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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

Executive Summary

This investigation examined the scale and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s, and the extent of any institutional failures to protect children in care from sexual abuse and exploitation. It looked in detail at five of Lambeth Council’s residential children’s units – Angell Road, South Vale Assessment Centre, the Shirley Oaks complex, Ivy House and Monkton Street. The latter two cared for children with complex needs and communication difficulties. The Inquiry also examined the Council’s foster care service.

It is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings. With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission. Lambeth Council was only able to identify one senior Council employee, over the course of 40 years, who was disciplined for their part in this catalogue of sexual abuse.

By June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation (Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road) who have made complaints of sexual abuse. The biggest of these homes – Shirley Oaks – was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. It was closed in 1983. The true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth Council’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded.

Frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse. In so many cases they showed little warmth or compassion towards the child victims, who were left to cope with the trauma of their abuse on their own. More widely, it was as if staff intended to create a harsh and punitive environment for children who had the misfortune to be in public care, through no fault of their own.

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 their hostile and abusive treatment by some staff.

Far from being a sanctuary from abuse and neglect, Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Angell Road systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse. For many children, these homes did nothing to change their lives for the better. For many children, the experience they had was worse than living at home with their birth families.

Nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years, foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks. The Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) reported in 2000 that potentially large numbers of children in Lambeth Council’s care had not been allocated a social worker, were not placed with approved foster carers and had none of the protection afforded by regular visiting, monitoring or statutory reviews. Sexual abuse by carers and family members therefore occurred with no trusted adult available for a child to talk to. Dame Heather Rabbatts (chief executive from 1995 to 2000) initiated a review of all foster care placements to address the issue of criminal record checks. As a consequence, the number of foster care placements reduced from 240 to 160.

Some accounts described by victims in residential settings and foster care are given below.

LA-A307 was taken to Shirley Oaks at the age of nine. He described hearing other children screaming at night and he himself routinely experienced violence and sexual assault, including being photographed whilst being raped.

LA-A147 was in the care of Lambeth Council in the 1990s and 2000s, from the age of three. Over ten years, she was placed in nine children’s homes and with four sets of foster carers. She described being raped by a foster carer’s teenage son at the age of nine, and was also frequently sexually abused by older men she met whilst in care. By the age of 13, she had developed a drug addiction and was “selling herself” to fund it.[1]

LA-A2 was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged being sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. In the course of Hosegood’s employment at Shirley Oaks, six out of eight children looked after by him and his wife alleged sexual abuse by him.

LA-A7 described sexual abuse by three male members of staff, including two from South Vale. Two of them separately photographed him at their private homes when he was either naked or wearing only his underwear. One of them, Leslie Paul, was convicted of indecent assaults against LA-A7.

Lambeth Council’s actions and decisions made it easy for the sexual abuse of children to occur, in four principal ways. It knowingly retained in its employment adults who posed a risk to children; it failed to investigate its employees when they were suspected of child sexual abuse; it exposed children to situations where they were at risk of sexual abuse despite, in several cases, having full knowledge of these risks; and it allowed adults suspected of sexual abuse to leave their employment and sexually offend elsewhere, without alerting any known employers. In respect of volunteers, it appears that Shirley Oaks opened its doors to anyone from the community who expressed an interest in befriending children – for example playing sports with them or taking them out – without any checks on their suitability. In other words, a potential licence for child sexual abuse.

Lambeth Council now accepts 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”.[2]

Convicted perpetrators

Despite the scale of reported abuse and suspected abuse, only six perpetrators were convicted of child sexual abuse.

Patrick Grant: Convicted in 2019 of eight counts of indecent assault on a boy under the age of 16, two of which concerned a child in Lambeth Council’s care. Sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

William Hook: In 2001 pleaded guilty to 26 offences, including indecent assault, gross indecency and buggery, in respect of six children in the care of Lambeth Council and one he abused after leaving the Council. Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Philip Temple: In 2016 pleaded guilty to 29 counts of child sexual abuse related to 13 victims, four of whom had been at Shirley Oaks. Sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, which was increased to 18 years upon the Attorney-General referring the case to the Court of Appeal.

Geoffrey Clarke: In 1998 was convicted of the sexual abuse of three children not connected to Lambeth, where he had worked in children’s homes. Sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Later charged with numerous offences of indecent assault and possession of indecent images, but took his own life on the day the trial was to start.

Leslie Paul: Convicted on three separate occasions – in 1994, 2002 and 2016 – of a range of sexual offences against several children in Lambeth Council’s care, including from South Vale. In 1994, he was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, in 2002 to 18 months’ imprisonment and in 2016 to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Michael Carroll: In 1999 was convicted of the sexual abuse of two boys in the care of Lambeth Council, as well as nine boys from a children’s home in Liverpool. The indictment before the court in 1999 contained 76 counts relating to child sexual abuse. Carroll pleaded guilty to 34 charges and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Culture

In the 1980s, politicised behaviour and turmoil dominated the culture of Lambeth Council. The desire to take on the government and to avoid setting a council tax rate resulted in 33 councillors being removed from their positions in 1986. That event and its consequences meant, amongst other things, the majority of elected members were not focussing their attention on what should have been their primary purpose of delivering quality services to the public, including children’s social care. This continued into the 1990s and beyond.

Children in care became pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the Council and central government. Many councillors and staff purported to hold principled beliefs about tackling racism and promoting equality, but in reality they failed to apply these principles to children in their care. Neither councillors nor staff made any effort to check whether their implementation was being carried out in the true spirit of increased equality and diversity. Had they done so, the very real issue of racism in children’s social care might have been addressed.

Despite this ‘progressive’ political agenda, bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within Lambeth Council, all of which were set within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement, which permeated much of Lambeth Council’s operations. The Appleby Report in 1995 documented the chaos of Lambeth Council’s financial position from 1979, describing the significant number of Lambeth Council staff involved in this corruption and fraud, and the Council’s tolerance of it. It stated that from the 1980s to the early 1990s Lambeth Council’s policies and actions had created the perfect conditions for systemic abuse by dishonest employees, dishonest members of the public and dishonest contractors.

This corruption also directly impacted upon the safety of children in care. It was suspected by Lambeth Council that the children’s home officer, appointed to investigate an allegation of sexual abuse by the assistant officer in charge of Ivy House, LA-F12, was involved in the same fraud as the officer in charge of Ivy House. This was to the obvious prejudice of the investigation’s probity and the well-being of the children concerned.

It is notable that intimidation was experienced even at the most senior level of officer leadership, in the cases of Chief Executives Herman Ouseley and Henry Gilby. Lord Ouseley described how both his office and home were ‘bugged’ at the instigation of one of his own staff. He also received threats to his family. Mr Gilby’s office was the subject of a serious arson attack. His home and office were broken into and computer records were stolen during a time when he was attempting to deal with corrupt practices. Dame Heather Rabbatts was Chief Executive from 1995 to 2000. She described how she inherited a Council with a culture of “fear and sexism and racism”. No witness identified which individuals or groups were the driving force behind this vicious and regressive culture, but there was little doubt that a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.

Trade unions also played a part in this corrosive atmosphere, which worked against the protection of children, prioritising their members’ individual interests over children’s welfare. In this, they were supported on occasion by councillors, with whom it was frequently stated that a strong political axis existed.

Mr Robert Morton, Principal Manager (Children’s Homes) was a lone voice in reporting to the Children’s Homes Committee of the Council on four occasions over a two-year period, 1988–1990, on the poor state of the children’s homes and his concerns about child protection and children’s safety. He repeatedly told the Committee that many young children should never have been placed in homes, that little information existed about them, that there were no care plans and few children had an allocated social worker. He described the situation as “very dangerous. I cannot impress this point too strongly. Members must be aware of the possible implications of the present situation”, and his final report in 1990 could not have been clearer.[3] The grossly inadequate response of councillors and senior officers amounted to negligence.

The Carroll case

The handling of the case of Michael John Carroll by Lambeth Council was examined in the Inquiry investigation, because it illustrated a determined and inexplicable loyalty to a known sex offender, regardless of the risk to children. It showed individual and systemic mistakes, and extremely poor personal and professional judgement on the part of protagonists.

Carroll was appointed to work in a Lambeth Council care home in 1978, having previously worked in a children’s home in Liverpool.

On appointment, Carroll failed to declare a conviction for a sex offence against a child, in effect lying to his employer. He also failed to declare it when he was made officer in charge of Angell Road in 1981. The conviction came to light when he made an application to foster in a neighbouring authority to Lambeth and a police check revealed the offence, which he had again failed to disclose. It was subsequently the subject of a disciplinary hearing.

The hearing, in 1986, was chaired by David Pope, then Assistant Director of Social Services, later becoming Director, who gave Carroll a written warning but took no action to remove him from contact with children. Such a failure to disclose a conviction of this nature, on two occasions, would normally result in summary dismissal, but according to Mr Pope, the hearing felt “on balance, that he was not a risk to children”.[4]

Later, Carroll and his wife made an application to foster with yet another local authority, and were supported in this by a senior manager of Lambeth Council, to the extent of putting pressure on the other authority to overlook Carroll’s criminal conviction. Carroll was also allowed to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against other members of staff in Angell Road. He was finally dismissed by Lambeth Council for fraud in 1991. In 1999, he was convicted of the sexual abuse of two boys in the care of Lambeth Council, as well as nine boys from the Liverpool children’s home where he had worked in the 1960s and 1970s. He pleaded guilty to 34 charges and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The criminal justice system

The Metropolitan Police Service conducted five investigations of child sexual abuse linked to Lambeth Council from 1992 until the present date. These were Operations Bell, Pragada, Middleton, Trinity/Overview and Winter Key. The latter has been ongoing since 2015; in May 2020, it had around 50 active investigations.

Detectives failed to identify and investigate networks and links between offenders, despite the important and relevant information they held which should have been followed up. For example, when investigating the production of indecent images of children there was no liaison between the officers within Operation Pragada and Operation Bell to seek any material or information about Leslie Paul. During Operation Middleton, there was evidence of links between Hook and Hosegood, who both worked at Shirley Oaks, and these were not properly investigated.

In respect of the evidence of children, the Code for Crown Prosecutors in the late 1980s looked at these matters differently from the present day. In 1986, prosecutors were required to take into account whether there were “matters which might properly be put to a witness by the defence to attack his credibility”.[5] The 1988 version of the Code noted that the “credibility and credit of the child will often be of limited value and in the case of very young children may be nil”.[6] In consequence, it is unlikely that the criminal justice system at that time properly served many child victims in the care of Lambeth Council. Today’s practice requires prosecutors not to focus solely on the child but rather the evidence of the allegation being made.

Audit, reviews and inspection

It became an almost automatic response for Lambeth Council to commission a review when serious incidents occurred in children’s social care. These were usually carried out by an independent person with recognised expertise from outside the Council. In some instances, such reviews or audits were imposed by a government department. There were also regular inspections of social services, and children’s social care initially by the SSI, and later by Ofsted. In the period from 1985 to 2003, over 20 external inquiry and inspection reports concerning Lambeth Council’s children’s homes were produced, as well as Mr Morton’s four internal reports to the Children’s Homes Committee.

It is questionable whether Ofsted and its predecessors, particularly the SSI, did enough to identify the serious weaknesses in the protection of Lambeth Council’s children in care or whether the SSI should have done more via the powers of the responsible government minister. The SSI did not specifically investigate the nature or extent of sexual abuse against children in care, despite being fully aware of there being at least one Schedule 1 offender in Council employment.

The reports commissioned by the Council varied in quality and rigour, but almost all of them described serious failures in services and staff practices which rendered children in care unsafe, often from the people who were paid to look after them. Most also made recommendations for change and improvement. It is therefore remarkable that so very little was achieved in response to these consistent messages, and to those of the inspectorates and regulators; nobody in positions of authority at Lambeth Council over decades could have said at any point that they did not know. The conclusion is unavoidable that those who ran the Council for the most part simply did not care enough to prioritise the protection of children.

Lambeth Council today

By 1994, most of Lambeth Council’s 33 children’s homes had closed. The percentage of children in Lambeth Council’s care placed in residential accommodation in 2020 was 20 percent, including in secure units, children’s homes or semi-independent living accommodation, run by organisations other than the Council. These placements are very often geographically distant, and bring serious issues of maintaining family and community links and providing regular professional support. This can also lead to failures in compliance with child protection procedures. The Inquiry heard of a specific example from 2016 of an allegation of rape made by one Lambeth Council child placed in Sheffield, when neither Lambeth Council nor Sheffield Council convened a strategy meeting, as should have happened.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the visiting of looked after children was largely done virtually, with one-third done in person.

Lambeth Council opened its Children’s Homes Redress Scheme in 2018, which is open to those who lived in or visited a Lambeth Council children’s home. Whilst the Scheme was not part of the scope of this Investigation, we note that it has been criticised by some core participants, in part because of its exclusions from eligibility for the Scheme.

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

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