The 2020 film ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ has gripped Netflix viewers since being uploaded to the streaming service in December 2022.

The story is based on the autobiographical book, ‘Against All Odds’ by Paul Connolly, and details the abuse he suffered at the infamous St Leonard’s children’s home in Essex, operating from the late Sixties until the early Eighties.

The film is set between Connolly’s childhood and his twenties, where he is forced to confront his abusive childhood after the death of his childhood friend triggers a police investigation.

According to the Guardian, over 3000 children passed through the home until it closed in 1984, with residents enduring a range of abuse, including both physical and sexual abuse. Of the abusers was Bill Starling. Featured heavily in the film, Starling was jailed for 14 years in October 2001 for his crimes. He was convicted of 19 offences involving children over a 20-year period at the St Leonards home and Greensteads home, both ran by the Tower Hamlets Council.

Along with Starling, his boss, Alan Prescott, was also sentenced to two years in 2001 for admitting to assaulting boys in his care. Prescott was in charge of the home, and at one time was the Assistant Director of Social Services, as well as a magistrate and councillor.

The arrests and sentencings were a result of Operation Mapperton, which commenced in 1998, where a police inquiry team identified former residents and then set about gathering witness evidence. At the time, Detective Inspector Daniel O’Malley described how the Operation had unveiled a “harrowing” tale of systematic child abuse.

Connolly later assisted the IICSA (Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse) in 2018, describing the abuse he and other residents suffered. Connolly described it as “a brutal environment in which sexual and physical abuse were ever present”, detailing that children were often “snatched” from their dormitories.

Connolly also described how six out of the eight boys he shared a dormitory with had ended their lives, highlighting the mental and psychological impact that abuse has on victims in later life. Despite having a successful career as a personal trainer and author, Connolly told the IICSA that the mental and physical scars will never leave him. This is something that we see often in many of our clients at Farleys, who have been failed by the care systems designed to protect them.

A representative for Tower Hamlets gave an apology to all the victims of St Leonards during the course of the hearings. Indeed, in the early 2000s 58 claimants brought civil claims against Tower Hamlets for the abuse suffered, which settled for £1.3m in damages.

Jonathan Bridge, head of the abuse department at Farleys, is currently acting on behalf of a survivor of St Leonards. Our ability to help clients claim damages for their experiences means that many of them are then able to access the support that they need. Claims on behalf of victims of abuse validate their experiences and acknowledge the failures of the Local Authorities. To speak to an abuse claim specialist in confidence, please call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430, contact us by email or use the online chat below.