Halifax MP Holly Lynch joins Skircoat Lodge child abuse survivors' campaign

Halifax MP Holly Lynch has joined forces with survivors of a Skircoat Lodge child abuse scandal dating back to the 1970s.
Halifax MP Holly Lynch has joined forces with survivors of a Skircoat Lodge child abuse scandal dating back to the 1970s.

Away from the dramas of Westminster there are political battles going on that rarely make headlines, but get to the heart of our communities.

One such struggle is taking place in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax, where the local MP has joined forces with survivors of a child abuse scandal dating back to the 1970s.

The children’s home, Skircoat Lodge, was the scene of decades of abuse against its young residents under Malcolm Phillips and Andrew Shalders – both of whom were eventually imprisoned for their crimes.

It was only after it closed its doors that the true horror of the exploitation was laid bare, with accounts emerging of frightened children routinely humiliated and raped, shipped off to secure units or sexually abused for months while they begged to be sent to foster families.

The institution opened in 1976 and after years of accusations and investigations was finally closed down in 1995, before being taken over by a private firm, which converted the buildings into homes.

But the distinctive sign outside the home – where the name Skircoat Lodge is carved into the stone wall surrounding the premises – remains.

And for the survivors, it is a relic of their trauma that must be removed.

Leading the campaign to rename the buildings is Chris Wild, who spent much of his childhood in the home and has written a book, entitled Damaged, about his experiences.

In it he recounts his own journey, from a child that had a normal family life hit by tragedy when his father died, to the low-level criminality that saw him taken from his mother and placed in care, and finally through to the institutionalised exploitation he witnessed over many years.

“I didn’t know where the book was going to go,” he says. “I just knew I had to write.”

Looking back to the early 1990s, he explains: “I found my solace in going on the streets and breaking the law, and that’s how I came to the attention of the police and social services.

“I had been arrested about 20 times in one week, I went to court and the judge said we are going to bail you into the custody of the local authority and so I was taken into a children’s home and the only one that was around was Skircoat Lodge.

“I was never abused, I just witnessed it. I went through my own trauma, but at the same time I meet people who are the same age as me and when I meet them they have got no teeth and they’ve been severely raped and abused from being eight up until being 40...

“There was no support and the whole town brushed it under the carpet.”

His story understandably resonates with other survivors of an abusive past who often reach out to him to ask how he moved on.

He tells them: “To be honest with you, I’m still tackling this, I’m not over it, I’m still struggling.”

On why the name change is so important, he says: “I love my town but unless we accept and acknowledge the past and put it to rest properly we can’t venture forward into the future and we can’t ignore those thousands of people that were severely raped and abused.

“I speak to people who can’t go within a 10-mile radius of that area, and I want that plaque to be removed, just so the town can move on.”

Mr Wild, who now lives in London, contacted Halifax MP Holly Lynch, pictured, last year to get her backing for his campaign. Since then they have been working together, alongside Calderdale Council, to persuade the management company that now owns Skircoat Lodge to remove what they see as a symbol of Halifax’s troubled past.

Describing her first meeting with Wild, Ms Lynch says:“Some of those adults have been through really difficult experiences as young people and victims of abuse have sadly sustained damage that has taken them to drug and alcohol addiction and psychological trauma.

“He is clearly in a position where is able to take on that fight for other people and do that in a very articulate, very considered and very powerful way. So I’m really keen to work with him and for him.”

She adds: “We spoke about Skircoat Lodge but we also talked more broadly how we protect young people, particularly those in care, from criminality, whether it’s sexual abuse or whether it’s criminal exploitation.”

The Labour MP is committed to removing symbols of past failure, but she is also adamant that there is much more to do to protect vulnerable children now.

“Taking the sign down would be part of a journey towards closure for some of those victims and the survivors of Skircoat Lodge,” she says. “I am hopeful that an awful lot of learning was done, that the lessons of not just Halifax but Rotherham, Telford, Rochdale have been learned.

“I am hopeful that Halifax has done some of that learning and brought about a better system for children in care.

“However, that is not to say that there is not still a threat that persists to vulnerable young people. We can never be complacent about it.

“And whilst getting the sign changed would bring about some closure for some of those victims we cannot ever think that fixes the problems that we have got in the system. We have got lots of work to do.”