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Revealed: Fresh abuse allegations at children's 'home of horrors' with links to 'cult-like' group

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:43 29 July 2019

Red House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Pictured left is Benny Joergensen a former head teacher. He died in 2013. Photo: Archant

Red House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Pictured left is Benny Joergensen a former head teacher. He died in 2013. Photo: Archant

Archant

Former pupils at a Norfolk school have today called for a fresh police investigation into allegations of horrific physical abuse.

Red House School in Buxton, pictured in 1980. Photo: ArchantRed House School in Buxton, pictured in 1980. Photo: Archant

Warnings about the Small School at Red House in Buxton were ignored by councils in the 1980s and 90s as they sent children there, some of whom claim they suffered severe abuse, an investigation by this newspaper has found.

Red House, which opened in 1984 and shut in 1998, was presented as a soft option where councils would send problem children for an alternative education involving trips abroad and a laxed regime.

The reality, eight former pupils allege today, was very different.

They allege having bones broken while being restrained, being beaten up for not following the rules and some teachers encouraging pupils to attack each other as punishment. One reported sexual abuse from older pupils.

A photo provided of one of the pupils being hit by teacher Benny Joergensen. He said the photo was taken on a trip to India in the mid-1990s. Photo: SubmittedA photo provided of one of the pupils being hit by teacher Benny Joergensen. He said the photo was taken on a trip to India in the mid-1990s. Photo: Submitted

Inspectors closed the facility in 1998 after discovering it was channelling funds to a controversial 'cult-like' Danish group called Tvind.

Norfolk police said it had ended a probe into sexual and physical abuse allegations at Red House last year because there was "no prospect of achieving a conviction against any suspect set against the standard required by the court".

But the allegations police investigated only dated from 1984 to 1990.

Six of the eight pupils we have spoken to were at the school after that date and have never been interviewed by police.

We have passed our dossier to detectives with details of newly alleged abuse and police are now calling for anyone with fresh information to come forward.

'We went through hell'

The ex-pupils describe brutal violence, failings of social services to protect them and the devastating impact it has had on them as adults.

Red House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Photo: ArchantRed House School, Buxton, pictured in 2002. Ex-pupils have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Photo: Archant

They claimed much of the physical abuse stemmed from headteacher Benny Joergensen who was at the school from at least the late 1980s until the mid 1990s.

One ex-pupil has a photo of Mr Joergensen, who died in 2013, hitting him on a school trip in the mid 1990s.

"A lot of us went through hell," claimed the pupil who did not wish to be named. "Beating was a daily occurrence. I would get punched in my arms and legs in the morning by Benny. That was just the norm. Pretty much all the boys in the school would get the same treatment."

Michael Rose, 40, who was at the school from 1990, successfully sued his social services department in Barnet in 2001 for sending him to Red House and another abusive children's home.

Leon Stevens from Great Yarmouth is one of several ex-pupils of The Small School at Red House who have alleged physical abuse in the 1990s. Photo: Leon StevensLeon Stevens from Great Yarmouth is one of several ex-pupils of The Small School at Red House who have alleged physical abuse in the 1990s. Photo: Leon Stevens

"An average day normally started with me being tipped out of my bed, being told my mum didn't want me, then being pressed on pressure points to get me out of my bed," he alleged.

"They would hold me down. They would squeeze really hard, knee you in the back or head; it was like restraint gone overboard."

Other pupils we spoke to said they had struggled to get justice.

Leon Stevens, 38, from Great Yarmouth, said most pupils accepted the violent regime.

Michael Rose, former pupil at Red House who was awarded a payout from Barnet social services for physical abuse. Photo: Michael RoseMichael Rose, former pupil at Red House who was awarded a payout from Barnet social services for physical abuse. Photo: Michael Rose

"We were shut out from the outside, we were brainwashed in there," he said.

"They would knee me in the stomach and smash my head on the floor; that is not being restrained, that is being beaten up by an adult."

A fourth pupil, sent to Red House by Durham social services, who did not wish to be named, alleged his wrists were broken while being restrained.

"There was a hell of a lot of physical abuse," he claimed.

Newspaper clippings from the Eastern Daily Press about issues at Red House from 1984 to 1998. Photo: Brittany WoodmanNewspaper clippings from the Eastern Daily Press about issues at Red House from 1984 to 1998. Photo: Brittany Woodman

"They would hold you, sit on you, bend your legs back for anything that was not in their regime."

He also said he was told to share a single bed with another boy for several months.

"This was a major thing in screwing up the first half of my adult life," he said.

"At the time, because we were there 24 hours a day, seven days a week we just thought this regime must be normal," he said.

Steen Conradsen, former headteacher at Red House. He did not respond to requests for comment. Photo: LinkedIn/ScreenshotSteen Conradsen, former headteacher at Red House. He did not respond to requests for comment. Photo: LinkedIn/Screenshot

Durham Social Services said it had received no complaints from ex-pupils about the school but admitted it destroyed its records after 21 years.

Another pupil, Lee Penney, 36, from Blackpool, said he was taken out of the school after his teacher dragged him across the floor and slammed his arm in a door.

"It was run by violence and intimidation. I left with no qualifications," he said.

A further pupil, who was there from 1996 to 1998, alleged he was sexually abused by older pupils when he was aged 11. We have passed his details to police.

A letter Steve Chase sent to his social worker in Durham in 1989 about Red House pleading to be taken out. Photo: SubmittedA letter Steve Chase sent to his social worker in Durham in 1989 about Red House pleading to be taken out. Photo: Submitted

"I didn't report it to the social worker at the time," he said. "There was a lot of shame and embarrassment."

Social worker was paedophile

We have also established that the school's social worker, David Greensmith, was a paedophile who changed his name from David McCausland before arriving at Red House.

The school was shut down in 1998. Photo: SubmittedThe school was shut down in 1998. Photo: Submitted

He had been a social worker for Essex County Council in the 1980s.

In 2008 he was jailed for 12 years for raping young girls from the 1960s onwards, including in Essex in the 1980s.

He was not convicted of any abuse relating to Red House, but one former pupil said he felt "sick" now discovering that his social worker was a paedophile.

One person, who knew Greensmith well, said: "He would brag about restraining people and how many people were scared of him and how many he could restrain. David felt he was big and scary, he would come in and take charge."

Benny Joergensen, former headteacher at Red House who pupils made allegations of physical abuse against. He died in 2013. Photo: ArchantBenny Joergensen, former headteacher at Red House who pupils made allegations of physical abuse against. He died in 2013. Photo: Archant

The whistleblower

A former teacher at Red House, Steen Thomsen, supported the allegations of violence at Red House when he blew the whistle on the controversial group which the charity running the school funnelled money to, called Tvind.

Tvind was set up in Denmark in the 1970s and built a network of schools and charities offering an alternative education.

But former members have accused it of being a cult-like organisation and some of its leaders are wanted in Denmark for alleged embezzlement.

Mr Thomsen sent a statement to the Danish Ministry of Education in 1998 in which said he was "shocked" when he arrived at Red House in the 1990s by the behaviour of then principal Steen Conradsen.

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He alleged Mr Conradsen was "at all times… trying to express physical supremacy towards his students".

"I remember him putting those 14-16 year old youngsters on the floor, trip their legs for fun, tease them, etc."

Mr Conradsen was head teacher at the Red House from 1984 until the early 1990s when he left to set up a sister school at a place called Winestead Hall near Hull.

The majority of the fresh allegations of abuse at Red House date to after the time Mr Conradsen was there. Some of the allegations dating to his time as head have already been investigated by police and that investigation ended with no further action.

Mr Conradsen is now leading a Tvind school in Denmark. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Police probe

Detectives investigated abuse allegations at Red House in 1988 and 2009. Its latest probe, from 2014 to 2018 ended last year with no further action taken, as did the two earlier probes.

A police spokesman said it was a "significant and complex enquiry with a number of suspects living outside of the UK which caused further time delays".

They added: "Despite extensive work on the case and an independent review of decisions taken, officers reached the decision that there was no prospect of achieving a conviction against any suspect set against the standard required by the court.

"We would encourage any former pupils who were victims of abuse or who have evidence that could assist a police investigation to contact DS Dave Rawlings."

Police said they spoke to 26 ex-pupils, 12 of whom made allegations.

Warned in 1990

Red House, which was a mixed gender school of around 50 
pupils from troubled backgrounds, closed in 1998 after an investigation by the Charity Commission into its finances and the welfare of pupils.

School inspectors in 1998 reported fears over the "health, safety and welfare" of 
pupils and found "grave doubts" about staff.

Concerns had first been raised eight years earlier when the Department of Health warned councils against sending children in their care to the £750 a week school - but they continued regardless.

The DoH said in 1990 they were "not happy about the treatment of children" and were concerned about the "safety and supervision" of pupils.

Children were sent to Red House by councils across the country, including Norfolk County Council.

A spokesman said they had no record of any complaints from pupils there.

We have contacted six former teachers at Red House. None of them responded.

Ex-pupils go to police

Two of the eight pupils we spoke to had already reported their allegations to police.

One man, 48, said he was raped by three other boys as punishment for running away.

He claimed he was locked in a room with the older boys, who he believed were from Norway.

His allegation was looked at by police as part of their latest investigation which ended in no further action.

"I told my social worker at the time but she told me there was no proof and no one would believe me," he said.

Another former pupil who also made allegations to police in their latest investigation described Red House as a "home of horrors".

Steve Chase, 44, claimed: "It was horrific. I used to run away all the time. I had my fingers snapped but I was not allowed to go to hospital and they would get some lollipop sticks to fix it."

In letters to his social worker in Durham in 1989 he pleaded to be taken out of Red House.

"My friend Terry he is always getting hit by someone everyday. I hate this place Red House prison."

Later that year pupils rioted and police were called to restore order. "We thought they were coming to rescue us," Steve said. Instead 18 pupils were taken to court for violent disorder.

Who are 'cult-like' Tvind?

Tvind is not a formal organisation, rather the name given to a confederation of schools and charities.

Some of those charities have been accused by authorities of funnelling money back to Tvind's leadership, known as the Teachers Group, rather than spending it on projects.

The Buxton school was run by a charity called The Small School at Red House Limited.

It was investigated by the Charity Commission from 1996 for moving funds to Tvind through another charity called Humana.

Tvind groups were also investigated by the FBI in 2002 which found: "Little, to no money goes to the charities."

But groups linked to it have managed to get millions of pounds in aid money, from the EU, US and UK governments.

In 2001 Danish authorities raided the Teachers Group's offices and charged its founder Mogens Amdi Petersen with fraud.

Found not guilty in 2006, he and four other leaders left Denmark, but prosecutors appealed and the group are now wanted in their home country.

It is thought they may have taken refuge in a £20m luxury compound on the Pacific coast in Mexico, the BBC reported in 2016.

Tomorrow: Ex-pupils reveal their stories of abuse at Red House.

Anyone with information should contact DS Dave Rawlings at david.rawlings@norfolk.pnn.police.uk

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