June 1994

Notorious child sex offender dies in prison

FRANK BECK, (pic above) one of Britain’s most notorious sex offenders who was convicted of abusing children in his care at Leicestershire children’s homes, has died in jail.

Frank Beck 52, died on 31 May 1994, two and a half years after his imprisonment, apparently as a result of a heart attack whilst playing badminton at Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire. He was aged fifty two. Beck’s body was cremated on 9 June 1994, at a private ceremony at the Gilroes Crematorium in Leicester, attended by a small number of family members. The then eighty-eight year old Labour peer, Lord Longford, caused great controversy by sending flowers to the funeral. Longford had befriended Beck in prison and was convinced of his innocence

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Dangerous paedophile Frank Beck pictured above

Unsurprisingly, his sudden death after such a relatively short period of incarceration led to speculation that he had been murdered. D’Arcy and Gosling, in their book, ‘Abuse of Trust”, claim that fellow prisoners (some of whom had allegedly been his victims) attributed his death to speed, which had supposedly been surreptitiously added to his food over a period of months

He was convicted at Leicester Crown Court in November 1991 of 17 charges of sexual and physical abuse of boys and girls including rape, buggery, indecent assault and assault. Sentencing Beck to five life terms, the judge, Mr Justice Jowitt, told him: ‘You are a man with considerable talents and very great evil. You were entrusted with the care of some of the most disturbed children . . . many had been sexually abused already and could hardly have been more vulnerable.’

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Frank Beck, who carried out systematic abuse between 1973 and 1986 including ‘regression therapy’ in which children were forced to wear nappies, was jailed in 1991 for rape and buggery

Beck had a lonely and disturbed childhood. He was teased for being effeminate and before he was 13 he was sexually assaulted by a man on a train. He went on to become a Liberal councillor and leading childcare worker.

It was a chance remark by a mother that sparked Britain’s biggest investigation into child abuse. The conversation between the woman, accused of ill-treating her son, and a Leicestershire council officer did not take place until 1989, three years after Beck resigned as head of three children‘s homes, the Poplars in Market Harborough, the Ratcliffe Road home in Leicester, and the Beeches in Leicester Forest East.

She confided in the official, blaming her own behaviour on the abuse she suffered herself while in Beck’s care at the Ratcliffe Road home in the mid-1970s. She was advised to go to the police and detectives she spoke to noted the names of other children who also claimed they were abused. Senior police officers decided to interview every child who had been in care in homes run by Beck from when he started work at them in 1973.

Dozens of witnesses, in their twenties and thirties by the time of the trial in 1991, gave evidence during the 11-week hearing. Many of the adult victims spoke from behind screens, detailing incidents from when they were as young as eight, of being forced to perform oral sex with Beck or of being buggered or raped by him.

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But 12 social workers spoke up for Beck at the trial, saying he was caring and concerned when it came to the children. Beck was appealing against his conviction and sentence. Leave to appeal and legal aid were granted in January 1993 and Anthony Scrivener QC, one of Britain’s most eminent lawyers and former chairman of the Bar, agreed at the end of last year to take the case.

Beck is said to have used his own brand of ‘regression therapy’ as a cover for sexually abusing children in his care – supposedly a method of digging down to the roots of children’s emotional problems, by returning them to a state of infancy. Children were dressed in pyjamas and given bottles and dummies; some of the younger children were dressed in nappies. At meal times, staff would sometimes cut up the food on the plates of residents, as if feeding infants; children would be given toys designed for much younger children and sometimes bathed by staff members and Beck encouraged a culture of cuddling and bodily contact.

Beck also believed that emotions should not be ‘bottled up’ and it is said that children were deliberately provoked into temper tantrums, thereby creating opportunities to exercise violent physical restraint. Care assistants (or ‘residential social workers’ as they were known) were often hand-picked by Beck and were required to support his methods and philosophy without question. Several of his staff were also paedophiles and sadists, including Colin Fiddaman, who was to commit suicide in Amsterdam, whilst ‘on the run’, in 1991. Beck is also said to have physically and sexually abused male members of staff, sustaining ‘a regime of terror’ for thirteen years.

On 29 November 1991, following an eleven week trial at the Leicester Crown Court, Beck was sentenced to five life terms for sexual and physical assaults against more than one hundred children in his care. He was sentenced to a further twenty four years on seventeen charges of abuse, including rape. The term of five life sentences remains as one of the most severe in British judicial history since the ending of the death penalty for murder

Beck’s solicitor, Oliver D’Sa, said: ‘He was very impatient for the appeal to go ahead. His death came out of the blue. Normally the case would lapse and die with him but his family and close friends are discussing the possibility of carrying on with the appeal. This would not be unprecedented.’

Mr D’Sa said Beck was convinced there was enough new evidence and material that was not put before the original court due to non-disclosure by the prosecution which would have made the original conviction unsafe and proved his innocence.

Two damning independent reports published in February 1993 criticised police and social services in Leicestershire. One report, by West Mercia Police for the Police Complaints Authority, accused officers of ‘incompetence, negligence and prejudice’ in dealing with Beck. It said his activities should have been uncovered earlier and blamed police for tending to disbelieve children who complained because they regarded them as young criminals.

The other report followed a government-ordered inquiry into the management of the county’s social services department. It judged managers ‘inadequate, nave and out of their depth’ and afraid to challenge Beck despite numerous complaints against him.

In their book, Abuse of Trust, Mark D’Arcy and Paul Gosling suggest that in 1977, Beck and a co-worker, Colin Fiddaman, killed a twelve-year-old boy, Simon O’Donnell, by throttling him whilst he was being sexually abused, though the subsequent inquest into O’Donnell’s death concluded that the boy had committed suicide after running away from a children’s home run by Beck. The authors state that other children living in the home at that time have since given evidence to say that the injuries allegedly caused to O’Donnell were consistent with the system of physical restraint used by Beck and Fiddaman, which entailed wrapping a towel around the neck of a child during the course of abuse.

In 1998, a former resident, Peter Bastin, stated that he witnessed Beck and Fiddaman removing what he believed to be O’Donnell’s body from the home on the night before the child was found dead in a local factory.

In the same year, Bastin was awarded a rumoured £50,000 compensation for the abuse and suffering he received from Beck, which, he claimed, helped turn him into a child abuser, Bastin himself having been convicted in 1979 of raping and murdering ten year old boy. Bastin was apparently one of four Beck victims who went on to become murderers, “lending credence to experts who believe that victims of child abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves”.

The claim of D’Arcy and Gosling, that “there is strong evidence” that Beck was a murderer, received harsh criticism from the author Richard Webster, who points out that Bastin gave his evidence some twenty-one years after the death of O’Donnell, during the course of a compensation hearing from which he stood to derive massive financial gain. Bastin also claimed that the ten-year old victim he himself had murdered had died as a result of throttling techniques he had copied from Beck.

Throughout the trial and up until his death, Beck emphatically protested his innocence as a victim of mass conspiracy and sought to launch an appeal to secure his release and clear his name. Beck spent much of his time in Whitemoor prison vigorously planning his appeal and such eminent barristers as Anthony Scrivener and Michael Manning are said to have shown an interest in taking his case.

One of his most high profile supporters was the Labour peer, Lord Longford, who had for many years courted controversy in the tabloid press due to his long-standing campaign for the release of ‘Moors murderer’ Myra Hindley. “Personally I am convinced that not only did Frank Beck act throughout as an idealist, but that he did not exceed the bounds of propriety and certainly did not commit any criminal act,” wrote Longford in his autobiography, Avowed Intent. “Those that spoke against him were usually, it would seem, likely to gain financially if he were convicted.” However, Longford seems to have based this belief, not as a result of having seen any evidence, but as a result of his befriending of Beck as a prison visitor.

Longford was not alone in his belief that Beck was innocent and it is evident that for many, Beck’s charisma, charm and power of persusion was undiminished, despite the crushing intensity of his circumstances.