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Children would be taken for 'beatings' in care home, rape trial hears

PUBLISHED: 17:02 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:12 07 May 2019

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Archant Library

A former resident of the Woodlands care home in Norwich said children would be taken for "beatings" in an office as a member of staff stood guard.

Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archivesWoodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives

The observation and assessment centre on Dereham Road reopened in 1974 and would take in children who had been before the courts or were too difficult for their family or school.

Joseph Douglas Hewitt was the officer in charge of the home in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was convicted in October 1995 of sexual assault and rape involving six children who had been placed at the home.

Hewitt, 79, has now denied allegations of rape and indecent assault from five fresh victims, three boys and two girls, who were placed at the home between 1979 and 1983.

Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives.Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives.

Christopher Loose was 13 when he was taken to Woodlands in the late 1970s, and remembers Hewitt as the man in charge.

He told police there was a "specific room" he remembers from Woodlands.

"There was a room in the home where staff would take you for a beating," he said. "I remember a member of staff using a pressure hold to get me to that room. Once there you just had to lay there and do as they said. There was always two members of staff so one could block the glass door so no one could see what was going on."

King's Lynn Crown Court previously heard from five alleged victims. One described being kept on 'pyjama watch' to prevent them running away. Another said he would be stripped naked by Hewitt and put in the 'naughty room'.

The court also heard from a former residential social worker from Woodlands, who said it was common for staff to "hug and kiss" some of the children if appropriate.

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Sheila English worked at the home between 1974 and 1981. She said at first most members of staff would live and sleep in their own accommodation at the centre, but that the policy had been changed by the 1980s.

"My memory of being there is I was incredibly fond of some of them, and I think some of them thrived in that environment," she told the court. "They were given opportunities and I saw their confidence and self esteem develop.

"There were children who did not cope so well and became angry and frustrated. There were some, on reflection, who did have poor mental health and had come to us because there were no other resources at the time.

"Children did run away. There was one occasion where one area of the building upstairs was separated off and there was a group of young lads who had been involved in some offending. In order to prevent them going anywhere they were bailed to the building so a group of staff looked after that group of lads in that area of the house.

"One young lad came to us with a history of absconding. I remember him being in a single room with two members of staff just to break that pattern of running away for 24 to 48 hours, maybe longer."

Mrs English said she "did not think it mattered" what gender of staff was on night duty.

"We would go and have a chat with them and a little natter," she said. "Some of them you gave a hug to or a kiss on the forehead, depending on how appropriate it was, and their age. Male staff probably would have been more cautious going in girls rooms."

In police interview in 2013, and later in 2015, Hewitt said he "could not recall ever staying overnight with a child" because he had other duties at the home.

He said he could not recall any of his accusers except one, and denied any allegations of sexual abuse.

Hewitt, of Snelsmoor Lane, Chellaston, Derby, has denied two counts of rape, three of a serious sexual offence, two of indecent assault and two of gross indecency.

The trial, expected to last five weeks, continues. The jury were told of the previous convictions.

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