I found work a little bit of an anti-climax after that, and it took me a little while to calm down. Life had been edge of the seat for so long I was finding it difficult to relax in the office. Fortunately, or not, Jon and the New Chums had been piling up the information on Mersey View’s former staff and ‘guests’, and their computer skills were well above mine. I had expected a great pile of A4 paper, and instead received two USB memory sticks.
“Staff on the red one, Diane, and inmates on the blue. Set them up as spreadsheets, so if you get into Excel and…”
“I can handle that bit, mate. I just need to settle down and start looking for connections. Anything significant, juicy?”
“Er, yeah. Got one link, really weird. Two of the former staff moved on, to another care home. Charles Cooper and Donald Renfrew Hamilton. They were jailed back in the seventies, or at least Cooper was. Hamilton would have been, but he as found drowned in a nearby river”
“Given what else happened there, I doubt it. Real can of worms, that place”
“Where was this?”
“Oh shit. Castle Keep, by any chance?”
“You know it?”
“I started to read the file, because I thought it might be the place we were after, but I couldn’t finish it. The Super I was talking with, Cheshire force, yeah? He knows far more about it. I’ll see what he says. You are saying both men worked at Mersey View?”
“Yup. Both moved on when it closed, both to the same place, both places concerned being, you know, not exactly happy camper stuff. Bloke who ran the Carlisle place is in Broadmoor”
“Any word on the ones who ran Mersey?”
“Oh yes. Husband and wife, John and Marie Parsons. Both snuffed it years ago”
“Hell, no. Nursing home. Both went on the same day, of, er, absolutely natural causes relating to sleeping pills”
“Ah. What are you thinking, Jon?”
“Had a look through the reports, archived papers and shit, and it looks as if someone was pushing for an inquiry into the Mersey place, and the Parsons decided to jump first”
“So what do we have left? Apart from the Cooper person?”
“Quite a few inmates. You were right about most of them, but one or two seem to have made a decent fist of things, afterwards. I was thinking about that one. Could be awkward”
“What do you mean, Jon?”
I knew exactly what he meant, but I wanted him to work it out for himself.
“Decent life, family, job, and we waltz in asking them about the time they were banged up with nonces?”
“Absolutely, mate. Thoughts?”
“Sneaksies, you mean? Yeah, got one. Approach them at work, say we want to see if they remember an RTC or something. Saves getting their families worried, and we make sure their boss is told they are just a possible witness”
“Nice idea. I see you are picking up the team vibes nicely!”
“Not my idea, Di. That was from Lexie over there. Oh, another thing”
“Rhys. He’s gay, isn’t he?”
“Not for me to confirm or deny, is it? Could ask him, couldn’t you?”
“Don’t need to, really. My gaydar is usually spot on. You know if he’s seeing anyone at the moment?”
“Oh, you randy little sod!”
He laughed, pleased with what he clearly saw as a compliment.
“Ta! Getting back to work, I will drop a note to my Cheshire contact, see what he says”
As I composed the e-mail, copied in to Sammy and Bev Williams for approval, of course, he put the cup down by me before settling down at his own terminal.
‘Sneaksies’. He was most definitely fitting right in. Bev’s reply was almost instantaneous, just a quick note added to mine as he forwarded the original message to Sedgewick.
The man himself was across at the nick only two days later, and once more I found myself drinking posh coffee with Sammy and the two brass.
“Talk me through it, if toy would Di”
“Aye, sir. Simple, really. We’ve found about twelve former residents, not sure of the final tally. Our team is still digging and may well turn up some others”
He shuddered at that phrase. Bad choice of words, DC Owens.
“The other thing I wanted to ask about was the staff. I wanted to keep it off the audit trail, just in case”
Sedgewick shot Bev a sharp look, and my boss shrugged.
“I trust her instincts, Andrew. Diane, what do you have for us?”
“Donald Renfrew Hamilton and Charles Cooper”
Sedgewick dropped his head and raised a hand to rub his eyes.
“Where do those two… individuals fit into this investigation, Diane?”
“I believe they worked at Castle Keep”
No tone at all in his reply. “Yes”
“Well, before they moved to Carlisle, they were both employed at Mersey View”
“That would be absolutely in keeping with their character. Well, Alf’s gone, and so is Don. Some sort of swimming accident, rather oddly while he was supposed to be on remand. That just leaves Charlie, then”
There was emotion there now, and it was disgust.
“DC Owens, I am going to skate over the details for now. You already know some of them, so I will give you a… a flavour of what we found in that place. In short, organised rape of the inmates, including punting them out to friends and customers, accompanied by corruption in the local constabulary, and topped off by the permanent disposal of boys who got past their sell-by date. Sorry to be so flippant, but we dug up several former inmates, their deaths having taken place over a very long period.
“Charles Cooper. Yes. Charlie particularly liked the fringe benefits of his employment. Sorry, but I will leave it there, except to say that if those two people were working in Mersey View, then anyone who was there as a resident has had an early foretaste of hell”
He looked down at his knees again.
“What do you propose we do, Diane?”
“Well, sir, I have been giving this one some thought”
Bev gave a sniff, almost like one of Charlie’s. The other Charlie’s, that is.
“I would naturally have expected no less. Go ahead, Di”
“Well, sir, it was just a thought when I opened this case again, a favour for a brave woman. It has taken me a long time to get over my own past…”
Sedgewick shot Bev a glance, and my boss made a little gesture— ‘no now’.
“It’s all about closing a door on the past without something being there all the time to push it back open again. That’s what I got, that’s what I wanted to offer Deb, and then I got to thinking, what about all the others who suffered there?”
Bev gave me an appraising stare.
“You are assuming there was criminality there, Diane”
“Given what I read about that place Mr Sedgewick was at, and the little Deb has vouchsafed--- did I just use the word ‘vouchsafed’? Oh dear me! Anyway, what Deb told us, I just thought if it has scarred her so much, then perhaps we can help her heal, and all the others we can find. I am not hoping for a load of prosecutions; just that we might perhaps identify enough villainy to get a proper inquiry started. Public service, it’s what we are for, isn’t it?”
Bev looked at his mate, then back at me.
“No timescale, then?”
“No. This will be a long and steady one, but if at least one of the abusers is still alive, then I would like him to have his own life stirred up a bit. Let some people sleep easier”
“You want frankness, Bevan?”
“I will make a confession, then. I was a very young officer at the time, but what I saw in that place, and in the other properties, has never left me. One very determined family broke that place open, but so many other hellholes, like Bryn Estyn and Mersey View, were left to run their course. My confession is a simple one: my own sleep might just be improved. That is all I need say. Diane, we will make all we have available to you on Mersey View, and I will be speaking to my former colleagues in Cumbria.
“You are absolutely correct, DC Owens. Public service is not defined by the number of arrests and convictions, nor should it ever be. Thank you”
I left Bev’s office almost in shock, for what I had seen in Sedgewick came so close to my own experience, and mirrored Adam’s, that I felt vindicated. Not just me, then
I put it on hold a little later, because I had some place in Italy to head off to. Before that there was shopping to do, summer clothes to buy, swimming costume, sandals, and that was just Dad! He had worked through so many guide books and maps I wondered how much he would end up paying in excess baggage charges. The day came, and it was Blake who did the driving, at a stupidly early hour, down the M4 to the new Severn crossing by Caldicot, over into England and then down the M49 until peeling off for another scenic section right under the Clifton Bridge. Dad was glued to a map for the whole trip, to absolutely no surprise on anyone’s part, and kept feeding us gems of irrelevant information, such as the fact that somewhere to our left was a place called ‘Catbrain’.
Thanks, father dearest. Just the sort of image we needed for a bumpy flight. I changed the subject.
“Last trip we did, love, and Mam, stop looking so smug whenever I use that word!”
“Well, looks like Dad and me were right, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, shut up, or I’ll spike your rubber ring! Where was I? Oh, yeah, last trip we did was to Cuba, after I graduated. Not really had a proper holiday since”
“Let’s make this a good one then, LOVE”
Cheeky sod. The flight was on time, even though they didn’t announce the boarding till the very last minute, and my big boy had paid for allocated seats so that Mam and I could sit by windows. He ended up sitting two away from me on his own, because the leg room was better on an aisle seat, but the flight was only two hours fifteen minutes, plus the messing around before take-off. I had ten days to have him next to me, so I suspected I would survive.
We took off smoothly, made our way down to the Channel and then over France and I was told Switzerland, but as we hit a solid layer of cloud before we were even over the French coast, I saw sod-all. That changed as we cleared the south of the Alps, and suddenly there were snowy peaks behind us and dazzling reflections off to the side from a stupidly blue sea.
We turned in a huge curve, and Mam, who was on the left side, was oohing and aahing all the way down, while I got to see fields. Bugger. Down with a bump, off into the terminal, and after a short wait, we had our luggage. It was almost painless, up to the point where Dad said “We need a number 10a, then we change at Lido di Jesolo for a 23a. That drops us off at the gates to the site”
“Na, don’t think so. I am not sitting for ages on a town bus. Hang on… you looking for a Mr Sutton?”
That last was to a bored-looking local, who had just lowered a little sign bearing the word ‘Satin’.
“Si. Mister Satton”
“That’s me. Union Lido?”
Blake grinned at Dad. “As I said, Mark, sod sitting on a local bus for hours. I booked us a transfer!”
Our driver, Paolo, wasn’t anywhere near as smooth as the big man, of course, and, after we had finally left the long and boring road that went on for too many miles past utterly flat fields and endless stretches of marshland, and entered the edges of a town Dad confidently named as Jesolo, I got more than a little apprehensive. Paolo seemed to have two speeds only, one of which was flat out, the other stationary, and he was clearly intent on keeping transition between the two states to as short a period of time as possible. I closed my eyes several times; riding with Bryn and Barry had been a doddle in comparison.
Eventually, though, we were there, and after our driver had explained in rapid-fire Local Foreign to a man on the gate, he drove us far more slowly and carefully towards a huge water tower in the middle of the site, where we offloaded, paid our driver/psycho nutter and took stock of our surroundings. At the foot of the tower was a supermarket, where Mam disappeared to pick up some milk, and waiting for us were some very cheery Teessiders. They did all the necessary paperwork in nothing flat, and we were shown to a white prefabricated building as they chattered on about social events, travel to Venice, site facilities and probably the fountain of youth and the Holy Grail, but I could see Mam hurrying back with the milk.
Yes, we had teabags in our luggage, and the kettle went on almost as soon as we were left to it. My parents looked into the two bedrooms together, laughed out loud, and with even more insufferable smugness put their luggage into the one with twin beds.
I drank my tea, gratefully, foe even with the foreign milk it was just what I needed. It was still afternoon, and I had a new swimming costume, and so had Blake, so with a bag full of every sun product known to Man we made our way through the maze of roadways on the site until a gate let us put our feet onto sand.
Ashley Evans was done and dusted, and along with him his cousin. Pritchard’s life was effectively over. There was a blue sea in front of me, and a brilliant sun still high in the sky, and people I loved by my side.
Time to start living again, DC Owens!
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