Manchester

Wood End: Abuse probe at former Wigan children's home

Lemn Sissay
Image caption Poet Lemn Sissay, who said he was abused at Wood End as a child, returned there for a 1995 documentary

Police are investigating more than 40 complaints of historical physical and sexual abuse at a former children's home in Wigan.

Hundreds of boys were sent to Wood End Assessment Centre, Atherton, between the 1970s and the 1990s.

Poet Lemn Sissay, who said he was "imprisoned" there in 1984, has been campaigning for a police investigation.

Both Wigan and Lancashire councils said they would cooperate with any police investigation.

Lancashire County Council opened Wood End in 1969 as a remand home for boys aged between 10 and 17.

However, many sent there were simply from dysfunctional families or in the care of social services.

'Strip searched'

At the age of two months, Sissay was placed into the care of Wigan Social Services.

During his time at Wood End, he said he was "strip searched, physically abused and manhandled".

"I've been trying to come to terms with what happened to me inside those walls, that institution, that place of secrets," he said.

"I have visited Wood End sporadically. It never fails to make me feel sorry for the child I was, who was so victimised and traumatised."

Ron Tattersall was 12 when he was sent to Wood End in 1971. His mother couldn't cope with him and his brother so they were put into the care of social services.

When he arrived late one night, he was asked if he wanted food. "When I answered yes, I was smacked across the head," he said.

Mr Tattersall said he tried to escape by smashing a window due to the "beatings" he received inside the home.

After being recaptured at a nearby farm, he said he was told to take his clothes off and was caned until "blood ran down his legs".

'Head-butted'

In 1974, Wigan Council took over the running of Wood End when it took boys on remand as well as those deemed at risk of potential criminal behaviour.

Those in residence at the centre said the casual violence continued.

John O'Malley, who was sent there, has spoken of being punched in the face and head-butted.

The centre was closed in 1990 and three police investigations have taken place, but no-one has been arrested or convicted.


Lemn Sissay on Wood End

"I was in a place where the corridors were so thin, we had to walk in single file with the largest boys at the back and the smallest at the front so the staff could survey us.

"[After visits], we were taken to the sports hall and made to stand in our regulation white Y-fronts - we all wore the same clothes - to prove to them that we didn't have anything on us.

"Privacy was totally taken away - even when we went to sleep at night, we couldn't come out of our rooms to go to the toilet.

"We had to press a buzzer and the nightwatchman would take us to the toilet, come in with us so we didn't run away, then bring us back to the bedroom and lock it again.

"He could see through the [bedroom] window but we couldn't see out of it, it was that sort of place."


Greater Manchester Police has launched Operation Milan to investigate complaints of historical abuse at the centre.

Det Ch Insp Sarah Jones from GMP said: "These are serious allegations made against staff by pupils at the centre and we have a team of experienced detectives working through the complaints.

"Due to the age of the allegations, there are inevitably significant evidential challenges and that is reflected in some of the progress made.

"I want to stress that we remain absolutely committed to supporting people who come forward to make a complaint and where possible we will, with CPS colleagues, bring to justice those who have been responsible for abuse so many years ago."

Two people have already been interviewed under caution, with three others due to be questioned.

A Wigan Council spokesperson said the authority will be "entirely open and transparent in the matter" and it was working closely with the police.

Lancashire County Council said it will cooperate with any police investigations.

The stories of victims who say there were abused at Wood End will be broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester in the week beginning 9 February.

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