Bloodstains Found in Children's Care Home

Police find new evidence in child-abuse investigation

LONDON, March 8, 2008 — -- Police investigating allegations of decades of abuse at a former children's home in the British Channel island of Jersey Friday found bloodstains in the building's cellar.

Rumors about child sexual abuse at the home, which closed in 1986, have swirled around the island for years.

But the discoveries, beginning in February, of human skull fragments, a bricked-in underground chamber, shackles and now bloodstains at the former children's homes, have led many to wonder if the trail could culminate in a mass-murder inquiry.

A rally was planned for noon today in Jersey's largest town, St. Helier, for people to show their support for the alleged victims and to press police to push more aggressively in their investigation.

Although Jersey police confirmed Monday that they were still awaiting test results on the skull fragments, the initial findings provoked a storm of phone calls to the police, some from alleged victims and others from people claiming to have witnessed abuse at the former home, called Haut de la Garenne.

Friday morning a specialist sniffing dog found two blood spots that were invisible to the naked eye inside the bath. Later in the day, the police released a statement saying that "although the presence of blood in the bath corroborates the allegations made by some victims, there could also be an innocent explanation."

Results on the blood samples are expected next week.

On Feb. 27, police officials were able to break into the cellar of the building, which had been blocked off with bricks. They found a room measuring about 12 square feet, containing what appeared to be a communal bath made of concrete, as well as a pair of shackles.

Police hailed the discovery as "significant" and later said that it seemed "to link with accounts from witnesses."

A former resident of the home, Winnie Lockhart, told ABC News that while she was surprised to hear about the bloodstains, she clearly remembered hearing threats about being taken "into a dungeon" during her days there.

Lockhart, now in her 60s, was only 13 years old when she was sent to Haut de la Garenne in 1955.

"I remember being woken up by screaming boys night after night," she recalled.

"I went to the matron and asked her what was going on, but she just smacked me in response," she said.

Even today, some of Haut de la Garenne's early inhabitants refuse to discuss their time inside the children's home.

Charlie Hescott lived there at around the same time as Lockhart. Fifty years later, he still does not like to remember his time in the care home, saying only, "Do you mind if I don't talk about it?"

Patricia Thornton oversaw Haut de la Garenne during the 1950s and early 1960s.

The octogenarian -- who in 1996 was awarded an MBE, a prestigious British award by Queen Elizabeth for her services to the community -- insists that no abuse took place under her watch.

"I am quite sure I would have known if there were such incidents," Thornton said in an interview with ABC News.

Like many Jersey residents, she said she is in a state of disbelief.

"It's most disturbing. The whole thing is appalling," she said, her voice shaking.

120 Alleged Victims (and Counting)

Since the investigation began, a police spokesman confirmed to ABC News that 120 people have come forward to share their allegations of abuse at Haut de la Garenne. He also disclosed that police have compiled a list of 40 suspects.

Earlier this week, a local TV station named 13 people as suspects, including a few high-profile government officials.

But so far, only one man has been charged. Gordon Claude Wateridge, 76, a former member of the Haut de la Garenne staff, was charged with committing three offences of indecent assaults on girls under 16 between 1969 and 1979.

Until more suspects are charged, police are keeping a close watch to ensure that none of the suspects leave the island.

The investigation is expected to take months, with police hoping to break through the cellar to another adjoining underground chamber, and possibly through to a third such room, after witnesses described a network of rooms where children were allegedly abused for decades.

Most of the alleged perpetrators are likely "either old or dead," as Lockhart put it, but she said she believes the public attention being given the claims "will help the victims."

"It will bring peace to people," she said.

Still, as Lockhart said, "You never forget something like this."

The investigation has stirred up mixed emotions among Jersey's residents, but many witnesses and alleged victims are relieved to finally have their stories taken seriously.

One alleged victim, whose identity has not been revealed, even wrote a letter to the police, thanking them for "giving me the ability to finally move forward."

"There is light at the end of the tunnel and I am now walking towards it," the person wrote.

Like many of the island's 88,000 residents, however, Lockhart said she believes that "it will take a long time for Jersey to recover."