My 37 homes in 18 years

Ben Ashcroft, who is writing a book '51 Moves' about growing up in care homes and young offenders institutions, after staying out of trouble for over 10 years.
Ben Ashcroft, who is writing a book '51 Moves' about growing up in care homes and young offenders institutions, after staying out of trouble for over 10 years.

AS a troubled teen, Ben Ashcroft from Sowerby Bridge was moved a staggering 51 times to 37 different children’s homes and young offender institutions.

He was one of Calderdale’s most prolific offenders, at one point spending 30 nights in five months in police custody.

He has had to battle self-harm and heroin abuse.

But now, at 29, Ben has been out of trouble for 11 years and turning his incredible story into a book.

He hopes to prevent other young people from falling into the same vicious cycle of drugs and crime.

“I’m not bitter about it in any way,” he said.

“But I want to make the social worker or the youth worker go the extra mile and realise that just because a kid says they are OK, it doesn’t mean they are OK. A lot of times I said I was OK but I was broken. I just didn’t want to feel vulnerable.”

In his book – entitled 51 Moves – Ben describes how when he was 12, his mother left their home in Sowerby Bridge a few weeks before Christmas and did not come home.

“She didn’t say anything to me that she wasn’t coming back,” he writes. “It got late and me, my sister and brother were watching TV and it was getting late.

“We were asking each other ‘Where do you think Mum is?’ What time will she be back?’

When she still had not returned two days later, Ben rang 999 and when the operator found out the 12-year-old, his 14-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister were on their own, a social worker was sent straight round.

It was then that Ben was placed in his first of what was to be many different care homes. Wrenched from the familiar and not knowing what had happened to his mother, he smashed a light bulb and used the glass to cut himself. Staff at the home found him bleeding in his room.

Ben said he was upset, heartbroken and confused. He lashed out and started getting into trouble at the home and then with the police.

His crimes included joyriding, criminal damage, public order offences and robbery.

He started drinking and smoking, and by the time he was 14 he was taking speed, sniffing glue, smoking cannabis and taking prescription sleeping tablets,

He was so disruptive, he was moved out of Calderdale - which made his behaviour even worse.

He hated being away from his friends and family, and after just a week tried to walk back to Halifax. He was found by police walking along the side of the motorway.

He was moved again to Derbyshire and then Bolton where he ran away again, trying to get home to Calderdale.

The teenager had to have his stomach pumped when he overdosed on paracetamol in a suicide bid, was taken to hospital another time after taking 100 paracetamol, and was found by police on another occasion with a rope around his neck.

To stop him hurting himself or anyone else, he was admitted to a secure unit.

“I was a state,” he said. “My mental health was a mess. I’d lost control, I was angry, aggressive, and just 14 years old.”

His time there helped him settle, he said, and he was able to catch up on some of the education he had missed until then.

But then Ben moved back in with his family and he said it was not long before he was hanging around with his old crowd.

After being arrested for assault, he became the first person from Calderdale to be sent to a secure training centre that was for the worst your offenders in Britain.

He said there were 14-year-old boys in there who were “fully grown like men”, and there was a lot of “kicking off”.

“I joined in with all the kicking off, most of the young people did, it was some one for us to hit out at,” he said. “The place would get trashed or anything that could be trashed would be trashed when it kicked off and this was a daily experience.”

He managed to get out of the unit on appeal, and returned to Calderdale.

“Nothing had changed people was drinking and taking drugs, mainly heroin,” he said.

Ben said he was placed with foster parents but spent most of the time with his friends and soon he too was taking heroin.

“I resisted for weeks, saying no I would never take that ever,” he said. “But when your with a group of friends that are taking it then it makes it so much easier to give in.

“I was staying at my friends’ flats or houses who had left the care system and been left to look after themselves in life. The flats and houses I stayed in was scruffy, smelly, a total mess with drug paraphernalia everywhere.”

To pay for their drugs, Ben and his friends would mug people, travelling out of Calderdale to avoid being caught.

“It got that bad, we were losing weight and sight of what we were doing and how violent we were becoming and how blatant we were robbing people and we always carried a hunting knife between us all taking turns to save it,” he said,

Eventually Ben was arrested and the reality of what his life had become hit home. He managed to quite heroin but was sent to a young offenders institution.

In my cell I felt down at first, I had lots of emotions,” said Ben. “I was getting my head around the sentence but I also appreciated that I could have got a much longer sentence than I got.

“I knew from that point on I was never coming back to a young offenders or any prison for that matter.

“I knew I didn’t want to be in and out of prison all my life or taking heroin or sniffing anything.”

Ben has since managed to turn his life around.

He is now working with charity User Voice, which is led by ex-offenders and tried to cut crime, and is also trying to set up his own organisation to prevent young people getting involved in crime and drugs.

“I’ve seen too many of my friends die,” he said.

“I’ve lost 15 friends since I was 12 or 13 because of drugs or suicide.

“I want to stop as many young people taking drugs and committing crime as possible.

“Everybody can change, you just have too want to. No matter how hard it gets, never ever give up,”