Drugging girls in care ‘caused birth defects’
Teresa Cooper, 41, who blames drugging at Kendall House for the fact her three children born with defects
The practice of sedating troublesome teenagers in care homes was today being linked to birth defects after ten women came forward to complain that their children had been born damaged.
As teenagers at the Church of England-run Kendall House in Gravesend, Kent, the ten were routinely restrained with huge doses of tranquillisers and other drugs.
Sedating children was allegedly commonplace in care homes during the 1970s and 1980s, although the levels of drugging at Kendall House,a home for girls with problems, appear to have been unusual.
Now fears are surfacing that the drugging may have impaired the girls’ chances of having healthy babies. The alarm was raised by Teresa Cooper, who left the home in 1984 at 16, and has since written Trust No One – a book about her experiences.
Ms Cooper’s three children all have birth defects. Her eldest son was born with respiratory difficulties, her second son is blind and has learning difficulties, and her daughter was born with a cleft palate and a short lower jaw.
Files from Kendall House show that she was given medication at least 1,248 times over a 32-month period, including anti-psychotic drugs intended for schizophrenics, drugs to counter side-effects, sedatives and anti-depressants, the BBC reported today. The dosages were high – she was given up to 10 times the current recommended dose of Valium.
Since her book was published, Ms Cooper says, nine further former residents of Kendall House, who all underwent similar drugging, have been in touch with her to report having children with brain tumours, learning difficulties and cleft palate.
Ofsted, the schools and childcare inspectorate, says that hundreds of children may have been drugged in the care system throughout the 70s and 80s, subjecting them to possible health risks.
Mike Lindsay, national co-ordinator for Children’s Rights Alliance for England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Using drugs to control the behaviour of children was perfectly acceptable as far as their own professional understanding at that time went.”
In 1980, Kendall House became the focus of national controversy when the levels of drugs being prescribed by psychiatrist Dr Mahenthiran Perinpanayagam were revealed in a TV documentary.
Healthy girls in his care were given pills designed for schizophrenics, psychotics and Parkinson’s sufferers, and the teenagers were often held down and forced to take them, the documentary said.
By 1984 a report into the home by the Department of Health and Social Security was scathing about the drugs given to the girls. Inspector Dr Dorothy Black said she was extremely concerned about “storage, monitoring and administration of psychotropic drugs”, adding: “The home needs close and urgent attention.”
Two years later Kendall House closed.
Jeffrey Aronson, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford University and president of the British Pharmacological Society, said that there was medical precedent to suggest that such powerful drugs could cause genetic abnormalities and this in turn could cause birth defects.
“The fact that there were 10 of them affected… is quite suggestive,” he told the BBC. He described the cocktail of drugs administered as a “chemical cosh”.
The Diocese of Rochester said in a statement that it was unable to discuss individual circumstances for legal reasons but would co-operate with any future inquiry.
“If the police, social services or appropriate legal body initiates an investigation, the Diocese will co-operate fully with them,” said the statement issued through the Church of England.
“It would be inappropriate for the Diocese to initiate any internal inquiries since we are not qualified to do this. In any event, it would be essential for any investigation to be conducted both professionally and impartially.”
Tim Loughton, the shadow children’s minister, today called for an investigation into how widespread the practice of drugging troublesome teenagers was.
“I think what needs to happen now is that probably the Secretary of State needs to direct Ofsted to have a look into this, to work with Kent County Council where this home was located back in the 1970s and 1980s, also working with the placing authorities because the young woman who was there was placed by another authority,” said Mr Loughton.
“They need to work with those authorities and perhaps with the police as well just to look into these cases and see whether there really is a pattern of behaviour that substantiates far greater fears about widespread misuse of inappropriate drugs forcefully imposed on young girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
“And if that does turn out to be the case then we probably need a much wider review into what actually went on, and whether this affects other homes as well.”
Dr Perinpanayagam, for many years a consultant in general psychiatry to the Dartford and Gravesham Health Authority, spent 15 years as consultant psychiatrist to Kendall House. He held a similar post at Rochester Borstal. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1975, and his photograph appears in the National Portrait Gallery.
The Sri Lankan-born doctor retired from the NHS in 1984 and moved to Guernsey, where he continued to practise. He died in 1988 at the age of 60. In 1977 he wrote to a medical journal to describe his experiments with tranquillisers on girls in an unnamed “secure home”, according to a report in the Sunday Mirror earlier this year.