News Walthamstow

‘I want justice for my son’: Parents of pupils abused at Walthamstow school decry lack of arrests

38 special needs children were subjected to physical and psychological abuse while placed in so-called ‘calming rooms’ at Whitefield School between 2014 and 2017 but there have been no arrests or sackings

By Marco Marcelline

Main image: Whitefield School and inset, David and Ricardo Gloria, Credit: Google Streetview

The father of a former pupil who was abused by staff at a special needs school in Walthamstow has called for justice.

Ricardo Gloria’s son, along with at least 38 other pupils, was subjected to physical and psychological abuse while placed in so-called “calming rooms” at Whitefield School between 2014 and 2017.

The calming rooms were closed in 2017 following an Ofsted inspection, and allegations first emerged publicly in 2021 when secret CCTV footage was discovered by new leadership at the school. 

A BBC investigation into the abuse has since revealed that pupils were left alone in the window-less calming rooms for up to four hours at a time, sitting in urine, and were eating crumbs off the floor. The footage also shows children, many who were non-verbal, kicked and hit with force by staff.

No-one who worked at the school during the abuse has been prosecuted or arrested.

According to the BBC, six staff were proven to have abused children but were not sacked, and at least one referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) was recommended but not made.

Speaking to the Echo, Ricardo Gloria, whose son was abused in the calming rooms a litany of times between 2013 and March 2015, said he first noticed there was a problem when his son David began coming home increasingly more withdrawn.

“He was being put in the [calming room] more regularly. One time he came home crying and said he was put in the room from 10am to 2pm, for four hours, and he had body marks and bruises on him.”

Ricardo said he initially believed the calming rooms were pleasant rooms with a TV, or soft toys. “I thought the calming room was a place to settle down, that the kids were staying there for a maximum of 20 minutes, and that a teacher was always present.”

Before seeing the calming rooms for himself, Ricardo said he was convinced his son “was the naughty one”. That view completely changed when he turned up to the school to see for himself what the calming rooms were actually like.

“It was a cell”, Ricardo, a police officer, says, adding: “It was a box, a grey padded room with no window.” Shocked by what he saw, he then demanded to see CCTV footage of his son’s treatment in the rooms.  

David (centre) with his parents in 2019, Credit: Ricardo Gloria

“It was the worst day of my life,” Ricardo says of his experience going to view the footage. He adds that a staff member who was sitting next to him was crying and repeatedly saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” as the CCTV played.

The footage revealed that his son was in severe distress in the room, was left to urinate twice on the floor, and was refused water. It also showed three members of staff restraining David by putting their knees on his neck as he was lying on the floor.

David does not feature in the 500 hours of footage which was handed to the police.

Ricardo says the abuse continues to have an impact on his son: “Even today, the [abuse] is still having an effect. He doesn’t like to be hugged. He’s become a different person.”

Denouncing the lack of action against staff, he said: “At least twelve of the staff should have been sacked. School is supposed to be the second place of safety after the home. I want justice for my son.”

James O’Rourke, a former Liberal Democrat councillor who was chair of the children’s scrutiny committee between 2006-2010 told the Echo that the allegations of abuse were “horrific”. 

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“If I was one of the family members I’d be jumping up and down and taking legal action against the school”.

Slamming the use of seclusion as a tactic to “calm” pupils, James said: “What benefit does putting a child in a grey padded room give them? The use of seclusion rooms is purely punitive.

“It’s well-documented that seclusion is not appropriate for people with learning disabilities because of sensory overload. To see pictures of the rooms having no windows is especially terrible. [Teachers] need to understand the cause of the behaviour and presentation of the child that’s behaving aggressively.”

James, who has an adult brother with learning difficulties, added: “My brother can get aggressive because he doesn’t have the verbal skills to communicate his [frustrations]. I hope that teachers understand that.”

James worked at the school briefly across several summers in the 1980s when it was under local authority control and said he did not recognise the school that he worked at with the school now in the news. 

He continued: “The fact that no-one has been criminalised is a disgrace. There needs to be retrospective investigations, sanctions, and punishments for those responsible [for the abuse].”

Flourish Learning Trust, which runs the school, told the Echo that the “wrong and wholly inappropriate” abuse was a “historic matter” which predates the current leadership of both the school and the trust and that significant safeguarding changes had been introduced.

The spokesperson added: “Across our trust, we take our responsibility for promoting and protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of our children and young people incredibly seriously. Welfare is of paramount importance and is central to the way we run our schools.

“Throughout this investigation, we have acted on the advice and guidance of the police, the local authority and the Department for Education. Our disciplinary panels, which were led by an independent investigator, received ongoing advice from HR and legal professionals. 

“In exposing what had occurred in the years up to 2017, we accepted that there would be reputational damage but this was far outweighed by the need to expose what had happened and ensure these practices could not be allowed in the future in any school across the sector.”

Kizzy Gardiner, Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said the council has worked with the academy trust, police, Ofsted and Department for Education, and NHS to investigate the issues raised by the abuse and to ensure that safeguarding at the school is monitored closely.

She said: “I share the shock and concern that people will have about the treatment of vulnerable children at Whitefield School between 2014 – 2017. When the issues with calming rooms was first raised by Ofsted in January 2017, we immediately visited the school to ensure the practice had ceased.  In May 2021 we were informed by the school’s new management team about the existence of CCTV footage. We contacted the Metropolitan Police that same day.”

Cllr Gardiner continued: “The best interests of children continues to be my top priority. Reviewing the practice around restraints in schools is essential for all of us. We continue to work with the new management to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children at the school.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said that it is continuing to investigate alleged non-recent abuses at the school. 

While there have been no arrests since the abuses first emerged publicly in 2021, the force said that enquiries continue to establish if any offences were committed by individuals who were not connected to the school.

Are you a Whitefield School parent or affected by the abuse in this story? Get in contact: [email protected]

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