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Man ‘repeatedly sexually abused’ at children’s home reveals why he kept ‘dark secret’ for nearly six decades

Written by on 26/07/2021

For nearly six decades, Philip Wells carried a “dark secret” with him that he couldn’t even share with his wife.

At the age of 10, he was taken into the care of Lambeth Council when he says he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a teacher while staying at a children’s home.

Over the course of seven months at the notorious Shirley Oaks campus, Mr Wells says he was abused two or three times a week – and despite reporting his injuries at the time, staff turned a blind eye.

Shirley Oaks children's home closed in 1983. Pic: Shirley Oaks Survivors Association
Image: An inquiry has examined abuse at Shirley Oaks children’s home. Pic: Shirley Oaks Survivors Association

Believing he was the only person being targeted, and not fully understanding what was happening to him, Mr Wells kept quiet about the abuse he suffered and only revealed his ordeal when he reached his 60s.

“It becomes a dark secret,” he tells Sky News. “It’s like having a rucksack on your back and it’s full of dark secrets.

“I was assaulted continuously by one of the teachers but I thought: ‘This must be natural. This must be the way things are done in schools’.

“It was only after I left that I realised this isn’t how it’s done at all.

“But I became terrified of teachers and I wouldn’t go to school.”

Mr Wells, who has waived his right to anonymity, says he was regularly abused after swimming lessons at Shirley Oaks but on one occasion, he was assaulted while preparing for a Christmas theatre production of Aladdin.

“He had me dressed up as Aladdin in silk robes,” Mr Wells says. “That was one of the times I was assaulted.

“I was a little blue-eyed, blond-haired boy with a choir voice…. a little angel sent to him I suppose he thought.

“I can remember it vividly in my mind. They’re not flashbacks, they’re constantly on my mind.

“It never goes away. It never becomes easier.”

Philip Wells says he was sexually abused as a boy at Shirley Oaks children's home. Pic: Philip Wells
Image: Mr Wells says he was sexually abused as a boy at Shirley Oaks children’s home. Pic: Philip Wells

Later today, an inquiry will publish its findings into the scale of sexual abuse suffered by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades.

The inquiry has heard that hundreds of children were subjected to prolonged sexual, physical and racial abuse and that paedophiles targeted the Shirley Oaks campus in Croydon, which could house up to 350 children until its closure in 1983.

Victims were “drugged, tortured and sexually assaulted” by “very many paedophiles”, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has been told.

One girl said she was raped 500 times by older boys at Shirley Oaks during the 1950s.

Mr Wells, who moved to Shirley Oaks in the 1950s after his mother fell ill, says he believes there was a “corrupt viper’s nest of paedophiles” targeting youngsters at the home.

Shirley Oaks children's home closed in 1983. Pic: Shirley Oaks Survivors Association
Image: Paedophiles targeted the Shirley Oaks campus, an inquiry has heard. Pic: Shirley Oaks Survivors Association

“It’s absolutely disgraceful what they’ve done,” he says.

“Even in the 1950s, councillors and councils should have been more switched on, surely.

“No one did anything about it or suspected anything when all the signs were there.

“How could that have been allowed to go on for that long, with such blatant signs of that going on?”

Mr Wells says he didn’t speak to anyone about the abuse he suffered, not even his wife Shirley, until he was inspired by the bravery of the victims of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.

“When they went to court, I was so impressed with their fortitude,” he adds.

“I thought: ‘Good on you. If you’ve got the guts to do it, it’s about time I did something about it.'”

Mr Wells, who is now aged 77, decided to contact the Shirley Oaks Survivors’ Association (SOSA) which advised him to contact police.

Philip Wells says he was sexually abused as a boy at Shirley Oaks children's home. Pic: Philip Wells
Image: Mr Wells says the bravery of abuse victims in Rotherham inspired him to come forward. Pic: Philip Wells

“That’s a massive step for someone in my age group to say you were seriously sexually assaulted when you were 10 years old repeatedly and made to conduct acts of gross indecency,” he says.

According to Mr Wells, two Metropolitan Police investigators took on his case but his file from Shirley Oaks had been “destroyed” so there was no record of his stay there.

The officers spent hours trawling archives and eventually found his name in a creed register which confirmed he had been a resident at the home, he adds.

Mr Wells says he revealed the name of his alleged abuser to police who confirmed the teacher worked at the home when he was there as a child.

A number of other people have claimed they were also abused by the same teacher, according to SOSA, and it is believed he has since died.

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Victims: Inquiry is an ‘unpalatable circus’

“I don’t hate him,” Mr Wells says.

“He’s gone, he’s dead. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

“Thankfully he’s no longer around.”

After reporting the abuse he suffered to police, Mr Wells says he didn’t tell his wife Shirley he had made a complaint for another two weeks.

“She never questioned me,” he says. “She realised it was dark secret I didn’t really want to discuss but I didn’t want to hide it from her either.

“She’s been an absolute brick. She’s totally supported me and let me get on with it.”

Mr Wells says the abuse he suffered as a child affected him “tremendously” into his adult life and he “wouldn’t trust anyone”.

The father-of-five and grandfather-of-18 says he has also become extremely protective of his younger family members.

“I’m always saying to them: ‘Look, when your children go to clubs and things like that, be very careful people have been checked out’,” he adds.

Mr Wells says after police investigated his case, he received a written apology from Lambeth Council and compensation which he intends to leave for his children.

“The letter was meaningless because I believe many in Lambeth Council knew what was going on,” he adds.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is set to publish its report on children in the care of Lambeth Council at midday.

 Sky News

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