Woman who abused children was hailed as a 'supermum'

She was once hailed as a “supermum” for her work with foster children. But last night Betty Roe was facing jail after being found guilty of inflicting abuse on children in her care over 17 years.

She was once hailed as a “supermum” for her work with foster children.

But last night Betty Roe was facing jail after being found guilty of inflicting abuse on children in her care over 17 years.

The jury at Norwich Crown Court took less than three hours to find Roe guilty of cruelty against six girls under the age of 16 between 1974 and 1991.

The children had been brutally beaten, starved and treated as slaves.

Roe, 64, of Hall Road, Norwich, is due to be sentenced next month along with her husband Walter Roe, 64, who has admitted four charges of indecent assault against two girls who were aged between 12 and 14 at the time. Both now face jail sentences.

And it emerged that, at the height of their abuse, the couple had been put forward by Norfolk social services for a newspaper article which dubbed them model foster parents. The article, published in 1989 under the headline “Betty's a mother to hundreds”, formed just part of the façade which allowed the Roes to conceal their catalogue of cruelty.

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“You get very hurt when it breaks down. I was inclined to blame myself at first,” Betty Roe told the EDP's sister paper the Evening News at the time.

Neighbours and friends spoke of their “shame” at not having reported their suspicions. They feared such reports would not have been taken seriously as the Roes hid their activities behind a veil of respectability.

But one neighbour, retired teacher Keith Pearshouse, said he had contacted social services after he heard “shouting, banging, crying and snarling noises” coming from their house on Mansfield Lane and became concerned for the children's safety.

However, he received a letter stating that a full investigation had been carried out which found the children were “not at any risk”. When Betty Roe found out he had reported her, she told him to “keep his nose out of her affairs”.

Later, in 1991, social workers received an allegation of sexual abuse from a child in the Roes' care. No action was taken as the claims were denied by the victim.

Speaking after the case one victim, who is now an adult and cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “This verdict is a huge relief. As a result of this abuse I have suffered years of depression and anxiety. At least now I have some closure.

“At the time I was scared that if I told anyone I wouldn't be taken seriously or that it would just get worse. I would urge anyone who is experiencing similar abuse or who suffered in the past to come forward and assure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

Since 1974 the Roes cared for hundreds of children, including many babies. The cruelty took place at addresses in Hall Road, Mansfield Lane and College Road and was only directed towards girls in their care with boys often being treated as “mummy's boys”.

The abuse included the girls being punched and beaten with items such as a broom handle and a wooden spoon - on one occasion one of the girls suffered such severe bruising to her hands that she could not take part in a piano lesson. Such beatings were much more severe than the kind of punishment used by many parents of that era, the court heard.

The prosecution also said that the girls were forced to work like “slaves” on household chores that would normally only be expected of adults; were subjected to humiliation in front of others; and were given only very basic food, sometimes being starved.

Examples included one of the girls being ridiculed over bed wetting and another having to eat tissue paper after going without food for more than a week.

Det Con Sarah Lowe, who investigated the case, said: “The ongoing ordeals these victims suffered were particularly appalling considering they were inflicted by two people who were supposed to be caring for them at a difficult time in their young lives.

“Walter and Betty Roe abused the positions of trust they had been placed in and heaped emotional and physical abuse on vulnerable youngsters who had nowhere to turn.

“This case clearly shows that even if offences happened some time in the past you can still come forward and report them - it's never too late, you will be taken seriously and we will thoroughly investigate your complaint.

“In this case it has resulted in two people being brought to justice for offences which happened between ten and 20 years previously and which they probably thought they had got away with.”