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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

C.8: Response to allegations against staff at other homes

116. From 1985 onwards, there have been several allegations of sexual abuse made against staff in residential homes other than Beechwood. Although the response to allegations developed over time in line with changes to policies and procedures (see Part B), there were persistent issues that continued to arise in the handling of such matters.

117. The Inquiry received around 60 allegations of sexual abuse against staff at homes other than Beechwood in relation to the period prior to 1980, with just under half saying that they disclosed at the time.[1] There is only evidence of one member of staff being disciplined or prosecuted for the sexual abuse of children during this period.[2]

1980–1989

118. In March 1985, Michael Preston was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for sexually abusing a resident at Three Roofs Community Home, where he had worked as a member of care staff. At his sentencing, the judge said:

“It appears ... that the officer in charge of the children’s home and other persons in the social services, were well aware of the temptations to which you were subject, and yet they took no steps to relieve you of your responsibilities in order to protect the child ... It seems to me extraordinary that you were not dismissed at a much earlier stage, and on the face of it culpable responsibility for the assault lies with your superiors as well as upon you.”[3]

As a result, an enquiry was carried out by the County and a report sent to the Chair of the Social Services Committee in June 1985.[4] It found that the Officer in Charge (OIC) at Three Roofs had significant concerns about Preston’s behaviour with the child, but they were satisfied that he had not known about Preston’s attraction to the child. The OIC reported his concerns to his line manager, Tony Dewhurst, but was told he could not dismiss Preston.[5] The enquiry found that the OIC should be counselled but not disciplined. They found that his manager Tony Dewhurst had not been sufficiently perceptive when interviewing Preston and had failed to hear the “distress signals put out” by the OIC. As a result, the enquiry recommended that Dewhurst should undertake training on recruitment.[6]

119. Amberdale was another community home for 22 children, which opened in 1975 and closed in 1996. In 1986, a formal inquiry was carried out after Gerry Jacobs, Assistant Principal at Amberdale, was dismissed and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for indecent assault of a resident. The inquiry found that the abuse had “finally opened Amberdale to scrutiny”;[7] it criticised the autocratic regime, supervision levels, and children’s social care’s management of the home. It made 29 proposals, including the introduction of a clear, explicit and easy complaints procedure for children.[8]

120. In September 1986, NO‐F147 was dismissed from Wollaton House following an admitted sexual relationship with a 16‐year‐old resident. There was no prosecution as, until 2003, there was no criminal offence where there was ‘consensual’ sexual activity between a residential care staff member or a foster carer and a 16 or 17‐year‐old child in their care.[9] NO‐F147’s appeal against his dismissal was rejected by councillors, although they requested consideration of possible alternative employment within the Council.[10]

121. In 1987, David Marriott, a residential care worker at Skegby Hall, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for four counts of indecent assault against two boys and was dismissed from his role.[11] Following this, Councillor Tom Butcher wrote to other councillors[12] that he had:

“identified two facts that I believe show a lack of urgency, even complacency, over the number of sexual offences by staff on children in their care. 1. Is the fact 7 members of Social Services staff have been involved in such offences over the past two years, and 2. after 14 months they appear to have failed to implement a Home Office circular intended to protect children.”[13]

He asked for enquiries to be made “about offences committed by ... staff, the number of complaints received and how they are dealt with, etc”.[14] There is no evidence of a response by the County to the issues raised by Councillor Butcher. If a councillor removed from the detail of operational matters had such concerns, the Director of Social Services (at this time, Edward Culham) and senior officers familiar with the cases must have known something of the scale of sexual abuse in residential care.

122. In 1988, Dean Gathercole faced charges of sexual assault of girls at Amberdale, where he worked as a residential care worker. No evidence was offered at trial and Gathercole was discharged.[15] A disciplinary hearing accepted his account that the allegations against him were unfounded but concluded that his actions prior to the allegations had been inappropriate.[16] In May 2018, Gathercole was found guilty of six counts of indecent assault and three counts of rape against two girls at Amberdale in the 1980s. One of the victims had reported the abuse in 2000, at which point the Crown Prosecution Service had declined to authorise charges.[17] He was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment.[18]

1990–2009

123. In the early 1990s, according to Diane Kingaby, who was responsible for managing several children’s homes in the County at the time, children’s social care managers were “instructed to tell social workers that they should try anything to avoid their child coming into residential care as they were more likely to be sexually abused than not”.[19]

124. Between 1990 and 1995, five members of staff were dismissed from Amberdale following allegations of sexual abuse, although two of the dismissals were subsequently overturned on appeal:

124.1. In 1990, NO‐F151, a residential care worker at Amberdale, was dismissed four days after she had allegedly sexually abused a male resident. She was not formally interviewed or suspended before her dismissal. A subsequent report concluded there was an “error of not protecting a young person in our care, from the wholly inappropriate sexual relationship which took place” and “further questionable judgements” after the nature of the relationship had been disclosed.[20] Staff suspicions about NO‐F151’s relationship with the child were not referred to senior management, case note entries recording concerns had been amended because it was felt they “could possibly be libellous”, and there was insufficient supervision of both NO‐F151 and the victim.[21]

124.2. In March 1992, NO‐F158, a senior member of staff at Amberdale, was suspended following allegations of sexually abusing a resident. NO‐F158 remained under suspension for almost three years and was eventually dismissed in February 1995. NO‐F158’s appeal against dismissal was rejected later that year.[22]

124.3. In May 1995, NO‐F153 was dismissed for an inappropriate relationship with a female resident and for destroying her diary which contained entries relating to that relationship.[23] Another member of staff, NO‐F37, was dismissed for removing the child’s diary, which also included allegations against him. At the time Amberdale “was an establishment in some crisis”; there had been “a breakdown of trust between management and some staff”.[24] After an appeal to councillors, NO‐F37 was reinstated with a final warning.[25]

124.4. In August 1995, NO‐F161 was dismissed following allegations of sexual abuse of a resident, having earlier been acquitted at trial in October 1994. Sandra Taylor, who chaired NO‐F161’s disciplinary, wrote to Stuart Brook (the County’s Director of Social Services at the time[26]) setting out various issues “which give me cause for grave concern as to the welfare and safety of children in the care of the authority”.[27] These included: (i) lack of knowledge and adherence to child protection procedures amongst residential care staff at all levels; (ii) lack of attention given to the wellbeing of the complainant; and (iii) the fact that although one of the complainants had disclosed abuse on three occasions previously, none of the disclosures had been properly recorded or investigated. Although there is no evidence of a formal response to Sandra Taylor’s letter, steps were taken by the County over the next five years to improve its recruitment, selection and training of staff.[28] NO‐F161’s dismissal was later substituted for a final warning by councillors on appeal in March 1996 and he was re‐employed in a different post.[29]

125. Sandra Taylor also highlighted the fractious relationship between children’s social care management and trade unions. During NO‐F161’s disciplinary hearing, children’s social care was criticised by a trade union representative for taking a positive “‘child centred approach” and placing the interests of the child above the interests of staff.[30] Stuart Brook described the relationship as an “exceptionally difficult” one.[31] He recollected that a “culture of opposition” lasted through the mid‐1990s and “delayed progress”.[32]

126. During the same period, following an inspection of Amberdale, an SSI report in March 1993 raised concerns about the time taken to progress disciplinary issues.[33] A “radical change” was sought. The SSI maintained that staff should be suspended automatically following allegations of abuse made against them, but David White, the County’s Director of Social Services, thought this unrealistic “in the light of the number and nature of allegations made” and that with each allegation “the Service Manager investigating will consider the appropriate manner of keeping child and staff member out of contact while inquiries are made which will include considering suspension or temporary movement to another Unit”.[34] In June 1995, the SSI conducted another inspection, concluding that young people were not at risk at the time of the inspection, but that the unit was performing very poorly.[35] The SSI recommended that Amberdale be closed. It was closed in 1996.[36]

127. Other significant cases during the early 1990s included:

127.1. In 1992, an internal enquiry was carried out by two children’s social care managers after the conviction the previous year of Norman Campbell for buggery and indecent assault of children in residential care.[37] Campbell had been a residential care worker and foster carer in the County in the 1980s. The enquiry report was critical of the County’s approach to a disciplinary investigation into previous allegations, in 1988. There was an apparent “lack of understanding about the behaviour of sexual abusers and victims of sexual abuse”. Additionally, the concerns of members of staff about Campbell’s behaviour and relationships with children had been dismissed.[38] The report concluded that it was “unfortunate that the disciplinary process, as it related to Norman Campbell, could be criticised as having the effect of protecting its senior managers and ultimately the Department from the repercussions of acting on their beliefs about him”.[39] The authors suggested that lessons could be learned by a second, external, enquiry reviewing the County’s management of its staff working with children in care.[40] David White decided against it, but was unable to explain to us why he did not take up the opportunity to do so.[41]

127.2. An October 1993 enquiry into events at Hazelwood Community Home during the period 1979 to 1985 found that children’s social care had been “more dedicated to the furtherance of staff employment rather than the care and protection of children”. There was an “over-emphasis on the criminal process” and police investigations,[42] despite procedures requiring that child protection investigations and disciplinary procedures be considered separately.[43] In particular, the report identified a failure to properly notify the Department of Health of persons deemed unsuitable to work with children[44] and a failure to follow through with disciplinary proceedings where there had been a decision not to prosecute or where an employee had resigned prior to the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings. It was noted that “Allegations made by children towards members of staff at the moment are dealt with on an individual basis” and there was no overall evaluation. Between June 1992 and February 1993, there had been 14 known allegations against staff of abuse in community homes which pointed to a clear need for “rigorous Departmental oversight of these matters”.[45] The report recommended that all allegations of staff misconduct towards children needed to “be monitored and reviewed, and that this be carried out in one place – Social Services Personnel.[46]

127.3. In December 1994, NO‐F162, who worked at Wollaton House, resigned before the conclusion of a disciplinary hearing following alleged sexual abuse of a female resident.[47] The disciplinary process was not seen through to a conclusion, despite the need for this being highlighted in the Hazelwood report the previous year.[48]

128. Until 2010 in the City[49] and 2017 in the County,[50] appeals against disciplinary sanctions for residential care staff – including for child sexual abuse – were heard by councillors. Rod Jones (Senior Professional Officer (Child Care)) recalled that in the 1970s and 1980s successful pursuit of disciplinary proceedings was sometimes made more difficult by the councillors, who “took a staff centred approach rather than one which put children and vulnerable people first”,[51] and that such decisions had “a marked effect on the confidence of managers to deal with errant members of staff”.[52] We have seen examples of cases in which councillors overturned dismissals for child sexual abuse and substituted a warning.[53]

129. Rod Jones told us that a culture of protecting staff “was very much the case in the late ’70s and the early ’80s”, persisting until the late 1990s.[54] Helen Ryan, a County Investigative Officer in the mid‐1990s, recalled how it was “not unusual for residential managers at all levels to see protecting and supporting staff as their priority”.[55] In terms of councillors overturning disciplinary decisions on appeal, Rod Jones was “very aware ... that assistant directors would come back from disciplinaries saying, ‘That was a waste of time. They’re not supporting us. They’re taking a personnel line’.[56] In the Hazelwood report, one recommendation was to review disciplinary processes to ensure that “the personnel/employee oriented bias is addressed”.[57]

130. In 1995, the County took steps to respond to some of these matters by establishing two posts of ‘Investigative Officer’ to conduct staff disciplinaries and other investigations.[58] Stuart Brook acknowledged this was “in direct response to ... the increase in the number, complexity and range of investigations”, recommendations from recent reports, and the 164 staff disciplinaries[59] over the previous three years, with the majority involving alleged abuse or malpractice by staff.[60] It was hoped that the posts would provide a “central management perspective” on investigations.[61] Previously, disciplinaries were conducted by different service managers across the County’s nine different districts, leading to “a lack of consistency across the whole department”.[62]

131. In January 1996, following NO‐F162’s conviction and imprisonment for physical abuse, Rod Jones (then the County’s Head of Children and Family Policy) wrote to Stuart Brook highlighting several lessons relating to NO‐F162’s case, including the need:

  • following allegations of abuse, to “consider whether there is a need for wider investigations” and “ongoing monitoring of risk to children”;

  • for a managerial decision where a staff member resigns before the conclusion of a disciplinary investigation; and where a child retracts a serious allegation, to get a report to assess possible influences.[63]

There is no evidence of a formal response to the letter. Stuart Brook said the points raised by Rod Jones were already set out in guidance to staff at the time.[64] Further, a seminar on ‘Liability, Prevention, Apologies’ was held by the County in January 1998, attended by various managers within children’s social care and from the County’s legal, service standards and risk and insurance teams. The seminar reiterated the lessons identified in Rod Jones’ memo from January 1996, including the need to consider wider investigations, the approach to take when a staff member resigned before the conclusion of an investigation, and the approach to retractions.[65]

132. There were several other disciplinary investigations into alleged child sexual abuse by residential care staff from 1990 to 1997, including:

132.1. The dismissal and conviction of Steven Carlisle in November 1990 on three counts of indecent assault against children in care at Woodnook. Previously, following a disciplinary hearing in September 1989, there had been no further action taken due to insufficient evidence.[66]

132.2. Five dismissals of residential staff following allegations of child sexual abuse between 1990 and 1994.[67]

132.3. Four resignations (one each in 1990 and 1991, and two in 1997) following allegations of child sexual abuse. In only one of these was the investigation concluded after the resignation.[68]

132.4. NO‐F163’s dismissal being substituted for a final warning on appeal in 1999.[69] He had previously been investigated in 1993, with no further action taken.

132.5. Three formal warnings (one in 1992, two in 1995) and one final written warning in 1997.[70] In the latter, NO‐F413 was not dismissed because “in 1983, there was a lack of clear guidance given to [him] as to the role of a houseparent” and “there may have been a lack of clarity about the boundaries of relationships at that time”.[71]

132.6. Two cases (in 1996 and 1997) in which no further action was taken.[72]

133. In 1997, the County produced a report on the Safety of Children in Public Care,[73] which noted that there was still no system in place (10 years after Councillor Butcher raised the issue, and four years on from the same recommendation in the Hazelwood report) for collating details of the number of investigations of alleged abuse concerning foster carers or residential workers.[74] Stuart Brook thought that the issue of collating investigations was addressed following investment in an “integrated child care system”.[75] We have not seen any evidence of the collation of allegations or of steps taken to identify trends or patterns of abuse.

134. Following the local government review in 1998, the County and the new City Council each took sole responsibility for the children’s homes within their area. There were far fewer disciplinary investigations into allegations of sexual abuse in residential care than in the previous decade.[76] In five cases in which there were disciplinary investigations, there were decisions to take no further action (two in 1999, and one each in 2000, 2003 and 2006).[77]

135. In November 2000, NO‐F46 was dismissed following an investigation by the City which found that he had a sexual relationship with a resident of Redtiles both in 1991 and subsequently after she had left the home. The dismissal was overturned on appeal and NO‐F46 was reinstated with a final written warning.[78] There were concerns about the way in which a previous investigation into NO‐F46 had been conducted by the County.[79]

136. In 2003, a report into Edwinstowe Hall Community Home[80] looked at non‐recent allegations of sexual and physical abuse.[81] This is the only report prior to 2011 that had sought to evaluate the extent of abuse over a lengthy period in a children’s home. It concluded that there had been no pattern of abuse at the home and that the number of allegations was no higher than would have been found in any establishment over a 30‐year period. A disciplinary investigation into non‐recent allegations of sexual and physical abuse against a member of staff there, NO‐F41, concluded with a decision to take no further action.[82]

2010 onwards

137. In May 2011, NO‐F1, who previously worked at Beechwood and Ranskill Gardens, was dismissed for a relationship with a former resident, then aged 23, including sending her sexually explicit text messages.[83] An allegation that NO‐F1 had sex with the young person when she was in the care of the City was not upheld.[84]

138. In 2014, NO‐F190 (a support worker at a privately run children’s home) was dismissed following allegations of child sexual abuse.[85] In September 2015, NO‐F190 was acquitted on all of the charges against him.[86]

139. One of the recent convictions arising from Operation Equinox was of Myriam Bamkin in June 2018 for abuse whilst she was a residential care worker at Amberdale in the late 1980s. When the allegations were made in 2016, Ms Bamkin still worked for the County, but held the role of Fostering Team Manager, from which she was then suspended. During that suspension, in May 2017, Ms Bamkin resigned.

140. Contrary to the Council’s own guidance since the 1990s, no disciplinary investigation was carried out and no conclusion reached, either prior to Ms Bamkin’s resignation or after her conviction. At least, after she was convicted, the County should have come to a formal conclusion that if she had not resigned, she would have been dismissed for gross misconduct. This approach was taken by the County as far back as 1990 (NO‐F142)[87] and 1997 (NO‐F164).[88] The County referred Ms Bamkin’s case to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in 2016. As at April 2019, the HCPC had not yet made a determination about her fitness to practice.

141. Although there have been far fewer reported cases in recent years, the author of a 2011 serious case review into the death of a young person in the care of the City echoed the evidence of David White about the County’s approach in the early 1990s:[89]

“The assumption cannot be made that because a child is Looked After by the Local Authority that they are safe or that their needs are being fully met ... Professionals, including carers themselves, need to be prepared to think the unthinkable, and recognise that Looked After Children may be abused whilst in care and are very unlikely to disclose such abuse.”[90]

City Council Historical Concerns Project

142. In an example of a recent attempt to look broadly at allegations of abuse against staff, in November 2014, the City initiated a Historical Concerns Project to review the employment records of current and former employees (and so not foster carers) who had worked with vulnerable groups “to identify patterns of behaviour that may be of concern”.[91] Alison Michalska said that when she took up her appointment, she was uncomfortable not knowing who might historically have posed a risk to a child or who might currently be a risk to a child.[92]

143. The final report,[93] published in June 2016, noted:

143.1. 75 current employees and 60 former employees were rated as high or medium risk;

143.2. four current employees and 24 former employees were the subject of allegations or concerns about sexual abuse of children;[94] about 15 related to children in care (one current employee and about 14 former employees);

143.3. 14 current employees received disciplinary sanctions to “better safeguard service users”, some of which took into account previous misconduct where this suggested a pattern of inappropriate behaviour;

143.4. 12 former employees were referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service and a number were subject to police enquiries and were progressed for investigation by the City; and

143.5. that “as a result of the review of historical employment records, the Council should have a high degree of confidence that appropriate action has been taken in respect of individuals that have and potentially could cause harm to vulnerable service users”.

144. This review was a positive step to have taken and appears to have provided some reassurance that alleged perpetrators did not simply evade scrutiny because of bad practice applied at the time.

145. The level of abuse at Beechwood was serious and prolonged. Sexual abuse of children in residential care was also widespread in the Councils’ other children’s homes, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. The abuse was never properly addressed by the Councils.

 

References

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