The Home from Hell
In 1968 I was taken to an independent boy’s home, which was located in North Wales. I was taken by a social worker from the social services department for Havenhead in Southall. There are no official records available to me to explain why this happened, or who it was that had authorised my placement in care. Only my mother, who is unwilling to discuss the matter with me, knows the true circumstances that led to my incarceration in an institution that is now known to have been a barbaric place of rapes, beatings and sexual abuse for many of its residents. I have written evidence, supplied to me by Havenhead social services, saying that no official records can be found that relate to my placement ‘in care’.
The home was a community centre for boys, later described in the national press as ‘The Home from Hell’. It was an independent business that later became known as (name withheld) Community (Holdings) Ltd. The home today, 39 years later, has long been closed down after becoming notorious for offences of child abuse that were committed, mainly by its founder, who I shall call ‘Mr Shush’. He was a charismatic man who dominated, and deviously preyed upon, the children placed in his care. He was also able to mesmerise the adult care staff with his charm and generosity. He also manipulated many officials, who considered him to be a saintly maverick figure, challenging tradition and revolutionising the approach to childcare.
The home became a dumping ground for unwanted children throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was also a very convenient playground for its paedophile founder and his secret friends. Mr Shush, who was just 24 years old when he opened The Home from Hell, was eventually jailed in 1995 aged fifty eight. He was convicted of indecently assaulting young boys, and received a six year sentence. His twenty seven year reign of abuse was finally exposed in 1995, although I know, through personal experience, that this particular conviction only represents the tip of Mr Shushes’ secret iceberg. He has since served less than six years in prison, and is now a free man, as far as I know. Many victims, some themselves subsequently imprisoned and not considered as credible, and many more who are simply unable to talk openly of the abuse they suffered, have never told the full horror story of their time in The Home from Hell. Sadly many of the boys who I knew are now dead, having committed suicide later in life. I believe their stories will never be known.
Mr Shush probably abused hundreds of children between 1968 and 1990. I witnessed him abusing boys many times, sometimes as many as fifteen boys in a single afternoon’s ‘medical check-up’ session. These sessions were conducted in his private bathroom on the first floor of the home; next to the clothing store and laundry room where his wife sometimes worked. His 'modus operadi' was to invite a selected number of boys, one at a time, into the bathroom, whereupon he would lock the door and then explain that it was his duty to inspect us for head lice. He would then ask us to drop our trousers and underpants. He said he also had to inspect us for other diseases, and would proceed to massage your testicles and move his hand up and down the shaft of your penis. This would not last very long and then he would dismiss you. I remember my shame and feelings of guilt after he did this to me.
The length of time Mr Shush has served in prison is an insult to the hundreds of lives he dismantled during his reign. The effect of his manipulative and evil regime has been far reaching. Many boys, who resided in The Home, grew to be men who carried with them deep, dark emotional scars that have never healed. Not only has his reign of abusive behaviour ‘infected’ the lives of some who were entrusted to his care, but it has also subsequently impacted on the people who later came to share their lives with those of us who had been abused by him. Some of those boys are now also convicted paedophiles, and others have since been found dead after committing suicide, or accidentally overdosing on drugs. The lucky ones, many of whom had suffered sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, have managed to scrape a life together after escaping The Home from Hell, only to live lives cursed with crime, broken relationships, low self-esteem and disabled hearts that have struggled to really love or trust anyone.
The account of my personal experience in The Home from Hell is by no means the worst experience that anyone ever had there, but I believe it is probably representative of hundreds of accounts that will never be written down. It is true to say that some enjoyed their time there.
I, and many others, did not.
Mr Shush abused me many times during my time at The Home. He also abused me in a tent in Spain whilst on a camping holiday. He abused me in a bedroom in his private home that he shared with his new wife, in 1970, and on numerous occasions when we lay together in the dark, on Famoel Mountain in North Wales. We were supposed to be playing war games against opposing teams of boys and staff, but he was playing a game of his own. I remember lying on the ground in the still of the night, high on the Famoel range. Mr Shush would often choose me for his team and then we would go ahead of the others to investigate the terrain.
Once we were alone he would push me down and say that the enemy was ahead. It was on these occasions he would press himself up against me in a heavy manner. I could feel his penis sticking in my bottom. He would move about and murmur quietly in the dark. I honestly can’t recall any pain, I am not even truly sure if he actually buggered me, or if he just enjoyed rubbing up against me. I was a child, and I guess I just blocked it out. I think the actual trauma has been erased from my memory. The last time he was able to abuse me was in his parent’s home during 1972. He and his wife were taking me to Cornwall to start a new life with my mother and her third husband, Robert.
Mr Shush’s’ wife and parents were asleep, while Mr Shush was masturbating me and sucking my penis in the darkness of his parent’s living room. I lay frozen like a statute on a camp bed pretending to be asleep. He later gave me money, knowing that it was the last time he could get his hands on me. I think it was about fifteen pounds.
I was, by this time in my life, sexually active and had experienced many petting sessions with girls from school, in the haylofts around the Clay area where The Home was located. I had managed to have sex a few times but had never ejaculated, and most of my sexual activity with girls was, up to this point, unsuccessful. At around the age of twelve or thirteen I had developed a friendship with a lad named Raymond. We had started to masturbate at the same time when we realised that Mr Shush was peeping into our annexed bedroom where we both slept. It was located at the back of the staff bedroom which was used mainly by Mr Shush. I do not recall any words or any formal arrangements with Mr Shush, or with Raymond, but the nights of masturbation were usually followed by extra treats from him the following day. Ironically, one such treat was a meal out with him in the grand Merit Hall Hotel and Restaurant. This place later became Mr Shush's ‘tycoon’ home. Raymond and I eventually took to secretly masturbating each other and I think this affected my sexual relationships with girls. I remember being paranoid that people would think I was homosexual. This was another root cause of my growing obsession with girls and sex. I wanted to prove that I was not a ‘bummer’, and I later developed a reputation as a ‘shagger’ who could get any girl he wanted. This reputation followed me into my adult life and only ceased when I fell in love with my wife Jane in 1989.
The Home from Hell grew to around eleven homes between 1968 and 1991. It was a very profitable business, dealing with thirty eight local authorities in the UK, and had a published turnover of twenty eight million pounds between 1977 and 1990. Mr Shush expanded his empire and moved from living in a small bedroom at The Home from Hell, with an old blue VW Beetle car parked outside, to living in absolute luxury in Merit Hall. His private residence was both a home and playground to the paedophile tycoon. I visited his grand house many years later and was first greeted by his wife. Within minutes of arriving at this plush residence, I saw Mr Shush walk past the window of his large games room. His hand was lightly draped over the shoulder of a young blonde boy. I remember feeling extremely sick at this sight. I eventually left Merit Hall after waiting three hours for Mr Shush to come and see me. By this demonstration of aloofness, it seemed he still had a mental hold over me, many years after I had last set eyes on him. Without words or even seeing me, he was able to frighten me away before I, like many before me, tried to confront him about the past. I had gone to him in a desperate situation. I had my son David with me, who was just a tiny baby, and I was hoping to get financial help from him for me and my son to start a new life. I left with some warm milk in the baby bottle that Nancy gave me and nothing else.
When I was placed at The Home from Hell I was barely eleven years old and had already experienced traumatic events in my childhood that had left me emotionally disabled, deeply scarred and very confused. I had been a patient in the Havenhead children’s hospital in Southall, prior to being taken into care. I had been officially diagnosed as suffering from a hypersensitivity reaction, named erythema nodosum. Despite my mother’s claim that I was telling lies about the pains in my legs, this condition was later thought to be a reaction to the extreme emotional effect of violence and mental abuse.
The day I was taken to The Home from Hell, a new nightmare began, leaving a negative effect on me for the rest of my life. Through my own subsequent research, I have learned that I was placed into care at the request of my mother. I did not attend any court hearings, I was not a criminal and I had never been in trouble with the police. I also discovered that a social worker had been a guest at my Nan’s guesthouse at the time I was taken from the hospital to The Home from Hell. I wonder if there is a connection. His name was Ken.
Years later I was told that I had been reported as being out of control at school, generally very cheeky to teachers, and quite often found playing truant from school, usually with Stuart O’Brien. This was true, but I was not a criminal. I was just a confused, shy and introverted ten year old abuse victim that desperately needed protecting from my mother’s irrational and often emotionally charged lifestyle. My mother had rescued us both from the violence of my stepfather but her new life with her mother, and the separation from my little brother Ray, was too much for me to cope with. My mother had also suffered at her husband’s violent hands and she was trying hard to re-build her life. My parents had failed at both marriage and child rearing, but I was the one who paid the price of their failure. I was given an unjust sentence without trial, and taken away. This damaged me for life.
I do not know who made the final decision for me to be taken to The Home from Hell. I do recall a social worker type collecting me from the hospital after I had been taken to see the bald man named William Tirem. He told me I was going to go to a nice boy’s home in the countryside for a couple of weeks. This was to allow my mother and grandmother some rest, and to help me get back on my feet. I later discovered that William Tirem was a member of staff at The Home. I also discovered that he had an unhealthy interest in little boys. He ‘accidently’ touched me in the showers whenever he had to opportunity and he often stood and watched when I had a bath. I do recall the feelings of embarrassment and shame. I did nothing about it because I was alone and afraid of the consequences of challenging him.
I finally left The Home from Hell some 5 years later, in 1973.
The day I arrived at The Home from Hell was a day of terror and enlightenment. I literally wet my pants when a boy told me he was going to hit me. On that very first day, I smoked my first cigarette, I saw another boy’s erect penis for the first time, and I experienced what I would describe as a ‘possessions rape’; as I sat on Mr Shush’s knee in the small staff room, I watched William Tirem handing out all my toys and clothes to the other boys who had come to meet me.
They told me to call them Jim and William, and they said they were going to be like fathers to me. On that first day I was made to shower naked in front of William. I remember lying in my bed that first night, terrified and very lonely. I had realised that this was not going to be a holiday and there were going to be no games on the beach.
Within weeks of arriving at The Home from Hell, Mr Shush started regularly masturbating me with an older boy named Colin. Mr Shush would creep into the room and start touching me under the blankets. He would bring Colin who would also touch me. Mr Shush often hit Colin if anyone complained that he had tried to touch them. Colin is now a convicted paedophile who has been dubbed by the national press as ‘Britain’s most notorious serial child abuser’. He was convicted of rape, later in life, and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. On his release from a mental hospital he was found wandering the streets with a colouring book and pencils, and he admitted he was trying to entice children for sex. The young Colin had learning difficulties and was regularly beaten up by the boys in the home. I believe that Mr Shush is directly responsible for turning Colin into the adult sex monster he later became.
After two years in The Home from Hell I had managed to change my image to such an extent that my mother, when visiting for the first time in two years, did not recognise me when I greeted her in the car park. I had a different haircut, and sported self-inflicted tattoos on my arms. I was very thin and outwardly very aggressive towards everyone. I was so thin that the boys gave me the nickname ‘Twiggy’. My mother gave me a red and cream coloured record player with a few records inside it, one of which was the song, ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’. She seemed to think this gift was adequate compensation for abandoning me. It was not. I hated the bitch and I wanted to spit at her. I kept my feelings inside and played the happy son. I had learned that visitors often gave money and sweets to appease their own guilt at leaving us kids when their visit was over.
The record player made me popular with the other boys and it was used by most of them regularly. I eventually swapped it for cigarettes and a dirty magazine. I hated my mother for lying to me, and did not cherish anything she gave me. I remember writing the words ‘fucking bitch’ on my leg with a biro pen. I despised her. She like to project the image of a caring mother, but she was happy to leave me behind again as she returned to her childless life. She had abandoned my brother Ray and then she had abandoned me.
The routines in The Home from Hell were very disciplined and regimental. Every day began with a dorm leader, who was usually an older boy, shouting at you to get out of your bed. We all feared the dorm leaders because they were allowed to hit us and humiliate us without being reprimanded by the adult staff. Standing by your bed, half asleep, and quite often with an embarrassing erection that was difficult to hide, you held on tight to your toothbrush and towel in silence, while waiting to be ushered in lines to the bathrooms, one dormitory at a time, in numerical order. The bed making and cleaning up, before 7am breakfast, was done with fanatical precision each day and the reward of points, given by the adult staff on duty, for the tidiest rooms, were highly sought after.
The dorm leaders were encouraged to be very competitive and they would do just about anything to get the highest points. Each of them knew that this would lead to them being rewarded by the home’s founder, Mr Shush. The dorm leaders did not tolerate bed wetting, and the other boys in the dormitory were ordered to beat and whip with wet towels whenever a boy had a ‘little accident’. This would happen almost every day. Later, when I became a dorm leader for room six, I ruled it with a stick and regularly humiliated a bed-wetter named James. I am ashamed to recall the pain and exclusion I put him through every day, for many months. After two years in care I too had learned to abuse, and induce in others the same amount of terror that I had suffered when I arrived. I was a boy who was beginning to emulate my step-father, Angry Man, with violence and arrogance.
My life at The Home from Hell was mostly mundane and the time was broken only with outbursts of violence between boys, or arguments with the staff. Some survivors have commented that they experienced happiness and good care in the Home. Perhaps they did. They were the lucky ones who did not attract the inappropriate attention from Mr Shush. Many still hail him as a hero. It’s true to say that he could be a kind and generous man. However, I would say that this saintly persona was part of his elaborate and successful grooming process. I accept that he did not abuse all the boys who were entrusted to him, but, he did abuse me, and he has been convicted of abusing others.
Things considered as intolerable and cruel by those on the outside, were the ‘norm’ in The Home. Everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, washing, schooling and playing were regimented and in themselves non-eventful, apart from constant shouting of abuse at the staff. Food was never in abundance, and treats, such as extra bread and chocolate biscuits, were rare and always considered valuable currency. If I managed to steal any, I would be popular. It was not unusual to be offered stolen booty in exchange for doing favours, or as a swap for some cigarettes or dirty magazines. Some lads would promise fags and chocolate if you entertained them by hitting another kid.
The older lads would give you a fag if you ran errands for them. The practice of gifts for favours was quickly learned, and of course also practiced with more sinister results, by Mr Shush. If he came into the dorm and quietly abused you during the night, you could expect some sort of gift or special treat the following day. He never discussed the abuse with you. I usually got a signed chitty from him that allowed me ‘out on trust’, and I would quite often be taken by staff for a spending spree in a Wroxham clothing shop. I was one of the best dressed kids in the home.
Wroxham, the nearest big town to The Home, was a hostile place for any ‘Home from Hell’ boy. We had a reputation for stealing and fighting and this caused some shops to ban us. One shop, I recall, had a sign in the window reading ‘No Home from Hell boys allowed’. It felt like being a black person in a deep-south, racist ‘white’ American town. This type of exclusion just made us all the more dependant on our 'saviour and protector', Mr Shush. He was always defending us and promoting our rights. This was the façade of the quiet abuser of boys. By day he portrayed a kind and caring persona, but by night, some of us met his alter-ego.
Each unaccompanied visit to Wroxham was a test of bravery, as local gangs of youths constantly wanted to test our reputation. We were not allowed out of The Home from Hell in groups of more than three at a time, so we were always at a disadvantage when confronted by one of these mobs. We occasionally found one of the local boys alone, walking behind the indoor market, and I remember being party to the beating of one lad on such an occasion. I just kept punching and kicking him in the face until his tears, teeth and blood were on the pavement. I was terrified and yet excited at the power of being in control.
On another occasion we cornered a lad on his own at the railway station, and we dragged him into the toilets and pulled his pants down. We left him crying and crouched in pain after we each took a turn at kicking him in the groin and punching him in the face. One of the lads with us set fire to his pubic hair with a lighter.
Attending outside school was also a daily ordeal that we had to survive. We were taken from The Home each morning in a light blue, twelve-seat Bedford van. We attended various small schools in the surrounding villages. Each school had agreed to take a few boys from The Home. I went to a school in Gerveny that shared the same name as The Home, but was not connected in anyway. The van, with The Home from Hell's name written on the side of it, would drop us off in the morning and pick us up at the end of the day. My school was built in the middle of a small Welsh village on the outskirts of Wroxham. It was a ‘closed’ community and they did not tolerate newcomers very well, especially those who came with a reputation such as that shared by The Home from Hell Boys. Parents told their children to keep away from us in school and teachers found us to be convenient scapegoats for anything broken or stolen. Some teachers even made us stand at the back of the class to sharpen pencils and excluded us from certain activities. We never did woodwork, cooking, or science. I think this was in case we got hold of a weapon and took it back to The Home. This was another form of exclusion that contributed to our increasing resentment of other kids, and anyone in authority.
The truth is that we were usually in the middle of any trouble, but we were not responsible for every misdeed in the school. We responded aggressively when being blamed for everything. Our notoriety did however make us popular with the girls, and this was some consolation for the many canings we received from the headmaster. We were always caned as a response to our mischief, no matter how trivial it was, because the teachers were unable to keep us ‘on detention’ after school in case we missed the van. I think most of the teachers viewed us as hardened criminals and felt that they had more liberty when dishing out corporal punishment. After all, our parents were hardly going to complain to the school. They forgot that we were in care for protection. They forgot that we were just children, like their own.
I attended my outside school along with a boy called Alvin. He was one of my arch enemies within the home, but we always stuck up for each other whilst at school. Alvin was a good little Geordie scrapper, and he taught me to kick your opponent in the face as soon as he was on the floor. He and I nearly got expelled when a teacher caught us on the flat roof of the girl’s showers, peeping through the clear glass dome window after the netball session. They were naked and we were looking to see which of the girls had tits and a hairy fanny.
The Home from Hell van was occasionally late, and this sometimes led to fights outside the school gates with the local gangs and older lads from the school. Alvin and I would stand back-to-back, each armed with a stick or a brick, and take on these contenders regularly. If we got caught fighting we were in big trouble at school and even worse trouble at The Home. Conversely, if we did not fight we were beaten up. School was a daily challenge of survival that was only enjoyable on the days we managed to get a girl, literally, behind the bike sheds, for a ‘fanny-feel’ or a ‘tit-squeeze’. In the van on the way home, we often compared smelly fingers to see who had touched the most girls. Sticking your finger up your bum usually convinced the other lads that you had been successful that day.
The Home from Hell was a cesspit of sexual deviancy, violence and abandonment. Each boy had a horror story to tell about their past. Some were ordinary little boys who were simply the victims of divorce. Some boys, as young as nine, were already hardened little criminals. Some clearly had special needs and should have been getting cared for elsewhere. Some lads were like men, whilst others were barely out of junior school, and yet they often shared the same dormitory. My first two years at The Home had changed me into a person who had learned to survive by reflecting my surroundings. I was learning to be chameleon-like, and was developing various personas. It was a hostile environment, so I became hostile towards those around me. The Home from Hell was a ‘living’ lie in itself, and everything about me was also becoming a lie. My true self was quickly being eradicated and I metamorphosed into a being that was to forever carry the stigma of having once been 'in care'.
The nights in that home were sometimes awash with buggery for some, and also the fear of beatings from older boys. The horror of a pillow being pushed hard over your face in the silence of the night while other boys whipped your body through the blankets with their towels was, in some way, light relief from the feelings of horror, invasion, helplessness and disgust that I and others experienced when waking abruptly from a deep sleep to find Mr Shush sucking your penis, his hand heavily draped over your mouth. He would gently whisper “shush” with his finger over his mouth and his breath would reek of alcohol.
The daytime was broken into segments of practical duties such as cleaning, scrubbing and washing dishes. Each day was also a regimental pattern of abuse, separation and depersonalisation. The younger boys tried very hard to be young boys. It must have been hard for us all in one way or another, no matter how tough our previous lives had been. The young general staff, for the most part, acted kindly towards us and they always seemed to have an air of pity when they talked with you. A few older staff were really good people who did care for us the best they could. Many people will mention the same names when reflecting on those who did their best for us. Some staff however where hiding an addiction to child-sex. Many of them, over the years, became far too violent when their patience ran out. I witnessed boys being beaten, out of the sight of other staff and I occasionally witnessed an older boy retaliating. It was a good feeling to see a staff member suffer a bleeding nose or a kicked shin bone. My fellow care sibling, David, who has also written a book, was one of the boys brutally mistreated by a particular member of staff. David’s book is entitled ‘You Little Bastard’, and is available on my website.
A typical twenty four hours in The Home from Hell, as I experienced it, would involve several outbursts of violence between boys, leading to the medical box being produced and someone being slapped or reprimanded in some other way by the staff on duty. Many days included cruelty towards younger boys, and the silence of night was often broken with the sound of a boy whimpering under his bed sheets. There were regular outbursts of shouting and name-calling amongst different groups. Trips to outside school were a highlight of the week day for me. It was safe ground between the horrors of abuse left behind and the daily trauma of being targeted by parents, teachers and other children.
Sexual abuse was part of my life, I knew it was wrong and I did not like it. I have struggled, as an adult, with the feelings of guilt and shame. Telling someone did not seem an option. I don’t know how other boys dealt with it. I just blocked it all out of my mind until I was much older. Some boys were known to be ‘bummers’, and you kept clear of them if you could. Colin was the one we all especially kept away from. I remember one particular occasion, sitting in one of the smelly toilet cubicles. I was still, like a statue; silent, scared to breath as I listened to the painful cries of a young new boy being raped in the next-door cubicle. I could hear the thuds of his body as he was thrust against the wall of the cubicle. I could see the shadow of his attackers under the gap, and I heard his agonised cries of pain. I wanted to help him but was scared to move.
Looking back at my time in The Home from Hell, I understand now how I became a daydreamer and an exaggerator who was obsessed with sex, frightened of men, and totally devoid of any trust towards anyone. That place was like a kid factory that took in damaged children, and mostly churned out completely fucked up teenagers. The competition between the boys was immense and unhealthy. If you wanted respect from the other boys, you had to have a bigger dick than the next lad in the showers or you had to have stolen more things, shagged more girls, and you had to be able to fight better than any new lad. When I arrived at The Home I was a non-smoker, I did not masturbate, and I had never been a violent person. My nickname after a few hours of arrival was ‘Ponsonby’. I was a ‘Scouser’ with a posh way of talking. When I left I was known as ‘Twiggy’ because I was so tall and skinny. All my sexual boundaries had been removed and I had become morally corrupt, just like many of my peers and carers. After initially spending my time there as a victim, I learned how to victimise, and I was soon amongst the lads who regularly bullied the weaker ones, especially the new boys.
A skinhead haircut, a few tattoos and plenty of fags for trading, was all you needed to get in with the bullies. On one occasion a lad called Stuart arrived. He was bigger than me but I had the psychological advantage, and I did not waste any time establishing my authority over him. We had a scrap behind the old oak tree at the front of The Home. I repeatedly kicked him, egged on by the other boys, until he submitted. We often acted like pack of wolves at a kill, and we were reminiscent of the kids in the film ‘Lord of the Flies’. His face was a mess and I was a hero. Some months later, when Stuart had gained his bearings and confidence, he beat me up. Years later, after we had both left The Home, we met at a petrol station in Wullerton. I was posing in my big American Pontiac car, which I was buying from my friend Andy, and Stuart was in his smart company car, and wearing a suit. We chatted briefly and arranged to meet in Wroxham some time later. When we met, we had a good night drinking and reminiscing about the old days. We both nervously disclosed to each other the details of the abuse we had suffered as little boys. Sadly, a few months later, Stuart was found hanging in his garden shed, apparently another victim of suicide, just like so many other boys that had shared The Home from Hell.
The continuation of my personal story is published in my autobiographical book:
‘ Nigel – A Damaged Boy’
Available at www.nigelking.info