January 2019

Two men convicted of cruelty at notorious Coventry children’s home – and another guilty of indecently assaulting boy

TWO men have been convicted of cruelty towards youngsters at a notorious children’s home in Coventry – and another man has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a boy from the home.

The offences all took place at the now-closed Wisteria Lodge children’s home in Earlsdon in the 1980s and 90s.

Between them, seven men, Alan Todd, Russell Garner, Ivan McChleery, Philip Barnett, Patrick Duignan, David Saunders and David Fox had faced 22 charges of cruelty to children at the home.

Following a seven-week trial at Warwick Crown Court, Todd (73) (pictured below) previously of Stretton-under-Fosse, near Rugby, but who is already serving a sentence for sexually abusing other children at the home, was convicted of two charges of cruelty towards one boy.

The jury, who were deliberating for a total of more than 22 hours over the course of four days in November, found Garner (59) of Orchard Street, Bedworth, guilty of two cruelty charges.

McChleery (77) of Greens Road, Coventry, was found not guilty of three charges of cruelty towards two girls at the home. 

       

But at a trial in September, which could not be reported until now, he was found guilty of indecently assaulting a boy from Wisteria Lodge after taking him to his smallholding.

Of the others in the dock, former Wisteria Lodge manager Phillip Barnett (65) of Huntington Crescent, Coventry, was found not guilty of three cruelty charges and of one of assault.

But the jury was unable to reach verdicts on a second assault charge against him, or on a further cruelty charge faced by Todd and one faced by Garner.

The case, which could not be reported at the time, was adjourned for the prosecution to consider whether to ask for a retrial of those matters – and after several weeks it has now been decided they will not face a further trial.

So Todd and McChleery, who have been remanded in custody, and Garner, who has been on bail, will finally be sentenced later this month at Wolverhampton Crown Court where Judge Barry Berlin, who heard the two trials, is now sitting.

Of the other defendants, Patrick Duignan (60) of The Riddings, Canley, Coventry, who faced four cruelty charges, and David Saunders (65) of Sibton Close, Bell Green, who faced one charge, were found not guilty.

And earlier in the trial David Fox (75) of Abbey Road, Boston, Lincs, who was accused of cruelty towards a girl by using excessive force in restraining her, was found not guilty on the judge’s directions.

Prosecutor Mark Heywood QC had told the jury: “This case arises out of an investigation into the abuse of vulnerable children who were taken into the care of the local authority from the early 1980s to the mid-90s, and were placed in care at a residential home, Wisteria Lodge.

“It used to stand on Earlsdon Road South in Coventry, but the building was closed and demolished quite a few years ago now.

“Each of these counts contains the allegation made by a particular individual against a defendant or defendants, and all allege cruelty to a child.

“The expression cruelty means any one or more of the following forms of deliberate mistreatment – wilfully assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.

“The children you’ll be hearing from are now coming into their middle years.  The real issue is not precisely when things took place, but whether they took place at all.

Dealing with individual charges, Mr Heywood said the first three related to Todd’s treatment of Gerald Butler, now in his late 40s, who was at Wisteria Lodge when he was 13 or 14.

“It seems that almost from the word go, Alan Todd bullied him and lost no opportunity to antagonise him and then to assault him.  Almost every time Todd was on duty, he would physically assault him.”

Another person, Kenneth Owen, played a part in that violence, but has since died, said Mr Heywood – who did not reveal that Owen had died while was serving a sentence for sexual abuse of other children at the home.

On one occasion Todd assaulted Gerald by punching him to the back of his head while he was carrying a cup of coffee, causing him to drop the drink.

The other charge of which he was convicted reflected ‘the general pattern of wilful assaults’ on Gerald, including pushing him to the chest, causing him to fall over a chair behind him, and pinning him down with unnecessary force ‘for fun.’

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on an allegation that another boy was pushed or shoved by Todd ‘for no apparent reason other than to intimidate him’ on a number of occasions.

Turning to Garner, Mr Heywood said that, illogically, Craig Boston attracted bullying Garner’s attention because he used to toe the line and keep out of trouble.

“Many times when he passed Craig or came up behind him, Garner would clip him painfully across the head,” said Mr Heywood.

Lorraine Hamilton, who was also at the home in the early 1990s, was prone to running away, and once when she was brought back, Garner and another staff member put her to the floor, one of them pushing her arms up her back while the other sat on her legs.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether Garner had twisted another girl’s arm up her back with such force that her wrist snapped and then would not let her receive treatment.

During the trial in September, at which Todd and others were found not guilty of indecent assaults on residents, that jury heard that in the 1990s McChleery had taken a 15-year-old boy from the home to his smallholding where they did some work.

After finishing, McChleery had a shower in his caravan and came out with just a towel round his waist and told the boy to have a shower, which he did before getting dressed again.

But when he came out McChleery was sitting on a chair, naked, and goaded the boy to perform a sex act on him.

The boy said he was ‘not like that’ and turned away, but McChleery grabbed his head and tried to turn him round, pressing against him as he did so, before stopping and pretending nothing had happened.