As time goes by, how many Skegby Hall abuse survivors will ever get the justice they deserve?

It was a turning point in an investigation I’d been working on for a few weeks - a phone call from a Mansfield lorry driver who had read one of my stories.

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 6:30 am

“I was abused when I was a resident at Skegby Hall when I was a child,” he told me. “You’re the first person I’ve ever told about this.”

The whole can of worms about historical child abuse at Skegby Hall and other children’s homes and reformed schools around Nottinghamshire was finally making its way into the public domain after years of lurking in the shadows - unmentioned . . . unnoticed.

Weeks earlier, I’d interviewed former Forest Town resident Mickey Summers during the early days of a push which would eventually lead to a full independent investigation into the scale of abuse of young people in care in Nottinghamshire.

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Skegby Hall.

Sadly, Mickey died in December, but the findings of the inquiry, and the ‘unreserved apology’ that eventually came from Nottinghamshire County Council, have been described by many as his legacy.

Mickey’s story opened up a floodgate of admissions - including the lorry driver who had called me in the weeks after I first told his story.

“I was abused. You’re the first person I’ve told.”

He continued: “I have awful dreams that just reoccur all the time and I’m very short tempered - a lot of my family are in stable, loving relationships, and they haven’t got the faintest idea what happened in my past.

Nigel Pipe.

"All they know is that I was put into a young offenders institute when I was a boy. I just don’t know how to talk about it and I just really don’t know how to get closure.”

I advised him to call the police, then I told his story in your Chad.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I got a call from a detective constable at Nottinghamshire CID.

“We’re preparing a file for the Crime Prosecution Service,” she told me. “We need all of your notes for the prosecution case. This man made his initial disclosure to you. You may have to appear as a witness.”

Mickey Summers

Luckily, I had about three years of notepads, all dated, all stuffed away in a drawer under my desk at the Chad offices.

But it still took a weekend of frantic searching to locate the note, and a further weekend to transcribe the two-year-old shorthand note back into long hand.

Then, by arrangement, the officer came to the Chad, took the original shorthand and my later transcription, and placed them in two evidence bags. I was asked to give any dates when I would not be available, and was eventually put on standby as this man’s alleged abuser was put on trial.

Sadly for this particular victim, and for a great many brave men who came forward to the police in the months and years after Mickey first kicked the hornets’ nest, his alleged abuser was found not guilty at trial.

As with the majority of sexual offences, these things often come down to one person’s word against each other. Even with modern DNA technology, it’s very difficult for the victim of rape to prove the crime when the offender claims it was ‘consensual’ and she, or he, was the only other witness to the crime.

But finally for some Skegby Hall victims, justice was carried out last week when 87-year-old former house master Nigel Pipe was jailed for a total of 27 years for their “systematic rape and abuse”.

And for once it wasn’t just one person’s word against another's, this time it was a group of survivors making the same allegations.

Pipe, who had carried out his attacks more than 50 years ago, was told that he would spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes, when he appeared for sentencing at Nottingham Crown Court on Thursday, October 14.

Two days earlier, Pipe had been convicted of four counts of buggery, nine counts of indecency with a child and 14 counts of indecent assault on a male, following a lengthy trial.

Sentencing him, Judge Julie Warburton said the boys were in a ‘particularly vulnerable situation’, but afraid to challenge authority.

One victim told the court: “There have been times when I have been driving when I have thought of driving straight into a wall.”

Another said: “You took my childhood away and made me feel ashamed. You took advantage of me as a child.

“Because of what you did to me my mum suffered because of my bad behaviour. I now know it was your fault not hers. My mum died not even knowing what happened to me.”

One man spoke of suffering post-traumatic nightmares which caused him to injure himself, triggering a serious bout of illness.

Flashbacks of what he suffered led to a breakdown and early retirement, he said.

He told the court: “I am unable to trust people. I stay away from anyone in authority. We should have been protected - not abused.”

Sentencing Pipe, Judge Warburton told him: “They were painful and disturbing incidents which they were forced to live with for more than 50 years.

“You have essentially escaped blame and justice. These men have carried the burden for the same period – never thinking they would be believed.

“That day has now arrived.”

But for other victims, the clock is ticking. Many are themselves in their late 60s and early 70s, their abusers much older. So how many will ever live to see the justice that they deserve?