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Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 10:15 UK
CofE accused of care cover up

By Angus Stickler
Today programme

The Church of England has been accused of conducting a cover up over allegations that it drugged girls in one of its children's homes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Teresa Cooper
Teresa Cooper has been battling to get hold of her files for 18 years

Last month the BBC revealed that nine girls who were heavily drugged in Kendall House in Kent have gone on to have children with birth defects.

Now Teresa Cooper, one of the women involved, has accused the Church of conducting a cover up - a claim the Church strongly denies.

"The Church are very responsible. They haven't even said sorry," says Ms Cooper.

"They all just go around and they hide, you know, they hide and pretend. They won't do it because they feel if they give any of the girls support they'll be sued."

For the last month the Today programme has been investigating her claims. It has uncovered evidence that the Church in Society - the department of the Church of England responsible for Kendall House - has deliberately withheld files from Teresa Cooper and that a senior member of staff accessed and removed files from the archive despite assurances that he did not do so.

In the early 1990s Teresa took legal action and gained access to her personal case files.

Consisting of hundreds of pages of detailed information about her time in Kendall House, they proved that she was drugged at least 1,248 times - often by force.

For 18 years Teresa has been battling to get hold of all the Kendall House files, staffing and management reports, to find out who was responsible - a process which has left her deeply frustrated.

Paper trail

Earlier this year, following freedom of information requests for correspondence about her files, she obtained proof that she was being deliberately blocked.

Kendall House
Kendall House in Kent is no longer a children's home

On 17 November 2008, the then Chief Executive of the Church in Society, Canon David Grimwood, sent an email to Kent County Council staff.

"I have spoken with the insurer's legal adviser who considers that we should not disclose these records to Teresa Cooper," it reads.

"If she were to pursue a claim for damages against Kendall House, these records would become disclosable documents."

The Today Programme has also uncovered evidence that Church staff have accessed files despite assurances that they have not done so.

In 1992 the Church in Society deposited the files for safe keeping in the Kent County Council Archive.

Last year, following concerns about the safety of the Kendall House files, Kent County Council compiled a report stating that "no Kendall House files have been permanently removed by any parties." It was checked by Canon Grimwood for inaccuracies and omissions.

Sarah Cooper
Teresa Cooper's daughter Sarah was born with a small jaw and a cleft palate

But Teresa Cooper told the BBC that she spoke to a council archivist who told her that files had been signed out in June 2006 by a member of Church in Society staff.

The Today Programme tracked down and spoke to archivist who confirmed this was the case.

The Diocese of Rochester - referring to the Kent County Council report - continued to deny that files had been removed. Then, following requests for clarification, it confirmed they had. It issued the following statement:

"This unfortunately contradicts the Kent County Council report that no files were removed from the archives, we believe that this is a reflection of human error and in no way represents a deliberate attempt to mislead or misinform Ms Cooper."

Canon David Grimwood declined a BBC interview request. When questioned as to why he did not point out to Kent County Council that files had been removed from the archive by the Church, he said it didn't cross his mind. Canon Grimwood left his job as Chief Executive of the Church in Society last month.

The diocesan statement continued by suggesting that the files were removed following requests from three women, including Teresa Cooper, asking for copies of their records.

But the BBC has learned this is not the case. It has been told that the Church removed the files for its own purposes.

Teresa Cooper
Teresa Cooper was drugged at least 1,248 times while at Kendall House

The Today Programme contacted all of the women.

Teresa Cooper received her personal case files 12 years earlier in 1994 - she already had them - she says she didn't request or receive them in 2006.

The other two women did not request their files until the late autumn 2006 - at least four months after the files were removed.

We asked the Church why it suggested this was as a result of Data Protection Act requests from three women - when it clearly was not. It said it has nothing else to add.

It has taken a month to sift through this evidence. It's been a difficult process. Cover-up or incompetence, the Kendall House files are important. They prove that girls were given massive doses of drugs there - nine former residents including Teresa Cooper have gone on to have children with birth defects.




SEE ALSO
Living with the legacy of care
Tuesday, 7 April 2009, 05:20 GMT |  Today
Vulnerable children's care fears
Tuesday, 8 July 2008, 12:20 GMT |  Education
Children in care 'being failed'
Thursday, 14 July 2005, 10:45 GMT |  UK
Charities' Children's Bill fears
Wednesday, 3 March 2004, 18:20 GMT |  UK

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