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Beaten and abused but 'no justice' for alleged victims of horror school

PUBLISHED: 06:26 27 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:52 29 July 2019

A photo provided of one of the pupils being hit by teacher Benny Joergensen. He said the photo was taken on a trip to India in the mid-1990s. Photo: Submitted

A photo provided of one of the pupils being hit by teacher Benny Joergensen. He said the photo was taken on a trip to India in the mid-1990s. Photo: Submitted

Archant

Ex-pupils have made fresh allegations about abuse at a north Norfolk school for problem children. Today they tell Tom Bristow about attacks by staff and their quest for justice

Steen Conradsen, former headteacher at Red House. He did not respond to requests for comment. Photo: LinkedIn/ScreenshotSteen Conradsen, former headteacher at Red House. He did not respond to requests for comment. Photo: LinkedIn/Screenshot

They are now calling for a fresh police probe into the Small School at Red House after earlier investigations ended with no further action.

The boy who sued

After leaving Red House, Michael Rose's path followed that of many of the other boys who had been at the Buxton school.

Newspaper clippings from the Eastern Daily Press about issues at Red House from 1984 to 1998. Photo: Brittany WoodmanNewspaper clippings from the Eastern Daily Press about issues at Red House from 1984 to 1998. Photo: Brittany Woodman

Getting into fights, arrested and eventually jail time, he came out of prison in 2001 with a criminal record, no qualifications and painful memories of his childhood.

He wanted to move on.

He found a solicitor and told her about the violent abuse he suffered at Red House and another children's home called Frontier House in Kent where he had been placed by Barnet Council social services.

Abuse at Frontier House was exposed in a TV documentary in the mid-1990s, but the violence at Red House, which closed in 1998, has never been made public until now.

"Both homes were a complete tragedy," the 40-year old said.

Documents held by Barnet Council showed the authority had been warned about placing children at Red House. Another report also detailed an incident where Michael was beaten by a teacher.

He was attacked in a lesson in 1990 aged 13.

"He tripped me over and kicked me and kept kicking me when I was on the floor," Michael recalled.

The school was shut down in 1998. Photo: SubmittedThe school was shut down in 1998. Photo: Submitted

He was offered a payout from the council. Homeless and with no money, he accepted the settlement.

Michael said: "If you did exactly as they said and kept to their very tight regime you would be alright, but 80pc of the children were not going to be like that. We had come from broken families.

"I rebelled against it but a lot of these kids had been subject to so much abuse they didn't know any different.

"It impacted massively on the rest of my life.

Red House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Photo: ArchantRed House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Photo: Archant

"We all lived the same sort of life with prison, mental health issues and unemployment but these other guys have never had justice," he said.

Photo gives glimpse into brutal world

A photo kept by one ex-pupil for 24 years gives a moment's glimpse into the world children at Red House say they endured.

Michael Rose, former pupil at Red House who was awarded a payout from Barnet social services for physical abuse. Photo: Michael RoseMichael Rose, former pupil at Red House who was awarded a payout from Barnet social services for physical abuse. Photo: Michael Rose

In it, headteacher, Benny Joergensen is standing over a pupil's bed and hitting his shoulder as the boy winces.

That pupil, now 38, does not want to be named but shared his story.

He was at the school from 1994 to 1998, and said the photo was taken by another pupil on a school trip to south India where they were put to work digging trenches in villages for charity projects.

He said the headteacher's speciality was punching boys on pressure points to cause the maximum amount of pain, as in the photo.

Red House School in Buxton, pictured in 1980. Photo: ArchantRed House School in Buxton, pictured in 1980. Photo: Archant

Mr Joergensen died in 2013 of cancer.

The ex-pupil's worst memory of the school is of his girlfriend being forced to have an abortion. "They bullied her to terminate it," he said.

The man, who was sent to the school by a council in Berkshire, is now out of work and on antidepressants.

"I want peace in my life but I can't get it," he said.

Leon Stevens from Great Yarmouth is one of several ex-pupils of The Small School at Red House who have alleged physical abuse in the 1990s. Photo: Leon StevensLeon Stevens from Great Yarmouth is one of several ex-pupils of The Small School at Red House who have alleged physical abuse in the 1990s. Photo: Leon Stevens

'Raped in a locked room'

Rob* liked to run away from Red House at every opportunity.

The 15-year old was determined to make it back to Northampton to see his dad, but every time he would be caught.

On one occasion, while there from 1985 to 1986, he alleges he was raped by three other boys in a locked room.

He reported the abuse to Norfolk police two years ago as part of the force's most recent investigation into Red House, but that ended with no further action.

He alleged physical abuse stemmed from then headteacher Steen Conradsen, but there was also psychological torment.

He claimed the worst punishment would be to put in a room with Alsatians as the school knew he was terrified of dogs.

Now 48, he said: "For years and years I couldn't get over it. I lost my faith in the system and adults in general. It really did mess with my head. At one time I got suicidal."

Mr Conradsen left the school in the early 1990s and did not respond to requests for comment.

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The majority of the fresh abuse allegations made to this newspaper date to after the time he was there and allegations made by pupils from 1984 to 1990, including Rob, have already been investigated by police with no further action taken.

Another pupil, who was at the school from 1996 to 1998, said his social worker presented a booklet on Red House to him as an 11th birthday gift showing trips abroad and outdoor activities.

But he arrived to find a very different reality. He said he was sexually abused by older pupils and frequently tried to run away.

"I didn't report it to the social worker at the time," he said. "There was a lot of shame and embarrassment."

We have passed his allegation on to police.

*Name has been changed to avoid identification

Run by violence

Lee Penney, 36, was lucky. He remembers only being attacked once by a teacher at Red House when there in 1994 to 1995.

"I refused to go on a group outing one day.

"One of the teachers dragged me across the floor out of the minibus, through the door and on the ground," he claimed.

"She trapped my arm in the door and said to a member of staff, you deal with him.

"It was run by violence and intimidation.

"As soon as anyone spoke out of line there were beatings," he claimed.

Another former pupil, Leon Stevens from Great Yarmouth said most pupils accepted the violent regime.

Mr Stevens, 38, who was at Red House from 1994 to 1998, described a routine where pupils had to make their rooms spotless each morning for a staff inspection or face the consequences.

Many tried to escape.

In 1990 the then Mid Norfolk MP Richard Ryder found 200 incidents of children running away in just 12 months.

Mr Stevens, who grew up in Oxford, remembers running away to Great Yarmouth one day with another boy before being caught.

As punishment they had to paint the sports hall.

"When we finished it we were taken to each side of the school and he was put into a room with lots of other lads," he claimed. "He was beaten black and blue by the other lads."

"Beatings were an everyday occurrence," he claimed. "I left the school with no education. I've been to jail around 10 times because I didn't know what was right or wrong."

But he added: "I want people to be accountable for what we had to go through

"I have spoken to Norfolk police very recently. I said nobody knew there was a police investigation going on - why did police not make this public?"

He has now set up a Facebook group to connect former pupils.

Police, meanwhile, urged anyone with new information to come forward.

'I hate this place'

Steve Chase, from Durham, was at Red House from the late 1980s to 1990.

In 1989 he wrote letters to his social worker pleading to be 
let out.

"I am scared of this place," he wrote

He also reported the allegations to police which ended in no further action.

Mr Chase has set up a group called One Voice for all former pupils who allege abuse.

Another man from Durham, 44, who wished to remain anonymous, was at the school from 1986 to 1991. He said he wants to put it behind him but he can't.

Now married with children, he was just 10 when he arrived and left aged 15.

"From what I saw every boy experienced physical abuse. It was just their way of life.

"They just wanted to make our life hell.

"This was assault and battery; it was like it was the norm for them," he alleged.

"My head was screwed up so much from that place."

-To report any abuse at Red House contact DS Dave Rawlings at Norfolk police at david.rawlings@norfolk.pnn.police.uk

-Follow the latest from our investigations unit on Facebook

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