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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

Executive Summary

This is one of three investigations by the Inquiry into the nature and extent of allegations of sexual abuse of children in the care of local authorities. The primary purpose of this investigation was to examine the institutional responses to such allegations of Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council, and other organisations such as Nottinghamshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and to consider the adequacy of steps taken to protect children from abuse.

These two councils were chosen because of the high level of allegations of sexual abuse of children in their care over many years. The Inquiry received evidence of around 350 complainants who made allegations of sexual abuse whilst in the care of the Councils from the 1960s onwards, though the true scale is likely to be higher. This is the largest number of specific allegations of sexual abuse in a single investigation that the Inquiry has considered to date.

For more than five decades, the Councils failed in their statutory duty to protect children in their care from sexual abuse. These were children who were being looked after away from their family homes because of adverse childhood experiences and their own pre-existing vulnerabilities. They needed to be nurtured, cared for and protected by adults they could trust. Instead, the Councils exposed them to the risk, and reality, of sexual abuse perpetrated primarily by predatory residential staff and foster carers.

In residential care, there were poor recruitment practices, few qualified staff and little in-service training. This was compounded by overcrowding and low staffing ratios. It was as if anyone could carry out the important work of being a substitute parent to damaged children. In some instances, a sexualised culture existed in residential homes, with staff behaving wholly inappropriately towards children, paving the way for sexual abuse. Whilst set standards of conduct and child protection procedures were put in place, there was little proper training provided to help staff understand their employers’ requirements, nor action taken against those who did not comply. Staff ignored these standards and procedures with impunity.

Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that, regardless of all other considerations, the sexual abuse of children should have been regarded by all staff as a criminal offence.

Residential care carried little priority with senior managers, even when they were aware of escalating numbers of allegations of sexual abuse. Whilst there were some improvements over time, with awareness of the problem improving, directors of social services and children’s social care failed to fully address the issue in both residential and foster care. Nor were elected members informed of the scale of the abuse.

Neither of the Councils learned from their mistakes, despite commissioning many reviews which made clear what changes were needed in their care systems to stop the sexual abuse of children.

During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, physical violence and sexual abuse occurred in many of the Councils’ children’s homes and in foster care. This included repeated rapes (vaginal, anal and oral), sexual assaults, and voyeurism. Harmful sexual behaviour also occurred between children in both settings.

Between the late 1970s and 2019, 16 residential staff were convicted of sexual abuse of children in residential care, 10 foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of their foster children, and the Inquiry is aware of 12 convictions relating to the harmful sexual behaviour of children against other children in care. The offences in residential care took place in Beechwood and a number of other children’s residential units, including the following 12 establishments: Hazelwood, Skegby Hall, Edwinstowe, Sandown Road, Wollaton House, Hillcrest, Risley Hall, Greencroft, Beckhampton Road, Woodnook, Amberdale and Three Roofs.

Some of the convicted offenders are detailed below:

Two offenders, Norman Campbell and Christopher Metcalfe, were convicted of sexual assaults against children in both residential care and foster care.

Patrick Gallagher was convicted of 55 counts of sexual abuse committed between 1998 and 2010 against 16 children, seven of whom were in care. He was given 13 life sentences, with a minimum of 28 years’ imprisonment.

Robert Thorpe was convicted in 2009 of several counts of indecent assault and unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 who was being fostered by his friends. He was given five years’ imprisonment.

Dean Gathercole was convicted of six counts of indecent assault and three counts of rape of two residents at Amberdale in the late 1980s. He was given a prison sentence of 19 years in 2018.

Accounts of abuse include:

L17 was raped on “four or five occasions” by staff member Colin Wallace, who was later convicted. She was made to masturbate Wallace in a communal lounge in Beechwood,where other children and staff were present.

P2 was in foster care in the 1960s, and was raped by her foster father on camping holidays.

P13 was sexually abused between 1979 and 1981 by the 21-year-old brother of his foster mother and was forced to masturbate him and perform oral sex.

A76 spent 16 years in care in 21 placements. She was abused by older boys in several children’s homes and was the victim of rape and sexual assault.

Over the years, as local authority boundaries changed, responsibility for some of the services referred to in this report moved between the County and the City. The Inquiry selected three case studies to examine in detail the responses of institutions to sexual abuse of children in the care of the two councils.

Beechwood

Beechwood operated for 39 years, from 1967 to 2006, and was run for periods by the City and County. It was run first as a remand home, then as an observation and assessment centre, and later a community home. In common with residential care across England at the time, it was poorly resourced and managed. Care staff were predominantly unqualified and received little, if any, training. Even with these similarities, however, no other residential homes in Nottinghamshire have had the level of allegations of sexual abuse which have been made about Beechwood staff.

It was not a safe environment for vulnerable children. Staff were threatening and violent, physical abuse was commonplace and children were frightened. Sexualised behaviour by staff was tolerated or overlooked, allowing abusers such as John Dent, Barrie Pick and Andris Logins to flourish. Managers at Beechwood, notably Ken Rigby, were either complacent or deliberately ignored the plight of children under their care. There were only two disciplinary actions taken when allegations of sexual abuse were made, and those were inadequate. When the City took over the running of Beechwood in 1998, the staff environment had not improved and children and young people were still at risk of sexual abuse. The City allowed Beechwood to continue operating for a further eight years, when its should have been closed much earlier.

As one example, L29 was remanded into the care of the City in 2005 and placed at Beechwood for four months, when he alleges he was repeatedly abused by a male member of staff. In 2015, he came forward to the police and felt that they believed him. He had not received an apology from the City, which made him “very angry”. He said, “I don’t see any future for myself. I understand that I had problems before Beechwood, but, in my opinion, Beechwood put me where I am today”.

Foster care

This case study considered the institutional responses to sexual abuse in foster care from the 1960s to the present day. Foster care has been, and still is, the most common placement for children in the care of both of the Councils. The overall picture from the mid-1970s to the 1990s shows an inconsistent approach to the recruitment, assessment and support of foster carers, and the supervision of children’s placements. When allegations of sexual abuse were made, there was too much willingness on the part of Council staff to take the side of the foster carers and to disbelieve the child. There was no effective or rigorous assessment of individual allegations.

In one particularly shocking case, in the 1970s, the County returned children to foster care after the foster carer pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of his two nieces. In 1985, a County foster carer (who was also a residential care worker) admitted sexually assaulting a foster child, after previous allegations against him had been regarded as “malicious” by children’s social care. In January 2014, NO-F77 was convicted of sexually abusing children in foster care, having fostered over 30 children in the care of the County between 1998 and 2012 although there had been previous allegations of sexual abuse, most significantly in 2000, when social workers concluded that they had “no doubt” that the abuse did not occur. Foster children were left at risk by the County, resulting in preventable abuse.

There was also sexual abuse by City foster carers. For example, Raymond Smith was deregistered as a foster carer in 2004 following allegations of sexual abuse by children in foster care and was, in 2016, convicted of sexually abusing a child not in care. By this time it was noted that, during Smith’s time as a foster carer, there had been allegations “by a number of young people of a sexual nature”.

L35, who was physically and sexually abused whilst in foster care in the 1980s, was angry “that the foster carers were allowed to get away with abusing children in their care for so long and nothing was done about it. No one took foster children seriously ... there was no punishment for the foster parents. They got away with everything.

Despite improvements, there continue to be weaknesses in foster care practice in both Councils.

Harmful sexual behaviour

For most of the period under review in this investigation, harmful sexual behaviour between children in the care of the Councils has not been well understood by professionals involved with children in care. Between 1988 and 1995, five separate reports into harmful sexual behaviour in five County community homes were conducted. In one home, all children resident over a 12-month period were found to have been exposed to harmful sexual behaviour. Policies and procedures were established but the issue was not viewed holistically across the five homes, so the work was largely wasted and learning was lost.

D31, a victim of harmful sexual behaviour at Greencroft when she was aged 12, told us of five incidents of sexual abuse involving older male residents. She had been placed at Greencroft with much older children which, along with a failure to monitor risks posed by other children and a lack of guidance for staff, left her at risk of abuse.

Neither of the Councils have a satisfactory approach to addressing the issue of harmful sexual behaviour of children in care. The County has taken steps to audit its practice. The City provided very little evidence to the Inquiry about its current practice, or of any recent steps taken to improve it, notwithstanding the inclusion of harmful sexual behaviour as a case study in this investigation. Despite present, widespread awareness of the issue, there is no national strategy or framework for the prevention of, or response to, harmful sexual behaviour between children in care.

Nottinghamshire Police

In 2011, Nottinghamshire Police initiated Operation Daybreak to investigate allegations of non-recent abuse of children in residential care. However, this was not adequately resourced, the police did not treat allegations with sufficient seriousness, and valuable time was lost. In 2015, Operation Daybreak was subsumed into Operation Equinox. Since that time there have been a number of prosecutions, bringing increased confidence amongst complainants in the force’s commitment. Nevertheless, only now have Nottinghamshire Police begun to address weaknesses in its approach to child protection, as identified in recent HMIC (known as HMICFRS from summer 2017) inspection reports.

Apologies, acknowledgment and support

The Councils have taken different approaches to apologising for non-recent abuse and acknowledging past failures to protect children in their care. Whilst the County have made a public apology, the City have been guarded and slow to apologise or express appreciation for the level of distress felt by complainants. An example of this was the reported comment, in 2018, from the then City Council Leader that “we will apologise when there is something to apologise for”. This was crass and caused avoidable upset.

Provision and consistency of support and counselling for those who have suffered sexual abuse in care remains an issue.

Recommendations

We make recommendations covering issues such as risk assessments of current and former foster carers and residential care staff, and the approach to harmful sexual behaviour.

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