with my wooden-handled kitchen knife, I would have been raped, as well as the other boys. 

“Three of my abusers at St Leonard's were convicted by criminal courts. 

“With these convictions, there's simply no justification for the failure of London Borough of Tower Hamlets to hold themselves publicly accountable for what went on and for what we all went through.

“The mental and physical scars of my childhood will never leave me. 

“I've come to this inquiry today to insist that Tower Hamlets apologise for the tragedy of St Leonard's, to me and my family, and especially to my friends who have not survived and their families.”

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets council said: "Tower Hamlets has issued an apology before which is on public record. It was read out by Richard Baldwin (current Divisional Director in Children's services) at the independent inquiry and reads:

"I would like to start by offering my sympathy to all of those children who suffered abuse, either sexual or physical, at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for and for protecting them.

"I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the Borough to all of the survivors and thank them for their courage in coming forward to seek justice for themselves and for all of those whose lives were impacted by these terrible events."

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