‘There was no one to help me when I was abused in Lambeth’



Sandra Fearon was up in court within weeks of leaving Shirley Oaks – one of Lambeth’s worst children’s homes. 

But it wasn’t sparked by the abuse she suffered – it was because she had a job. 

A teacher at her school managed to get her a job in the City – and in those days there was a strict uniform for anyone, however lowly, who worked in the square mile. 

And she had left care without any support whatsoever – including any money to buy work clothes. She was fined £50 for shoplifting, aged just 17. 

She had stolen clothes that would comply with the rules at work. Her court appearance did not hold her back though. 

Over the next three years she did night-time office cleaning, also in the City. She did three jobs in Peckham – worked in a shop; typed up letters for another company; and cut meat for a butcher’s. These jobs enabled her to buy her own home – a one bedroomed flat in Wallington, at the age of 21. 

She went on to become a personal assistant to the owner. When he sold his business, she used the redundancy money to set up a firm of her own developing property and now runs a holiday firm in Devon. 

She had two failed marriages but is now the best advert for the resilience of many former Lambeth care survivors. 

Sandra was put into care when she was 12, along with her two brothers, aged nine and seven, three years after her mother, 26, died of a heart attack brought on by a blood clot in her heart. Their father could not cope with looking after them. During five years at Shirley Oaks, aged from 12-17, from 1964, she was regularly abused. 

Within two weeks of her arrival, she was raped by a doctor – and the same happened twice a week. Shirley Oaks Survivors’ Association (SOSA) has a list of scores of his other victims – but he is now dead.

 “There was no one to help me,” she said. “He held me down and put something over my head. I was tiny, I actually looked about nine or 10.

“After I was hysterical and covered in blood because I was haemorrhaging. He told me to get up, put my clothes on and go.

“When I went back, my house parent said just go upstairs and lay down. She was aware, she was a brutal lady.

“I had no choice but to suffer in silence. We were kept apart, concentrating on surviving our own individual hell. 

“I am very angry. My family home was a comfortable place. I didn’t even understand what racial abuse was. I had never seen any violence. 

“But in care I suffered horrific violence and witnessed horrific violence and racial abuse of other children.

 “Shirley Oaks survivors’ Association has conclusive evidence of a paedophile ring operating out of Lambeth council from the very top. I was there – it happened to me. 

“Shirley Oaks was infiltrated by an organised paedophile ring. Police knew what was going on. Three organisations were complicit – police, the council and the Shirley Oaks management. 

“I know people, including members of my family, who were also very successful but had breakdowns as a result of their trauma. But I was always fascinated by the world of business from a very young age and I could not wait to get into the world of work. I was always working – that was my addiction.” 

Sandra had been in care for three months already but was sexually abused within two weeks of arrival at Shirley Oaks in 1964. 

It was only when she went to Bonus Pastor Catholic College in Winlaton Road, Bromley that staff noticed she was always distracted and her hair was falling out. 

“The school nurse got it out of me,” said Sandra. “I was never sent to the medical centre again. 

“At this point, I was seconds from suicide. I had always been threatened that I’d be sent somewhere even worse and would be separated from my brothers if I told anyone. 

“There were often strange men roaming Shirley Oaks, especially at night. Some of the boys would be woken from their beds and taken to meet them. But nobody ever spoke about what happened next. “Sometimes I would hear screams and children calling for their mothers.” 

At the age of 17 she walked out with a small bag, to her father’s house. 

But she left after three weeks because his life was still in chaos – the bailiffs had arrived to take away his furniture. 

A school friend took her to his mum and dad’s in Camberwell and she stayed there for two months. The friend would later become her first husband, in 1972, when she was 20. 

Her internal scarring meant she was unable to have children, which contributed to the breakdown of that first marriage. 

“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “Others had turned to drugs and alcohol to blot out the pain.”



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