Care centre abuse shock

News story
News story

POLICE probing claims of physical and sexual abuse at a former Wigan care facility say they are following no fewer than nine lines of inquiry.

Investigating officers have already quizzed two people in connection with the allegations of assaults at Woodend Assessment Centre in Atherton between the 1970s and 90s.

WLCT Words Literacy Festival at Mill At The Pier with Award-Winning Poet, Writer and Broadcaster Lemn Sissay who spent his childhood in Wigan.'Picture PAUL SIMPSON'8th April 2013

WLCT Words Literacy Festival at Mill At The Pier with Award-Winning Poet, Writer and Broadcaster Lemn Sissay who spent his childhood in Wigan.'Picture PAUL SIMPSON'8th April 2013

Those cases are ongoing and the inquiry team has also identified a further three people it intends to interview.

The suspects are believed to be carers at the remand centre which looked after boys from the care system including the poet Lemn Sissay (pictured) who has spoken publicly of the abuse there.

GMP said it was dealing with 35 alleged victims or complainants and there are currently nine live investigations.

A total of 12 of the 35 have felt they were unable to co-operate with a judicial investigation and the force has been unable to trace a small number of complainants. Five of the cases were previously investigated under Operation Cleopatra in the late 1990s but a decision was made that there was insufficient evidence to pursue them further.

Another four cases were investigated after Operation Cleopatra and the view was taken that again there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

GMP Head of Crime, Det Chief Supt Russ Jackson, said he fully understood that some victims felt unable to go through the criminal process which could result in their coming face to face with their alleged abusers in court.

In addition to the Woodend investigation, GMP are also pursuing several other child sexual exploitation cases under the title of Operation Milan, including various allegations against the former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith.

Allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the former Woodend Assessment Centre have been most vocally made by acclaimed poet Sissay.

He spent 10 months there as a teenager and reported a tough life akin to a prison - from which he once escaped.

Sissay’s online blog has attracted contact from fellow former residents who have made claims of abuse at the council-run home beginning in the 1970s but as recently as the ’90s.

Writing for a national newspaper two years ago, Mr Sissay gave a flavour of the conditions in which he lived there for 10 months after 17 years in care.

He wrote: “The staff at Woodend strip-searched me on a fortnightly basis and scoffed at my protestations. I was marched in and out of corridors, watched 24 hours a day, locked in a dormitory by night and threatened that if I were ever to lose it there was a padded cell.

“I would have to press a buzzer for the night watchman to unlock the dormitory and escort me to the toilet alongside his leashed Alsatian dog.”

After several months of good behaviour he was given the “privilege” of working in the gardens of staff who lived within the grounds and used this as an opportunity to flee.

He added: “I ran and ran and ran through the perimeter fence and housing estate and onwards. An alarm would soon blare from Woodend, the Alsatian would be brought out, the police would be called.”

Mr Sissay handed himself in at a nearby housing office and was sent back to Woodend before being found a home in Atherton several months later.

In his blog from February last year he refers to Wood End being run “with a rod of iron”.

And he refers to a post from another former resident who said: “I got to Woodend and got my first kicking three hours later.

“Nose broken, three ribs and wrist. They didn’t bother with a doctor. Just banged me up for three weeks. I was 12 years old.”

Following last night’s press conference, Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall said: “Woodend Assessment Centre in Atherton closed in 1994, having first opened in the 1960s. It was a regional centre used by many North West councils and criminal courts to home children who were being assessed. The children tended to stay for relatively short periods of time.

“There have been three previous police investigations following allegations of abuse at Woodend. We recognise this is a very difficult period for those involved and will continue to help the police with their investigations.”