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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

B.3: Case study: South Vale

Background

42. South Vale was built as an assessment centre and opened in 1967. It was intended to provide short-term care for children in order to assess their longer term needs, a relatively common approach in the 1970s and into the 1980s.[1] Over time, South Vale became used as a general children’s home, with some children “drifting” and staying there for a considerable period of time.[2] South Vale gained the reputation for taking children who were difficult to place elsewhere.

43. It also housed very young children, under the age of five years. In her report of January 1990, Councillor Clare Whelan recorded that “Under fives are placed at South Vale with no worker trained to look after this age group”.[3] Children of this age should not have been living in residential homes at all. Such young children required one-to-one care and continuity of care to ensure that their emotional and developmental needs were met.

44. Due to “limited available historical records”, Lambeth Council was not able to provide an accurate number of children admitted to South Vale, but it exceeded 3,500 between 1968 and 1993.[4] As at June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of at least 140 people who had disclosed child sexual abuse at South Vale.[5]

45. South Vale was managed along punitive lines. It operated a system of privileges which meant there was the “opportunity for the system to be manipulated by staff particularly as they were untrained and there was favouritism displayed towards certain children”.[6] It was not, in reality, a system which rewarded children for good behaviour, rather they had to earn a certain number of points just to have access to basic activities. It was more of a system for punishment than privilege.[7] The Zephyrine report (an internal inquiry initiated by Lambeth Council in 1989, discussed below) recorded that some staff saw it as “behaviour modification” or a “quasi-psychotherapeutic” method of children coming to terms with their behaviour and that many staff reported abuse of it.[8]

46. When interviewed by the police in 2001, Leslie Paul tried to suggest – in response to the allegations against him – that the children at South Vale were disturbed and difficult.[9] While it may have suited Paul and others to convey this image of South Vale, this was an attempt to justify its punitive environment. It put children at risk by stigmatising them and creating the impression that they were not to be trusted.

Sexual abuse at South Vale

Leslie Paul (1979 to 1992)

47. Leslie Paul worked for Lambeth Council from 1979. He worked at South Vale as a residential child care officer from 1979. Apart from a brief period as an acting team leader in 1980, he remained a residential child care officer until 1989. He was promoted to the role of team leader at South Vale from April 1989 until April 1991. In 1991, he became an administrative assistant in the Area 8 Team Office until his dismissal in 1992.[10]

48. In 1978, prior to his employment by Lambeth Council, Paul became a special constable working from the West End Central Police Station in London. Records from Operation Bell refer to him being stopped in July 1979, when he was a special constable, in suspicious circumstances in the toilets at Piccadilly Circus. He remained a special constable until he resigned in October 1981 citing pressure of work.

49. The extent of Paul’s offending was only revealed, incrementally, over the course of three prosecutions.[11] Lambeth Council is now aware of at least 43 children who have alleged sexual abuse by Paul, 39 of whom were in the care of Lambeth Council.[12]

50. During his employment, there were suspicions and concerns about Paul’s inappropriate conduct towards children, which did not result in an investigation into Paul.

50.1. One care worker at South Vale in the late 1970s and 1980s recalled one child, aged approximately nine years old, who needed cream applied to his anus and Paul volunteered to do this. He also offered to supervise the boys’ showers. She attended a camping trip with Paul and some boys from South Vale; she slept in one tent, he slept in another with the boys. She also referred to him taking boys to Soho, with which she disagreed. Given Soho’s reputation at this point in time, that Paul was taking children there should have prompted immediate action and investigation. She told police about these incidents in 2003 but said that “It was at the point of his conviction that the things I have mentioned in this statement took on significance”.[13]

50.2. A child reported concerns to staff at South Vale because he was worried about the level of interest that Paul had in another child.[14]

50.3. One social worker confirmed to the police that in the late 1970s or early 1980s LA-A19, a child he was responsible for, told him he was being sexually abused by Paul at South Vale. He described the child as very quiet and matter-of-fact. The social worker believed him.[15] The child said that he did not want the police informed. The social worker stated that he discussed this with a team manager, who said they had to respect the child’s wishes. LA-A19 was returned to South Vale, where Paul was still working, until another placement was identified. The social worker said that as the child’s social worker he was probably the only person to whom this child could have turned.[16] In the face of credible information Paul was left in an immediate position whereby he could abuse children. No investigation was initiated into the allegations.

50.4. Another child sexually abused by Paul left South Vale to live in a different institution in 1989. His social worker knew that he was living with Paul at weekends and that Paul took the child on a three-week holiday. It was, however, his mother who expressed concern to Lambeth Council about the expensive gifts Paul was buying for her son. The mother was articulating a fear about what might be happening to her child.[17]

50.5. A team leader who worked at South Vale in the mid-1980s subsequently stated that there was concern about Paul seeing children who had lived at South Vale outside work.[18]

(If these matters were reported to the Zephyrine inquiry – discussed below – they are not dealt with in its report.)

51. Despite these concerns, Paul was not apprehended until Operation Bell in 1992. Of the four men investigated as part of that investigation, Paul was the only person convicted.

52. As part of Operation Bell, Paul was charged with nine offences of child sexual abuse in respect of LA-A17, LA-A157 and LA-A319, one of whom was in the care of Lambeth Council at South Vale.[19] At the time of the abuse, all of the children were aged 14 or 15 years. Paul gained the trust of a parent in order to be able to sexually abuse two of these children.[20]

53. Paul was convicted in January 1994 of two counts of indecent assault, one count of indecency with a child and one count of taking indecent photographs of a child.[21] He was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment.[22]

54. Operation Bell also investigated whether Paul was involved in the commercial making and distribution of indecent imagery of children.[23] When Paul was arrested, police searched the flat and found a large quantity of photographs, videotapes, photographic slides and computer discs, many of which depicted naked images.[24] Some of these images appeared to be of young people around the age of 16 years old. Numerous photographs of children were found during the search of his flat. A number of his victims have described being photographed by him.[25] He also made a film showing the abuse of a child in the care of Lambeth Council. Concerns have endured that Paul was involved in the large-scale production of pornography and indecent images of children and that other staff from Lambeth Council may have been involved. The extent to which this featured in Operation Bell is considered in Part J.

55. In Operation Middleton, Paul featured prominently in that 11 individuals came forward to allege that they had been sexually abused by him. He was again arrested and charged in respect of the sexual abuse of six children.[26] He was convicted in November 2002 of five counts of indecent assault against four children. The children were aged between 12 and 17 years at the time of the abuse. Paul was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. Three of those whom he sexually abused provided evidence of the devastating effect that this abuse had on their later lives.[27]

56. Following Operation Trinity in 2016, Paul was convicted of 18 counts of child abuse against four children (15 counts of indecent assault, one count of indecency with a child, one count of aiding and abetting indecency with a child and one count of making an indecent image). The victims were all children who had been in the care of Lambeth Council and placed at South Vale between 1980 and 1988 whilst aged between 10 and 14.[28] The charges included one case where the victim was subjected to “vile group sexual abuse” with other unidentified men. Paul was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment, and the judge commented that Paul was knowledgeable about and in contact with “a group of paedophile men”.[29]

57. In addition to evidence about the offences for which Paul was convicted, the Inquiry also heard evidence from core participants who had lived at South Vale about their experiences as children in Paul’s care. LA-A300 described herself as able to “get away with things” with Paul, and that he gave her cigarettes, sweets and money.[30] She described going to Paul’s home and taking other children there, where they would drink, smoke and eat.[31] Even when she moved to another home, LA-A300 ran away to Paul’s home.[32] She described the attention that she received from him as being the first time anyone had paid attention to her – “Finally, somebody is just paying me a bit of attention”.[33] LA-A300 also recalled that he had a dark room at his flat and many photographs of children. There “was a wall and it was just full of black and white pictures. I’d never seen anything like it”.[34] Paul always had a camera on him but she never heard anyone query this.[35] LA-A300 also told us that, on one of the occasions she stayed with him, Paul tried to rape her.[36]

58. LA-A7 was abused by Paul, who had been his key worker. He described how, on one occasion, Paul also took him to his flat to take photographs of him. Paul then tried to sexually assault him. LA-A7 said that he ran into the road crying and that the police must have been called because that is how he got back to South Vale.[37] He gave evidence at one of Paul’s trials and Paul was convicted of abusing him.[38] LA-A7 told the Inquiry that the trial had been a very traumatic experience.[39]

59. One victim of Paul, LA-A19, reported in 2014 that he had been sexually abused at an unknown address by four men, one of whom was Paul. Lambeth Council confirmed to the Inquiry that it had no evidence or information as to how LA-A19 came to be abused by a group of men.[40] Paul was however charged and convicted as part of Operation Trinity with aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of LA-A19 by others. This offence occurred between 1980 and 1983, when LA-A19 would have been aged between 10 and 13 years.[41]

LA-F8 (1987 to 1992)

60. LA-F8 was a children’s residential care officer at St Saviour’s children’s home from November 1987 until its closure in September 1988. He then went to work at South Vale, where he was promoted to team leader in April 1989 (until April 1991, when he moved to the Adoption and Fostering Team).[42]

61. In 1989, another staff member found LA-F8 on a bed with a child (LA-A71).[43] She reported it to the Zephyrine inquiry.

62. In 1989, the assistant manager at South Vale found LA-F8 in a room with LA-A71, who was entirely undressed.[44] Although she should have done so, she did not report this to the Zephyrine inquiry or anyone else until 1992, when LA-F8 was subject to criminal investigation. Her explanation for not reporting it was that the officer in charge (LA-F205) favoured LA-F8 and was not supportive of her.[45] Ms Hudson confirmed that there are records which stated that the manager of South Vale, LA-F205, had a “fascination” with LA-F8.[46]

63. In 1991, LA-F8 was a short-term carer for periods of a week or two for LA-A71. LA-A71 was 14 years old at the time.[47] This was sanctioned by children’s social care, despite concerns already raised about LA-F8.[48]

64. LA-F8 was arrested in November 1992 during Operation Bell’s investigation into South Vale. The Metropolitan Police Service arrested LA-F8 due to evidence from social workers about LA-F8’s conduct towards LA-A71.[49]

65. The child involved (LA-A71) did not make any disclosure during Operation Bell. DI Morley said in evidence that LA-A71 was initially not responsive to questions and that later his social worker informed police that LA-A71 did not want to speak to police. No further action appears to have been taken to obtain an account from LA-A71 and LA-F8 was not charged. DI Morley told us that there is “no rationale for this decision in the Operation Bell files, but it seems likely that it would have been based – at least in part – on the refusal of the complainant to speak with police”.[50]

66. In 1993, a disciplinary process which was held after the completion of a management investigation – based on the same two incidents in which LA-F8 was found with children in wholly inappropriate situations – concluded that LA-F8 was guilty of gross misconduct.[51] The disciplinary panel included Verley Chambers (assistant director of community services) as chair. David Hine (principal manager, children’s homes) was presenting manager. The panel recognised and proceeded on the basis that this was serious misconduct. LA-F8 should have been dismissed, but instead the panel gave him a final written warning with a direction that he should not work with children.[52] LA-F8 remained employed by Lambeth Council (where he then worked with vulnerable adults).

LA-F5

67. LA-F5 worked at Lambeth Council between January 1988 and September 1992, first as a senior residential care officer (until June 1988) and then as an assistant group leader (until October 1989) at South Vale. Between 3 October 1989 and 25 September 1992 he worked as a social worker at Family Finders, the Lambeth Council in-house fostering service.

68. In December 1992, LA-F5 was arrested as part of Operation Bell and charged with sexually abusing LA-A80, who alleged that LA-F5 sexually abused him when he lived at South Vale between 1988 and 1989.[53] LA-A80 would have been eight or nine years old at the time. During Operation Bell, a team leader at South Vale confirmed that “LA-A80 and LA-F5 seemed very close, especially in the mornings”. An assistant unit manager confirmed the same information to the police.[54]

69. LA-A80 gave evidence at the trial of LA-F5 in 1993. LA-A80 found giving evidence “extremely distressing”. The allegations were dismissed when LA-A80 did not want to continue being questioned.[55] At the time LA-A80 was 12 years old, with special educational needs and learning difficulties.[56]

70. Despite the gravity of the allegation and that the trial ended without LA-A80 being able to finish his evidence, there is nothing to suggest that Lambeth Council instituted any form of internal investigation into LA-F5.[57] LA-F5 had been able to resign from being a social worker at Family Finders before the trial, in September 1992. The exact circumstances in which he resigned are not known but it is clear that this was a matter of days after LA-A80 made the allegations of sexual abuse.

Patrick Grant

71. Patrick Grant came to work at South Vale after his acquittal in December 1978 and his qualification as a social worker. He became a manager at South Vale in July 1980 until 16 October 1981.

72. As noted above, in 2015 Paul was convicted of the sexual abuse of LA-A19, who also alleged that he was sexually abused by Grant whilst at South Vale, between 1980 and 1981. LA-A19 would have been 10 years old at the time. He disclosed this to police during a police interview which took place in 2014 as part of Operation Trinity. LA-A19 identified Grant at an identity parade. The investigation into Grant took three years and he was charged in 2018. LA-A19 gave evidence against Grant at his trial in 2019. Grant was convicted of having sexually abused a child from Shirley Oaks. He was acquitted in respect of LA-A19’s allegations.[58]

73. The Inquiry is aware of other individuals who lived at South Vale and who allege that they were sexually abused by Grant.

74. It is clear that LA-F5 (1988–1989), LA-F8 (1988–1991) and Paul (1979–1991) overlapped while working at South Vale. Grant’s employment at South Vale (1980–1981) overlapped with Paul’s employment. The same child alleged that he had been sexually abused by Temple and then by his replacement Grant at Shirley Oaks. LA-A19 alleged that he had been separately sexually abused by Grant and Paul. This evidence demonstrates that children may have been sexually abused by successive carers. It also shows the movement of abusers between homes.

75. There is no direct evidence that any of the care workers at South Vale accused of sexual abuse coordinated sexual abuse or abused children together.[59] Nevertheless, that these staff were all employed at South Vale during a relatively short period in the home’s history suggests that their concurrent employment was more than mere coincidence.[60] It either points to the poor management of South Vale as attracting individuals with a sexual interest in children (or enabling them to remain employed there) or that these men (and possibly their sexual proclivities) were known to each other. It is highly unlikely that the allegations against these individuals and the convictions of Paul reflect the totality of the sexual abuse of children at South Vale.

Other abusers

76. Several witnesses gave evidence to the Inquiry about sexual abuse while they were resident at South Vale.

76.1. LA-A131 described South Vale as a place of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. He said that he was sexually abused by one male member of staff, in the early 1980s, as well as subjected to physical and emotional abuse by another male member of staff.[61]

76.2. LA-A7 told us that he suffered physical and sexual abuse in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He described being indecently assaulted at bath-time by LA-F24. LA-F24 also took him to his flat where a camera was set up, and he would photograph LA-A7 naked.[62]

76.3. LA-A312, who was placed at South Vale and Shirley Oaks, said that he was anally raped and physically abused by a member of staff on three occasions at South Vale. This occurred in the late 1970s. He also met a barber who took him to his shop and took photographs of him naked. He was made to meet other men (including a man in a toilet in Croydon who sexually abused him) and told that, if he did not, the naked photographs would be shown to his family.[63]

References

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