The Times, 12th April 2001
by Ian Cobain
William Hook, 63, was the first person to be prosecuted after a police and local authority investigation into care homes in London and the South East.
He was jailed at Kingston Crown Court yesterday after admitting 26 charges of serious sexual assault and indecency against six boys, four of whom have since attempted suicide. Detective Superintendent Andy Kay, who has been overseeing the investigation, said after the case that Hook came into contact with hundreds of young boys in care. “We are quite certain there are other victims out there.”
Judge Kenneth MacRae told Hook: “This is a sordid tale of depravity, self-gratification and corruption. You robbed children of their innocence, embarking upon classic grooming techniques. You bought their affection or made them reliant or submissive to you.”
Hook hung his head as the judge added: “One can only hope your victims can now begin to repair their shattered lives.”
Detectives are investigating the sexual abuse of up to 200 children at care homes in South London between 1974 and 1994. Officials from Lambeth Council in South London are helping.
Hook was arrested after the sister of one of his victims contacted police after reading about the inquiry, and detectives eventually found several boys who had been abused in the 1970s by a tattooed hunchback whom they knew as “Mr Mark”. This man was identified as Mark Peter Merchell, who had worked as a swimming instructor at Shirley Oaks Children’s Home, Shirley, Surrey, where Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark accommodated boys in council care.
Merchell’s real name was found to be Anthony Wenzel Petermichl. Police tracked him down through the Swimming Teachers Association, which had issued certificates to some of the boys, and by the time he was arrested in December 1999 he had moved to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and changed his name again, to William Alfred Hook.
Detectives found a cupboard in his home that had been converted into a “shrine” to children, with an altar and photographs of boys and girls.
Miss Sally O’Neill, for the prosecution, told the court that Hook showered his victims with gifts, including bicycles, diving watches and cassette players, before abusing them.
The boys said that Hook insisted that the young swimmers he coached took their lessons without wearing swimming trunks. Miss O’Neill said that Hook selected favourites, offering them “special coaching” after other boys had left the pool, which was next to the children’s home.
Superintendent Kay said that Hook would have been in contact with children as young as two in the nurseries of the care homes. He said that the investigation into abuse of children in London care homes was continuing, and that there are inquiries into children’s homes in Southwark and in Tower Hamlets in East London.
Speaking after Mr Hook was jailed, Lisa Christenson said: “I cannot promise this will never happen again. But children in care must be a primary focus of any council. The council let down those children very badly but we are talking about events 23 years ago. My job is to make sure this never happens again.”