Children abused at North Iceland home “were let down”

23.11.2021 - 14:13
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Sölvi Andrason - RÚV
The mayor of Akureyri says vulnerable children sent to the old residential facility at Hjalteyri were let down by society. People who stayed at the home in the 1970s say they were subject to abuse; including sexual abuse. There are calls for a formal inquiry on behalf of the roughly 80 people who stayed at Hjalteyri as children.

The residential children’s home at Hjalteyri, just north of Akureyri, was operated by Beverley and Einar Gíslason, between 1972 and 1979. The couple had met while studying at Bible College in Seattle, USA, and moved to Iceland together in 1970. Coverage by Stöð 2 news this week reveals many former residents have similar complaints of abuse; both as victims and witnesses. 

Complaints from parents

Jón Björnsson became the head of social affairs at Akureyrarbær after the home started operating. The home operated under licence from the national authority at the time, which was called Barnaverndarráðið (the children’s protection council). The home at Hjalteyri was in Arnarneshreppur municipality, which also no longer exists. Parents of children at the home complained to the municipality of Akureyri. 

Jón Björnsson, former head of social affairs in Akureyri, reported the home to Barnaverndarráðið. 

“Though no complaint of any sexual misuse, as has now come forth, as that would of course have been named in the complaint to Barnaverndarráðið and additionally would have ned to instant referral to the police,” says Jón. 

“I felt it wasn’t taken seriously. The response indicated people wanted to sweep it under the rug and make everything appear good and act as though it was a point of debate, which it was not. No investigation occurred,” Jón adds. 

Bishop Ólafur Skúlason, who at the time sat on Barnaverndarráðið and was not yet a bishop, travelled to Akureyri to discuss the complaint with Jón. 

And you got the feeling nothing was going to be done about it? 

“Not just the feeling. There was precisely nothing done about it,” says Jón—adding that the school did not lose its licence as far as he is aware. 

Those who suffered at Hjalteyri do not have the right to reparations, because the home has not been investigated by the residential homes committee looking into historical abuse at other homes. 

For the past 11 years, Halldór Þormar Halldórsson has been the supervisor of state reparations to people who suffered at children’s homes. He says a lot of people who suffered at a variety of different homes have not yet received any sort of compensation. 

“In these 11 years, I have spoken with many people and received many letters and other evidence where people have recounted their experiences. There is no question that there are a lot of people who are suffering because they have not received acknowledgment of the misdeeds they have suffered,” Halldór says. Dozens of people are in that situation, he believes. 

Credible testimony 

“They sound very credible—especially because I have heard so many stories from so very many people under differing circumstances,” Halldór says. 

The current mayor of Akureyri had not heard about the abuse at Hjalteyri until recently and says the stories are shocking. 

“Accounts of the conditions at the residential home at Hjalteyri are shocking and it is horrible to hear of the abuse that is described there. While the municipality was not involved in the running of the home, we regret that children were sent [from Akureyri] into those conditions. It is clear that society and the entire system failed children and families in a vulnerable position. It is impossible not to feel for the victims who are now showing great bravery by stepping forth and speaking out,” says Mayor Ásthildur Sturludóttir. 

Jón wants the Hjalteyri home to be investigated by the authorities: “I don’t think anything else is fair other than for this home to now be subject to the same sort of investigation as others, where similar has arisen, have been subject to.” 

Halldór agrees: “Yes, I think there is every justification for that; especially in light of what has come out over the past two or three years.”  

Click to follow RÚV English on Facebook.