Photograph of summer barbeque belies dark secrets of Richmond’s Grafton Close home
By Mark Conrad | 27 April 2013
Summer 1981 in the backyard of a children’s home in Richmond at the centre of allegations of child sex abuse. The manager organises a barbeque for the children who live at the home in south-west London to mark the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
With a forlorn piece of bunting on the perimeter of the home’s backyard, the boys enjoy the July sun. One, who is seen wearing a kilt, gives a clenched-fist salute. But the impression of an upbeat mood masks a dark side to Grafton Close children’s home.
For this was the time when boys at the home allege that they were sexually abused there and at other locations, including Elm Guest House nearby in Barnes.
Today, what took place between 1977 and 1983 at Grafton Close children’s home is the subject of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit.
Detectives are investigating, under ‘Operation Fernbridge’, allegations that boys in care in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, were exploited by a paedophile ring. Police are also investigating whether prominent people – including MPs – sexually abused boys at the guest house.
Police believe that the paedophile ring initially centred on Grafton Close, where abuse was allegedly carried out in what was called the “examination room”. But the main centre of abuse is thought to have transferred in 1982 to Elm Guest House.
Grafton Close was originally set up as a mixed home for up to 12 children, and later became a unit to assess “adolescents” before placing them in foster care or more permanent homes.
Exaro has concealed the identities of the children in the picture. But sources recalled the occasion as a happy moment in the troubled past of Grafton Close children’s home.
One staff member told Exaro that the atmosphere at Grafton Close was often “fun”. But the source always sensed that something was wrong there, saying: “I was not happy about the way that children would not share things, as children usually do. The children did not open up.”
Another source talked about how older boys at the home would attempt to look out for the younger ones. He said that they were troubled by several incidents, such as a man visitor to the home repeatedly being able to walk into the shower room while it was used by young boys, peering behind cubicle curtains.
Operation Fernbridge has so far arrested two men, including John Stingemore. He was identified at the inquest into the death in 1990 of Carole Kasir, who ran the guest house, as having been the deputy manager of Grafton Close.
However, well-placed sources – including Terry Earland, Richmond’s then director of children’s services – have told Exaro that the evidence to the coroner was incorrect because Stingemore was the home’s manager.
Stingemore was succeeded by Neil Kier, who is pictured soon after he became manager at Grafton Close. Kier is shown preparing food for the barbeque.
Kier was initially in charge of nearby Teddington Park children’s home for girls, which was also run by Richmond council. He briefly managed both sites. He ran Grafton Close children’s home for around two years.
Sources familiar with the Met investigation say that detectives regard Kier as a key witness, and are not treating him as a suspect.
Earland told Exaro: “I always had confidence in Neil. He ran a good home in Teddington Park.”
Police are also understood to have talked to some of the children in the picture as potential witnesses to events 30 years ago in Richmond.
In 1990, the same year as Carole Kasir’s inquest, Richmond council decided to close Grafton Close. Council records obtained by Exaro do not show exactly when the decision was made, or why.
Grafton Close children’s home, like Elm Guest House, has since been converted into flats.
Meanwhile, archives held by the borough reveal how police and council staff decided to take “no further action” after a boy in care at Grafton Close alleged child sex abuse in 1983.