Pimp Preyed on Me While I Was in Care; Child Sex Abuse: At 28 She Is a Mother-of-Three. but at 15 Ann Was Repeatedly Beaten and Abused by Older Men Allowed into Her Room: PAINFUL STORIES OF THE CHILDREN WHO HAVE GROWN UP IRREPARABLY DAMAGED BY THEIR YEARS IN MARGARET HODGE'S ISLINGTON CARE HOMES

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID COHEN

ANN BELCHER sits at her kitchen table, her eyes red and raw. "I was crying this morning," she explains, mustering a weak smile. "No reason, nothing I could put my finger on. I was just having a bad day."

She sees herself as a "strong person who tries to get on with life", but she has a lot of "bad days like these". She says: "I get these powerful feelings of depression. And anger." Antidepressants help, but sometimes they are not enough to block out the feelings and memories that overwhelm her.

There are physical clues to Ann's troubled past as a child in the care of Islington council. She is only 28, but her hair is greying. An old scar follows the contour of her left eyebrow, and another runs the length of her nose. There are scars on her neck, too.

Yet the real damage is internal. To most people, Ann Belcher appears a loving, sometimes volatile mother of three energetic-children (aged nine, seven and two), who is also prone to depression. Nobody in her present life, aside from her mother, knows her secret. Neither friends, nor the father of her youngest child, nor her previous partner. For, until this interview, Ann ("Mary" in the 1992 Standard investigation) has not told them of her time in care. She has been "too ashamed", she says, too afraid that she will be "judged".

But no longer. The appointment, as Minister for Children, of Margaret Hodge - whose reign as leader of Islington council, from 1982 to 1992, coincided with Ann's seven years in care - has motivated Ann to speak out.

Of mixed race, she was put in care when she was 10 because, she says, she was "too naughty and gave her parents too much stress". Things went relatively smoothly until in 1990, aged 15, she was moved to 80 Highbury New Park, an Islington home for teenagers. At "80", security was non-existent and her life was a nightmare of physical and sexual abuse.

She was preyed on by a man twice her age who visited her bedroom to have sex and beat her black and blue, almost daily. Ann didn't know it then, she says, but this man - whom she initially considered her boyfriend - was later exposed as a pimp whom the police wanted for questioning. Incredibly, older men, many with criminal records, were allowed to visit the children, she says.

Nervously lighting a cigarette, she explains: "All the other girls, too, had older men visiting to have sex. About 10 of us lived there, many under 16. There was a girl upstairs called 'Kelly' [her name has been changed], she was 15. There was 'Rachel' down the stairs, and there was my roommate, ['Louise' in the original Standard article] who regularly entertained older men.

"We were supposed to be at school, but people turned a blind eye. I was beaten with a metal bar, with fists. They saw my bruises. Once, I was beaten up by another girl's boyfriend so badly I was taken to hospital. …