In 1990, families on a council estate in north Manchester woke up to every parent’s worst nightmare. With no warning, police and social workers had come to take their children.
Sixteen youngsters from the Langley estate near Rochdale were taken in to care – for what was to be a total of 34 years and four months. It was alleged they had been forced into devil worship and sexually abused.
At the time, there was a steady stream of newspaper stories based on rumours of secret satanic abuse taking place in Britain. But, after a year long investigation, the Rochdale parents were proved to be completely innocent.
Their children – now grown up – have never before spoken of their ordeal because of a court gagging order.
The BBC has, on their behalf, successfully challenged Rochdale Council and the family court to enable them to tell their side of the story – and for key evidence to be revealed.
They tell their stories in their own words to BBC One’s Real Story.
“No one told us why we were taken away. We thought me or my brother Daniel had done something wrong – or something had happened to Mum and Dad – and that was why we couldn’t go home.
They just kept saying: ‘Your Mum and Dad can’t look after you, that’s why you’re here.’ That wasn’t an explanation really, was it?
We didn’t think we were going to be there very long. It was hard to take it in when we were told we couldn’t go back – like it was not happening to us.
It was like the family had been ripped apart. My brothers James and Matthew were at home, Mum and Dad were at home and me and Daniel were there.
I think we missed out on a lot not being at home – the first day at high school, I didn’t have Mum there to take me. And when I started growing up I didn’t have Mum to take me to the shop to get me my first bra. I missed out on all my cousins growing up, we were pretty close. We missed out on birthdays, on normal family life.
We’ll never get that back, will we?
A few years back, I felt really depressed, down. I couldn’t go to work. But I didn’t feel as though I could talk to anyone or ask anybody for help, because I didn’t want people to think I was different or not normal. I just kept things inside, kept it to myself. I think the more I did that I got worse.
So I decided I’ve got to change. I can’t keep feeling like this, I’ve got to do something. “
“I was taken out of school and put in a car with a woman. I didn’t know where we were going.
It was getting late, and we were going from one place to another, and ended up in this hospital. I got taken into a room and asked a load of questions. I didn’t understand them, really. I just wanted to get out. And then we were put in another car – I felt tired.
Me and my sister Julie ended up in the children’s home. We had a late night supper and washed. And then we got scrubbed by one of the nuns – with one of those small nailbrushes – and were put in bed.
They took us to the market that day, shopping for new clothes.
I didn’t know what was happening at all. Julie said they asked us a lot about dreams.
I remember Mum and Dad’s first visit. I was very happy seeing them. We had the social worker watching us all the time with a note pad.
When Julie went home I thought that I’d be able to go, too. I asked the social worker, and she said ‘You’re not allowed, it’s still too dangerous for you.’
I do feel different to other people, less confident. I don’t know how to start a conversation up or talk to people. It’s just like a feeling that I should be doing something, but I don’t know what it is.
I reckon it’s affected our parents as much as it’s affected us. Maybe a bit more.”
I remember waking up one morning to a lot of noise and a lot of people coming up the stairs and going in my Mum’s room. I heard her screaming and shouting – they were telling her to get out of bed and get dressed.
And then they came in the room I shared with my sisters and told us to get up. I remember going downstairs and my Auntie following me around with my breakfast. Then they told us to get dressed and that we had to go with them.
Everything was so rushed I didn’t know what to think. I was scared when they got me in the car and my older sister Cheryl was asking: ‘Where are you taking us? Where are we going? What’s going on with my Mum?’
We went into this big building with long corridors. They said they wanted to talk to us separately and then they took me for some breakfast in this big room with camera equipment and if you went in the other room it was a mirror.
I was trying to ignore the lady because she was asking too many questions and obviously I just got bored and started messing about with things in the room. She said that Daniel and Julie had been taken from their Mum and their parents had done something wrong.
They said Julie had told them that I was involved as well. And then she drew pictures of naked stick men and women and asked me, pointing to the private parts, what they were.
They took me for an examination – the social worker asked me if I would do it. And I just remember this bed and the curtain and someone counting. I remember crying. I think one of my parents should have been there with me.
After the interviews, they didn’t put me back with my sisters, Catherine and Cheryl. They said: ‘Your sisters are going to go home now but you have to stay with us for a few days.’
They took me to a room and I could hear Catherine and Cheryl crying, like me. The door was just locked and I remember giving up because I’d wasted all my energy trying to get out. I just looked at the clock, slid down the wall and sat on the floor, crying.
It was hard to forget what had happened when I got home.”
“To be 100% honest with you, I haven’t got a clue why it happened, why they chose our families, why they chose our estate, even.
I think the social workers genuinely believed the abuse claims, looking back to the way we were being treated and interviewed. I think they were looking for something.
I’ll never forget about it, it’s always going to be there. I did have to grow up quicker – but I’m not going to let what happened govern my life.
But I could never, never forgive the social workers for this, I don’t think any of us could.
It’s a simple case of them just getting another job. We can’t get another life, we have to live with this. I want to embarrass them through the legal group action we’re taking against the council.
I feel heavy-hearted knowing my Dad’s no longer here to see the legal action happening. He had to live though all of it.”
Rochdale Council said it did apologise at the time of these cases and has criticised the making of the television programme.
Social workers Jill France and Susan Hammersley both continue to work in child protection.