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Voice 35 Years: Care system fails vulnerable teen

INJUSTICE: Psychologists said behaviour of teenager who was forcibly drugged and locked away was ‘normal’

THE HARROWING story of teenager Denise Simpson being detained and pumped with addictive drugs while under the supposed supervision of the child care authorities in the early 1980s was the front page lead story in The Voice newspaper as it published its 26th edition on March 5, 1983.

Under the bold eye-catching headline ‘Child care horror – Denise injected with Largactil to bring her under control’, The Voice story reported on 18-year-old Denise Simpson’s personal account of her experience before a House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on child care in Britain. As a result, institutions in both east and west London were under investigation.

The Voice's story gave a graphic account of Denise’s troubled life within the care system which started when she was just three months old. Her mother placed her in voluntary care and by the time she was 13-years-old she was given a full care order by a juvenile court for minor offences she had committed a year before. But it was after she ran away several times from a girls’ remand home that the police were called in.

They were asked to handcuff her while a doctor was brought in to inject her with valium at first and when this didn’t calm her down, the doctor injected her with the more powerful Largactil. Denise told the House Committee that when she was caught trying to run away again, she was placed under strict security away from other children.

But another failed escape attempt led to a scuffle when more police were called in and she was again handcuffed to a bed and given over 200 milligrams of Largactil. As her ordeal continued, Denise became addicted to the drugs and on the last occasion she received them, she fainted and had to be rushed to hospital and have her stomach pumped. It was near the end of her ordeal in the care system that she broke into a records office to find her medical report. There she learned that at one stage the authorities were thinking of placing her in Moss Side, a top security mental institution. However, a psychologist’s report said her reaction to being locked up and given drugs was only that of anybody else in a similar position.

The Voice said it got hold of the report which ended with the revealing note: “It would be just as reasonable to conclude that since Denise has spent all her life virtually in care, her present predicament is the result of failure of the caring service being unable to define the problem.”

The story, which started on page one and continued on to page three, concluded that Denise was now living in Portsmouth, unemployed and living on the dole having had to stop a social workers course she was taking at college because the local authorities refused to give her a grant. Denise said she wanted to help people in care “by using the experiences of all that I have been through”.

CONTROVERSY: A trip to Grenada to celebrate Marx's death sparked debate

Over on page two, the lead story headline was ‘Trip to Grenada causes row’, which reported that a planned trip to the Caribbean island by a group of black youths from Islington to celebrate the death of Karl Marx had been criticised by certain sections of the media. The controversy over the Ujima Project-organised trip was sparked after it was revealed that Islington Council was funding much of the trip for the group of black youths. The trip was to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Grenada Revolution.

The opposition member on the council, David Hyams was angry about the trip, saying: “It is an outrage that ratepayers’ money should be spent on sending people to celebrate the anniversary of the coming to power of a Marxist regime that locks up its opponents.”

The lead story on page five carried the headline: ‘New ILEA post for Bajan woman’ and reported that Sylvia Denman had been appointed as the Inner London Education Authority’s first principal equal opportunities officer. She was to head a new unit to develop the ILEA’s polices in the field with emphasis on race relations advice and opportunities for women and girls.

BLACK GIRL MAGIC: Sylvia Denman made history

The Voice quoted Mrs Denham on news of her appointment: “My involvement in anti-discrimination activity goes back to the foundation of voluntary ‘integration’ committees in the 1960s in Oxford and elsewhere, which were organised later by the Community Relations Commission.”

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your The Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the hashtag #Voice35Years. Each week we will be digging into The Voice archive and publish a front cover from its first year of publication as we look back over 35 years

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