Pembroke House had once been a care home for boys until it closed in 1993. Since then the building had fallen into what local people thought had been terminal decline until a local property developer had recently bought it having seen its potential in a prime location close to the main Manchester university campus. They sent a team of builders in to excavate it and turn the twenty rooms into apartments for the student market. But the work had been abruptly stopped when the house gave up some grisly secrets.
Detective Superintendent Jeff Barlow of the Greater Manchester police received the call and dropped his son Toby off at school before driving straight over to what had now been closed off as a crime scene and where he met his deputy Detective Sergeant Rebecca Stockton.
‘Morning Becky’ said Jeff after he’d got out of his car.
‘Morning, sir’ said Rebecca. She didn’t let many people call her Becky but Jeff was one of them. ‘June Hawkins is waiting for us inside’.
‘The builders must’ve started early’ said Jeff as they headed for the front door. ‘It was just before eight when I got the call’.
‘Well I was staying over at my Mum and Dad’s last night and they only live at the other end of this road so I was able to get here quickly’.
‘How are they?’
‘They’re good, thanks’ said Rebecca.
‘And how’s Toby?’
‘He walked into school holding hands with his little friend Emma this morning’ said Jeff, smiling. ‘It was so sweet’.
‘He’ll be breaking hearts one day’.
‘Yep. That’s my boy’.
The pathologist June Hawkins had a phenomenal reputation amongst the Greater Manchester force and worked with many of Jeff’s colleagues. She was decked out in her usual plastic zip-up suit covering her normal clothes. She’d set up a temporary laboratory on the ground floor of the building with large square bright mobile lights illuminating a long table. What was on the table wiped the smiles off Jeff and Rebecca’s faces instantly.
‘This used to be a little baby’ said June, her voice more solemn than usual and looking down at the skeleton that was clearly that of an infant. ‘It was found by one of the builders and he’s still in shock. He said it reminded him of his grandson who’s only a few weeks old’.
‘Why couldn’t they have left it where it could’ve been discovered alive?’ wondered Rebecca in a mixture of frustration and sorrow. ‘Why did the poor little sod have to die?’
‘Well that’s for you to find out, honey, but I estimate it’s probably been here a while’.
Rebecca flinched. ‘Where was … it found?’
‘In the same place as the other two skeletons that have already been sent over to the lab’ said June.
‘They’re not babies as well?’ asked Jeff.
‘No’ said June. ‘Although one of them is a child of only about seven or eight years old. The other is an adult male. Now come with me’.
June led them through the door under the main stairs of the house and down into the cellar. It had clearly been used for storage. There were old mattresses and bed frames, chairs, even a small TV set. There were also some old, empty video cassette boxes leading Jeff to mention out loud that they must’ve been there a while because nobody uses video cassettes anymore. Then they followed June through some white plastic sheeting which was covering up what looked like had been some kind of secret door. It was sunken a meter or so back from the wall. June said that a bookcase had been covering the location of the door and the builders had found it when the bookcase literally fell to pieces with one touch. The door, which had now been removed, had been secured using three heavy sliding locks each of which had been reinforced with a padlock. Behind it was a large room and two more smaller rooms going off to the left. Rebecca didn’t know what it was but she felt the most incredible sense of impending evil. There was just something about the walls, the shadows the three of them were creating. It was as if they were bouncing off ancient pain and suffering that was now moving up the years and reaching out to be heard.
‘My God’ said Jeff as he looked round. There were chains hanging from the ceiling with cuffs attached, more chain and cuff restraints hanging from the walls and a bench with leg restraints on the floor beside it and handcuffs halfway up the wall in front. All that was missing was a teenage boy of average height to fill the space. ‘This was some kind of dungeon’.
‘That’s exactly what it was’ said June. ‘I think it’s clear that, given the locks on the doors meaning that somebody didn’t want to know that this place existed, nobody would be allowed in here unless they were given an invitation they couldn’t refuse’.
‘Anybody know anything about the history of this place?’ Jeff wondered openly.
‘Well it’s been closed for twenty years’ said Rebecca. ‘Could the remains be that old, June?’
‘Yes, they could’ June answered. ‘But I’ll know more when I’m back at the factory’.
‘I grew up round here’ said Rebecca, looking round. ‘I remember there were always a lot of whispers about Pembroke House. They used to say it was where they sent all the naughty boys. My Mum and Dad used to threaten to send my brother here when he was naughty’.
‘So why would this be a place for your parents to threaten your brother with, Becky?’ asked Jeff.
‘Well it had been thought that the staff at Pembroke had been rather heavy handed in dishing out punishment to the boys in their care. Or at least that’s what was alleged. Nothing was ever proved’.
‘Well it looks like that could be true’ said June. ‘This was the underground lair of some pretty sick individuals. It was set up to cause pain’.
‘To your average teenage boy’ said Jeff.
‘Yes’ June confirmed.
‘Those thick iron cuffs must’ve been bloody painful’ said Jeff, looking up at them.
‘Well I expect that was the idea’ said June. ‘There are spots of blood that have dried into the wooden flooring all over the place. They were obviously brought down here for something that went way beyond punishment’.
‘Looks like the talk about what went on in this place doesn’t go anywhere near the reality of what did happen’ said Rebecca.
‘And did they all get out alive?’ said June as she handed them a stack of black and white photographs. ‘Especially given what you can see on these’.
Jeff and Rebecca were profoundly shocked by the images depicting the most horrific sexual abuse of teenage boys by figures whose faces had been carefully focused out of the picture. The look of sheer terror and pain on the boys’ faces who were all restrained in relation to the cuffs they’d found in room. Various other implements of torture had also been used which made them both feel sick. There were also pictures of boys who’d been strapped down over the bench in the room and not only whipped and caned but also raped.
‘It looks to me like they’re stills from films’ said June, quietly. ‘I don’t think the victims would’ve ever forgotten their experiences but that’s if you can get them to open up’.
‘That’s probably what all the video cassette cases were for’ said Jeff. ‘They made the films and put them in there to sell them’.
‘The trade in perversion is sickening profitable’ said Rebecca.
‘Jesus, what these boys must’ve gone through’ said Jeff, shaking his head. ‘And they were supposed to be in the care of the state’.
‘That’s one of the most shocking things about all this’ said June. ‘Aren’t there supposed to be checks on these places? I mean, we’re only talking about twenty years ago. Surely there were procedures in place to stop something like this?’
‘Yes there were’ said Jeff. ‘But sick minds are unfortunately very clever too and that’s how they get away with their evil deeds’.
A young uniformed PC came up to them with one of the video cassette cases. ‘I went through them all and found this, sir’ he said as he handed a photograph to Jeff. ‘It looks like it had been put there randomly. It was in the fifth one down in a pile of about thirty’.
The photograph was of a toddler, a little boy about two years old. He was smiling into the camera and didn’t yet have many teeth. He was in a light blue polo style shirt and dark grey corduroy trousers. The picture had been taken at the coast, it looked like Blackpool Tower in the background and although he looked happy Jeff could clearly see something less wholesome in his eyes. It was a forced happiness. It was almost as if he was wishing for somebody to find out some terrible secret and then he’d be free. Jeff breathed in deep. It reminded him so much of how Toby had looked not so very long ago before life had dealt them both such a devastating blow.
‘There’s a smile but he looks sad to me’ said Jeff.
‘Let me see’ said June. She looked at it and then looked closer. ‘Don’t you think there’s something familiar about him?’
‘Like what?’ Jeff asked.
‘I don’t know’ said June.
‘Do you recognize him, June?’ asked Rebecca.
‘Well no but there is something about him that makes me think I should do’ said June. ‘But no, I’ve never seen the poor little love before. I wonder what his story is and why there’s a picture of him down here’.
Jeff knew that he and his squad would be under intense pressure to find answers quickly. The murder of children causes more revulsion amongst the public than almost anything else and the headlines in the media describing the ‘House of Horrors’ had already been fairly lurid. He and Rebecca went back to Pembroke House after the forensics team had discovered a large box containing film-making equipment. It was antiquated stuff by today’s standards, including old cameras and several rolls of 16mm film, but with the box they’d also found a stack of copies of ‘Today’s Filmmaker’ magazine dating from 1985 through to January 1993, a couple of months before the home closed its doors. Someone had clearly been making films down there but they probably wouldn’t have been able to sell them to the Disney channel. But they also needed to look at the history of the home in more detail and Rebecca took that as her job.
The home had been opened at the end of the forties and at one stage it had been seen as a model care home. Representatives from local authorities across the country came to see how it worked and were suitably impressed at the homely feel there was to the place. That enviable reputation continued until 1984 when everything seemed to change. A new manager by the name of George Griffin took over and soon the word got out that he’d thrown away all of what he called ‘the bleeding heart liberal methods of care’ and returned ‘old fashioned style discipline’ to the home. Curfews were put in place, every boy had jobs to do around the home and if they didn’t do them then all the ‘privileges’ such as television and socializing with the other boys were withdrawn. A local newspaper reporter once accused Griffin of running a prison instead of a care home but Griffin had been unrepentant. He said that the country was lacking in discipline and that it usually started with boys from the kind of social backgrounds that he was used to dealing with at the home. He said he adopted his tough regime as a means of preparing the boys to be responsible adults instead of burdens on the state but Tim went on to read that most of the former residents are now, with only one exception, either dead, alcoholics, drug addicts, or in and out of public institutions, mainly prison. Griffin always denied that physical punishment of the boys ever happened at the home but in 2001 a TV documentary about the care of children in care homes interviewed a former resident of Pembroke house called Ronnie Wiseman who said he’d made allegations of physical and sexual abuse in a statement to a police officer in 1989. He’d been sent there after his mother had suffered a nervous breakdown and couldn’t cope with him for a while. He was only going to be there a few weeks but in the end he was there for two years and he alleged that during that time he was subjected to regular beatings, sometimes for as little as taking one chocolate biscuit too many. It had been the sexual abuse though that he claimed had effectively ended his life at the age of fifteen. What raised Rebecca’s eyebrows though was the injunction that was taken out at the time of the documentary by the Greater Manchester police that prevented the name of the officer who Wiseman had claimed he’d given his statement to from being revealed. Rebecca thought this unusual to say the least and she called in a favour with an old colleague that gained her access to the restricted file with the officer’s name on it. When she saw it she went straight in to tell Jeff.
‘You are not going to like this’ she said after walking into Jeff’s office and closing the door.
‘Well give me a clue?’
Rebecca gave Jeff a brief summary of what she’d found out but with particular focus on the allegations made by Ronnie Wiseman.
‘So what happened to the allegations?’ asked Jeff. ‘Were they investigated?’
‘Well this is what you’re not going to like’ said Rebecca. ‘Wiseman told the TV programme that the police officer took everything down in a statement but he never got his day in court because he never heard anything after he’d made it’
‘I don’t understand?’
‘The TV crew tried to interview the police officer to whom Wiseman had made his statement but the Greater Manchester force took out an injunction against his identity being revealed and denied them access to him’.
‘But do we know who the police officer was?’
‘Well the file was restricted but I managed to get a peak’ Rebecca revealed.
‘You’d get in where water wouldn’t sometimes, Becky’.
Rebecca smiled. She loved it when he called her Becky. ‘Well being a pest comes in useful sometimes. Anyway Jeff, the officer was Chief Superintendent Hayward’.
‘No, I’m not, although he was plain and simple police constable Hayward back then of course’.