‘I have suffered all my life’: survivors tell of abuse at Shirley Oaks children’s home

  • london
  • June 25, 2020
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Shayne Donnelly as a child. He was a ‘lifer’ at Shirley Oaks, living there from the age of one in 1968 until its closure in 1983.

Several members of the Donnelly family spent time in the Shirley Oaks children’s home in Croydon, where people have described suffering sexual, physical and racial abuse. Here, four of them – brothers and sisters – describe what happened to them. They are appealing for information about their mother, Dilys, who disappeared in 1986.

Shayne Donnelly, 53

“I was a ‘lifer’ at Shirley Oaks. I was there from April 1968, when I was aged one, until it closed in 1983. At its peak there were 400 kids there and when we were out and about playing, it was fun. It was when we went back into the houses that the nightmares began. We didn’t know the others were going through the same stuff. I was abused over a nine-year period. It was sexual, physical and racial. At one point when I was 12, I tried to commit suicide. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until 2014. I was at a funeral of a friend. I got a few of us together. I didn’t want the perpetrators to get away with it, the authorities to get away with it. I wanted justice. I called Raymond [Stevenson, who set up the survivors’ group Shirley Oaks Survivors Association], who I have known all my life.”

Elizabeth Todd, nee Donnelly, 67

Elizabeth Donnelly.

“I went to Shirley Oaks aged two, in 1955 and I was there until I was 15. I was raped when I was eight years old and this went on for two years. The man told me that if I told anyone, my mum would be sent to prison. I didn’t tell anyone. It was quite horrifying really. I had a breakdown in my 30s when I started to relive what happened. I was interviewed as part of the Operation Middleton inquiry. I have had flashbacks. Ten years ago I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I have suffered the repercussions of what happened to me [in Shirley Oaks] all my life.”

Kevin Donnelly, 61

“I was in Shirley Oaks from 1962 to 1975. I left when I was 18. I didn’t tell anyone about what happened to me until the police approached me as part of Operation Middleton. The police were investigating William Hook, who was a swimming instructor at Shirley Oaks. I was abused by Hook and I gave evidence against him and he was jailed for 10 years. I hadn’t said anything to anyone before about this because I was ashamed. Hook abused me when I was 13 and it went on until I was 16 – when I could fight back. Shirley Oaks was a paedophiles’ paradise.”

Theresa Donnelly, 59

“I went into Shirley Oaks aged 18 months. I was six years old when I was abused. It was sexual abuse. It went on for quite a while. At six years old I don’t think you can comprehend what is happening to you. I always knew something had happened to me. I can see him and I can hear him. My mum took us out one day to London. In a train station I went to the toilet and started crying. And she asked me why. I told her it hurt down below. She came down to the home and smashed all the windows. She got arrested that day. She knew her children were being abused and she couldn’t do anything about it. She had the struggle of her children being taken off her. She tried to fight the system. My heart goes out to her. My mum disappeared 30 years ago. I don’t know what happened to her.”