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‘We were jealous of the kids getting abused’: Former resident of Tower Hamlets children’s home reveals horrifying assaults

PUBLISHED: 17:22 18 October 2017

Fitness instructor, Paul Connolly used to live at the St Leonard's Children's home in Hornchurch.

Fitness instructor, Paul Connolly used to live at the St Leonard's Children's home in Hornchurch.

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“St Leonard’s should have been idyllic,” says Paul Connolly, a resident of the former Tower Hamlets’ children’s home where sexual abuse was rife.

Former St Leonard's children's home in Hornchurch. Picture: Historic England Former St Leonard's children's home in Hornchurch. Picture: Historic England

“All these cottages in the countryside for inner city boys and girls. It even had its own swimming pool. Idyllic except for the staff.”

The staff Paul is talking about include former house parent Bill Starling, jailed for 14 years in 2001 for a string of sexual assaults over a period of 20 years.

The paedophile was in charge of Paul’s house, and was also convicted of two rapes against children.

St Leonard’s Children’s Home Superintendent Alan Prescott, who was also a Labour councillor and magistrate, was also jailed at the same court case for indecently assaulting four boys between 1970 and 1980.

Paul Setchfield, jailed for 11 historic child sexual abuse offences at former St Leonard's Children's Home in Hornchurch. Picture: Met Police Paul Setchfield, jailed for 11 historic child sexual abuse offences at former St Leonard's Children's Home in Hornchurch. Picture: Met Police

And on Friday former carer Paul Setchfield, 64, of Cromer, was sentenced to nine years imprisonment for 11 counts of sexually abusing a young girl and boy between 1978 and 1981.

“I knew of him, but he wasn’t in my cottage so I didn’t know him that well,” Paul told the Recorder.

“He always seemed quite affable.”

Paul, 55, was sent to St Leonard’s, in Hornchurch Road, by Tower Hamlets Council when he was just eight years old in 1970.

The children’s home housed around 3,000 youngsters in care from several east London boroughs, but predominantly Tower Hamlets, between 1965 and 1984.

And it has since been proved that systematic sexual abuse was rife.

While Paul wasn’t sexually assaulted, several of his friends were, and he says he suffered physical violence and mental torture during his 12 years at the children’s home.

“On my first night I wet the bed, as lots of children in care do, and I was dragged out and put in a bath full of bleach,” he claims.

He also says he was beaten regularly and thrown off a balcony.

“This sounds crazy, but we were actually sometimes jealous of the kids getting abused, because they got treats and special privileges,” Paul explained.

He added that one of his best friends tragically took his own life after suffering sexual abuse at the children’s home.

Paul received £16,000 in compensation from Tower Hamlets Council, in recognition that it had breached its duty of care.

Paul, who lives in Brentwood, is now a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and he is also making a film about St Leonard’s.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokeswoman said: “Children’s homes should always be a place of safety and care and the abuse that went on at St Leonard’s home was dreadful and damaging and we take it extremely seriously.

“The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is also looking at the St Leonard’s children’s home as part of its wider investigation into how victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation were treated, and we are engaging fully with them.”

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