Doncaster abuse scandal: "Heartbreaking" treatment in children's homes will be fully investigated, police boss vows

The group which ran three care homes at the centre of a child abuse scandal in Doncaster has apologised as a leading police inspector described the allegations as “heartbreaking.”
DCI Phil Etheridge described the abuse as "heartbreaking". Stock photograph.DCI Phil Etheridge described the abuse as "heartbreaking". Stock photograph.
DCI Phil Etheridge described the abuse as "heartbreaking". Stock photograph.

Hesley ran Fullerton House, Wheatley House and Wilsic Hall until they were suspended by OFSTED in 2021 following whistleblowing allegations of abuse of disabled children living there.

A Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel report on Wednesday revealed “a culture of abuse” including medical malpractice and sexual harm between 2018 and 2021.

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Around 100 children lived at the specialist homes with some 700 staff members identified as working there in the time covered by the investigation, Operation Lemur Alpha.

South Yorkshire Police are now working to identify where criminal behaviour has taken place.

A spokesperson for Hesley said: “We recognise that the panel has identified serious failings in the running of Fullerton House, Wheatley House and Wilsic Hall ahead of their closure which led to people receiving unacceptable levels of care, and we are deeply sorry for the hurt caused to young people and their families over this period.

“We took swift action at the time to address concerns raised including dismissing several staff, and we made the decision to de-register all homes.”

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Detective Chief Inspector Phil Etheridge said around a dozen officers are working alongside specialists to help children with complex needs share their stories.

He said: “Given the learning difficulties of the children, we have specialist interview teams who we’re going to need to understand what happened to these children and their side of events.

"Often the child’s voice is unknown, they can’t articulate in the most coherent way. So although we’ve only conducted two interviews so far, it’s our intention to carry it on with momentum.”

“From my early look at these investigations, there is criminality here.

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"These are some of the most vulnerable children in our society. My appeal today is if you’ve witnessed, seen or know about any criminal offences that have taken place, I would urge you to come forward.

"What has happened to these children is tragic and heartbreaking and I appeal to people’s conscience to tell the police.”

The head of the NSPCC has said it is vital that authorities work to establish if there is a wider culture abuse across the country.

Sir Peter Wanless said: “The findings of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel are shocking and deeply upsetting, revealing how children with disabilities and complex needs were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect.

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“It is vital now that local authorities and Ofsted move swiftly to establish if these terrible cases of abuse are limited to the Doncaster area or whether they are reflective of a more systematic failing of vulnerable children within our care system.”