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Children in the care of Lambeth Council subjected to decades of cruelty and sexual abuse, Inquiry report finds

27 July 2021

Children in the care of Lambeth Council were subjected to levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend, a new report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found. The Inquiry is calling for a criminal investigation to be considered into the handling of the case of a child who died in care. Children in care were found to be pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the Council and central government.

‘Children in the care of Lambeth Council’ examined the scale and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s. The report found one of the council’s biggest care homes, Shirley Oaks, received allegations of sexual abuse against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. By June 2020, the Council had complaints of sexual abuse from 705 former residents. Despite this, over 40 years, the Council only discliplined one senior employee for their part in the catalogue of sexual abuse. 

During the public hearings the Inquiry heard of LA-A2, who was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged he was sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. As a result, the Inquiry is recommending the Metropolitan Police Service should consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation, examining Lambeth Council's actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death.

Shirley Oaks and South Vale care homes were found to be brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Another of the council’s care homes, Angell Road, was found to have systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse.  The report finds that the true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded.

There were many Black children in Lambeth Council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 percent of children in its care were Black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 percent of children who lived at South Vale were Black. Racism was evident in the hostile and abusive treatment towards them by some staff.

Lambeth Council was found to have a culture dominated by politicised behaviour and turmoil during the 1980s. The report reveals that the desire to take on the government and avoid setting a council tax rate resulted in 33 councillors being removed from their positions in 1986. Bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism were found to have thrived within the Council, all within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement, which permeated much of the Council’s operations.

Lambeth Council has accepted that children in its care were sexually abused and that it failed them. Their representative at the Inquiry gave a full apology on behalf of the Council, acknowledging that Lambeth Council “created and oversaw conditions … where appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated”.

The report concluded the Council’s apology to the Inquiry was fulsome, but noted it did not make any meaningful apology until relatively recently. This is despite the many investigations and inspections over 20 years which made clear the duty of care it failed to deliver to so many child victims of sexual abuse.

The report makes four recommendations, which can be summarised as:

  1. A response and action plan from Lambeth Council on the issues raised in this report
  2. Mandatory training for elected councillors on safeguarding and corporate parenting

  3. Review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children’s home staff

  4. The Metropolitan Police Service to consider whether a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death is necessary

The full details of these recommendations can be found in ‘Part K: Conclusions and recommendations’.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said:

“Over several decades children in residential and foster care suffered levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend.”

“These children became pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the Council and central government.”

“For many years bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within the Council, and all against a backdrop of corruption and financial mismanagement.”

“There was a vicious and regressive culture, for which a succession of leading elected members were mainly  responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”

“This all contributed to allowing children in their care to suffer the most horrendous sexual abuse, with just one senior council employee disciplined for their part in it.”

“We hope this report and our recommendations will ensure abuse on this scale never happens again.”

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