19th Oct, 2017

Former Coventry children's home workers on trial over sex abuse charges

Coventry Editorial 13th Jan, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

TWO members of staff at a now-demolished children’s home in Coventry have gone on trial accused of abusing youngsters in their care physically, sexually and psychologically in the 1980s.

Alan Todd and Kenneth Owen claim that the 22 allegations against them have been fabricated by their alleged victims, a jury a Warwick Crown Court heard.

Todd (70) of Tile Hill Lane, Tile Hill, Coventry has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of indecently assaulting three girls and six charges of cruelty to a child relating to one of those girls, three other girls and two boys.

His offences are said to include psychological cruelty by making a girl who had become a vegetarian look into a bag in which he had a dead rabbit with its stomach torn open to expose a number of unborn foetuses.

Owen (70) now of Dickin Hill Road, Boston, Linconshire, has denied three charges of indecently assaulting one girl and five charges of cruelty towards two girls and three boys.

Prosecutor Mark Heywood QC told them: “The case concerns the abuse of vulnerable children taken into the care of the local authority during the 1980s and placed in residential or foster care.

“The residential home was known as Wisteria Lodge, which used to stand on Earlsdon Road South in Coventry. Since the events the building was first closed and, having stayed closed for some time, has since been demolished.

“The nature of the abuse the prosecution say this case concerns falls into three categories.

“First of all, children were bullied and subjected to humiliating, frightening treatment which fell short of physical violence, but which fell far short of what could be considered reasonable horseplay.

“Secondly, there were occasions when children were deliberately physically assaulted; and thirdly there were occasions when female children were sexually abused.

“Mr Todd and Mr Owen are each responsible for all three forms of abuse in respect of children for whom they were responsible and, in Todd’s case, as a foster parent as well.”

Mr Heywood said that although both men were now 70, the offences took place when they were in their late 30s and early 40s and working as the Child Support Team at Wisteria Lodge, with Owen rising to become group leader and, for a time, Todd’s manager, and their victims were in their early teens.

The first three charges were one of cruelty and two of indecently assaulting a girl who went into care in the mid-80s when she was about 12.

They related only to Todd, who was her personal social worker at Wisteria Lodge, although she said there was an incident when Owen was present and laughing at what was happening.

She first encountered Todd when she had been ‘kicking off and making a rumpus’ after being punished for breaking a window.

He dragged her from her bed, led to the top of the stairs and shoved down a flight of seven or eight before he then pulled her to her feet by her ear, causing a cut which bled.

Todd also allegedly sexually assaulted her while she was helping him make some ornamental gnomes, when he came up behind her, put his arms round her and onto her breasts and then slipped one hand down her trousers and under her underwear until she pulled away.

“It was through her that this investigation came to be launched in October 2013,” said Mr Heywood.  “She was the first of the complainants to approach the police, and she set out what had happened to her in a video-recorded interview.

“She also gave the police the names of other children she remembered, and the police were able to start tracing them.”

A newspaper article about the arrested of Todd and Owen, at that stage unnamed, led to other complainants coming forward, with yet another contacting the police following a report of one of the defendants’ earlier court appearances last year.

As to why they had not complained at the time, Mr Heywood pointed out they had been taken into care because of problems in their families or behavioural or substance abuse issues.

“The prosecution suggest that the defendants were taking advantage of those very issues of isolation and vulnerability – and who was going to believe a ‘care kid.’”

It was alleged that for over a year, again in the mid-80s, both Todd and Owen took opportunities to sexually abuse a second girl.

Another girl who was sexually abused by Todd on a number of occasions began running away to her grandparents, who she told about how she was being treated by him, although not about the indecent assaults on her.

The remaining six victims were not sexually abused, but were subjected to cruelty, four of them by both men and a further one each by Todd and Owen.

One girl who intervened after Todd and Owen had goaded a boy at the home into losing his temper was grabbed by the two men, who each took hold of an arm and a leg, and carried her upstairs, laughing as her head banged on each step as they did so.

Mr Heywood said that on a night walk Todd had grabbed a boy, aged about 13 at the time, and held him over a well, threatening to drop him the terrified boy – then did so, but in fact it contained only an inch or two of water.

The trial continues.

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