Childhood Abuse

An alleged survivor of a horrific catalogue of childhood abuse has been taken on an emotional journey back to the scenes of his ordeal by BBC South’s Inside Out.

Les Cummings, 63, is campaigning for an apology from Portsmouth City Council for the abuse he claims to have suffered in its care in the Fifties.

Following the shocking revelations of abuse in Jersey, Hampshire Police are now reviewing the findings of an earlier investigation into Les’ claims.

In Friday night’s programme, Les agrees to revisit both the last remaining building of Cosham’s Children’s Cottage Homes and his first foster home.

Les’s fight for an apology – and compensation – from the city council has set him on a mission to trace many of his fellow care home children, in the hope of proving his memories are true.

“It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to be a victim of abuse all those years ago, and at 63 years of age I’m tired of being an abused victim. I want an end to it,” he said.

Les has so far traced more than 20 other alleged victims, a number of whom also recount their shocking stories to Inside Out.

In their accounts, one man’s name appears time and time again: Deputy Superintendent Alfred John Bott.

Touring the site of the home, which now houses offices, Les said: “One time he said to me: ‘hold [your sister’s] hands behind her back,’ and I had to hold her hands behind her back and he punched her in the stomach a couple of times. I’m holding her and he went off laughing. He thought it was funny.”

The Cottage Home was opened in 1931 as a more humane improvement on the workhouse.

By the time Les was taken into care, there were about 130 children kept in a handful of cottages. Each was overseen by a housemother in a system that was supposed to recreate the atmosphere of a caring family.

Labelled the city’s unwanted and unloved, the children’s main hope of escape from the brutal regime lay in being fostered.

But, for Les, finding a foster family was no such salvation. In 1951, aged seven, he was sent to a foster home in Queens Road in Copnor.

He believes he was the victim of an organised paedophile ring, farming out children for abuse. He says for the next two-and-a-half years he was beaten, starved and suffered appalling sexual abuse.

Inside Out’s cameras follow Les as he returns to the house, where he was often shut for hours on end in a tiny cupboard under the stairs.

“That’s my prison, that’s my dungeon under the stairs. I spent hours in there, weekends sometimes. No food, no water, nothing. I used to bite on the wood in there,” he said, when seeing the cupboard for the first time in almost 50 years.

But it was in the front room where the worst abuse was carried out by his foster father.

“He would close the door and I was alone. You can’t do anything about it. He has got to do what he wants to do and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.

Breaking down in tears, Les added: “He took away me feeling like I was a man. He took that away. Unless you have been abused like that you can’t understand what it does.

“But I will tell you the biggest courage is coming here today. I know some people will think ‘how can you do it?’ Well, it takes balls to come here and do this. Now I am a man and I don’t care what anybody says.”

Hampshire Police said 17 of the 18 people accused of abuse are either dead or untraceable.

But they have now agreed to review the inquiry they held in 2006 and have re-interviewed Les.

Portsmouth City Council said that, while it does sympathise with the victims’ suffering, it still cannot accept liability for any compensation claim.

7.30pm on Friday 7 March 2008 on BBC One South

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