Paul Connolly, 56, spent twelve years at St Leonard’s Children’s Home in Hornchurch where he witnessed and suffered horrific abuse.

Mr Connolly told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) how on his second night at the home someone tried to take him form his bed. Connolly told IICSA how Alan Prescott, the superintendent, would return drunk from the pub with other men, with the intention of sexually assaulting the boys. They would sometimes wear balaclavas to disguise themselves.

Mr Connolly said:

“Prescott used to come back from the pub, boozed up, and lean against you and try and rub up against you and stuff. I managed to fend that off most of the time.”

Mr Prescott, who was also a Labour councillor and magistrate, was jailed for two years for indecently assaulting four boys between 1970 and 1980 in 2001. Former house parent Bill Starling was jailed for 14 years in 2001 for sexual assaults over a period of 20 years and two rapes against children. Last year, former carer Paul Setchfield, 64, was jailed for nine years for 11 counts of sexually abusing a girl and boy between 1978 and 1981.

IICSA heard how six of the eight boys who lived in Mr Connolly’s dormitory have committed suicide or died from drug overdoses.

Mr Connolly was never raped at the home, but suffered horrific beatings and was once attacked by a member of staff for trying to stop them from raping a young girl. Mr Connolly was part of the action against Tower Hamlets Council in the late 1990s and received compensation. Mr Connolly is now demanding an apology from the council.

He said:

“They had a duty of care towards me and my friends, who were like brothers to me, and they failed miserably in their duty of care. Not only did Tower Hamlets fail to protect us, they employed most of them. If I had not hidden under the bed most nights with my wooden-handled kitchen knife, I would have been raped, as well as the other boys. Three of my abusers at St Leonard’s were convicted by criminal courts. I’ve come to this inquiry today to insist that Tower Hamlets apologise for the tragedy of St Leonard’s, to me and my family, and especially to my friends who have not survived and their families.”

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets council told IICSA that: “Tower Hamlets has issued an apology before which is on public record” and this was read out by Richard Baldwin (current Divisional Director in Children’s services) at the inquiry.


If you have been a victim of sexual or physical abuse and would like to speak to one of our specialist abuse lawyers in confidence, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can advise you on the available options for pursuing a civil damages claim. Jordans successfully represent and secure compensation for numerous victims of abuse and are experts in overcoming the particular challenges that arise in these sensitive cases. Our abuse team can be contacted free on 0800 9555 094 or you can request a call back and a member of our team will be in touch with you.

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