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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


C.3: Case study: Ivy House

6. In 1984, LA-A26 – a teenage girl with learning difficulties and autism – started visiting Ivy House for short-stay care. In December 1985, LA-A26 told her mother that she had been sexually abused by LA-F12, the assistant officer in charge at Ivy House. LA-H3, LA-A26’s mother, told us that:

She indicated that the perpetrator was a particular male member of staff at Ivy House. She could tell us the person’s name clearly. She told us exactly what happened and where. Touching her vagina, then her mouth, she indicated that a sexual act had been performed on her. She also told me that the man had put his penis in her mouth.”[1]

7. The following day, LA-H3 informed a social worker, Ms Anne Worthington, of her daughter’s allegation. Ms Worthington in turn reported the matter to senior management.[2] LA-F12 was put on ‘special leave’ and the Metropolitan Police Service was contacted.[3] An initial internal investigation was carried out by Mr Don Thomas (the senior children’s homes officer) who was responsible for all children’s homes, Pat Salter (another children’s homes officer) and a personnel officer.[4] Mr Thomas had responsibility for children’s homes and was not an appropriate investigator. He was also subsequently dismissed in 1987 for his role in a fraud which involved diverting food donated to children’s homes to staff, who then sold it on.[5] This investigation did not seek evidence from LA-A26 or LA-H3. Its five-page report stated that there were “very real questions over LA-A26’s ability to verbalise sentences” and that “it was considered very unlikely that any member of staff (male or female) would be in a position to act privately with LA-A26”. The panel concluded that they “could not find any suggestion to proceed with the charge”.[6]

8. The police investigation commenced shortly afterwards.

8.1. Interviewing LA-A26 in the presence of LA-H3 and Ms Worthington, the police officer noted that LA-A26:

was unable to communicate properly and incapable of forming a complete sentence … It was quite obvious that LA-A26 could never give any evidence in a court of law”.[7]

8.2. LA-F12 was interviewed by the police on two occasions, and “strongly denied the allegation”.[8]

8.3. The police concluded there was no evidence to indicate a further investigation and that the matter would not be pursued.[9] The Crown Prosecution Service advised that “it is not possible to proceed against him in view of the inability of the alleged victim to give evidence” and “there is no corroboration in the way of medical evidence”.[10] The Metropolitan Police Service confirmed that the matter would not be pursued.

9. LA-F12 returned to his post at Ivy House. In January 1986, Mr Robin Osmond (director of social services from 1977 to 1988) wrote to the parents of all children using Ivy House. He stated that neither the police nor the internal investigation had found evidence to support the allegations, and that he hoped “that this letter will now put an end to any rumours or speculation”.[11]

10. LA-H3 said that, at the time, she:

felt strongly that the matter had not been investigated properly. I felt that we, as a family, were not taken seriously and Lambeth would rather save the reputation of the man involved and cover up what happened to my daughter than conduct a full investigation into such a serious matter. I felt at the time, and still do, that due to LA-A26’s mental disability, the matter was brushed under the carpet.[12]

Neither senior managers at Lambeth Council in its initial internal investigation nor the Metropolitan Police Service took any active steps to secure expert assistance to facilitate communication with LA-A26. Mr Osmond later recognised (in March 1987) that the failure to meet with the parents of LA-A26 was a “fundamental error” and, more generally, that an attitude by staff and middle management that discounted the possibility of a member of staff being involved in abuse was naive; “my concern is how we do something about it in the future”.[13] Mr Thomas, who was in charge of children’s homes, should not have been placed in charge of the initial internal investigation. It should have been investigated by someone from social care who was not responsible for residential homes.

11. In January 1986, LA-A26’s parents instructed lawyers to make a formal complaint, demanding a full enquiry and seeking the suspension of LA-F12 pending its outcome. Councillor Lady Janet Boateng (chair of the Social Services Committee from May 1982 to April 1986) intervened on the family’s behalf, and it was agreed in March 1986 that a formal enquiry would be established.[14] It was accepted by Mr Osmond that the composition of the panel of officers for the initial internal investigation had been inadequate, lacking both a race relations adviser and any person with specialist knowledge of child sexual abuse. Further, it was accepted that the focus of the investigation had been too limited, considering only the last visit of LA-A26 to Ivy House and failing to interview her parents.[15] Ms Waveney Williams (a senior social services manager at Lambeth Council) was appointed as chair, assisted by two panel members, a race relations adviser and an independent adviser with specialist knowledge of child sexual abuse.[16] Over 14 days in June 1986, the enquiry heard from a number of witnesses, including Ivy House staff. Dr Lorna Wing, a psychiatric consultant and expert in autism, said that LA-A26 was from a group of autistic children who did not invent. She also confirmed that LA-A26 had “very clear and accurate speech and quite a large vocabulary”, although she noted that “you have to know and understand LA-A26 to communicate with her fully”.[17] Mrs Ann Bannister (an independent expert in child sexual abuse from the NSPCC), who interviewed LA-A26, told the enquiry that:

Because of what LA-A26 has said and demonstrated to me, I am quite sure that she has been sexually abused … In my experience of disclosures by children, LA-A26’s demonstration was extremely detailed and convincing.[18]

The enquiry concluded in August 1986 that LA-A26 suffered sexual abuse by LA-F12 on more than one occasion at Ivy House.[19]

12. In light of this, disciplinary proceedings were brought against LA-F12 for gross misconduct.[20] Following a three-day hearing in September 1986, the disciplinary panel concluded – by a majority of two to one – that there was a high probability that LA-A26 had been abused and that this could have happened at Ivy House, but that misconduct had not been “satisfactorily proven”.[21] One panel member, Mr Jack Smith (principal officer, social work) “felt that the management case had proved that abuse was possible at Ivy House, but he still felt it was highly improbable”, noting that “the risk of detection was incredibly high” and that “there was still a possibility in his mind that the abuse could have occurred at home. He felt that the management had not investigated the alternative places very fully”.[22] The disciplinary panel rejected the conclusions of the earlier enquiry, but the record of its deliberations did not demonstrate it engaged in detailed consideration of the evidence presented, including that of Dr Wing. It also does not appear to have taken legal advice about issues such as hearsay and the weight to be placed on evidence raised on behalf of LA-F12. The disciplinary panel’s race relations adviser subsequently referred to the decision as “unreasonable and perverse”.[23] The disciplinary panel failed to give due regard to the available evidence, including from LA-A26, and to the gravity of allegations of sexual abuse against a vulnerable child inside a children’s home.

13. Despite the disciplinary panel concluding that abuse could have occurred at Ivy House, senior staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council did not take action to review the safeguarding in place at Ivy House or more widely. Instead, in November 1986, a ‘review panel’ (chaired by Mr Millius Palayiwa, a race relations adviser to Lambeth Council) was created to review arrangements for the investigation of allegations of sexual assault, and to consider improvements to management and supervisory systems.[24] It found that “no system currently exists which facilitates a client making a complaint against a member of staff in a way which guarantees impartial investigation and in a way which protects the complainant”.[25] The review panel interim report recommendations (dated June 1987) included:

  • developing a written complaints procedure, impartial panels and social worker support for the alleged victim and family;
  • the immediate suspension of a member of staff against whom an allegation had been made;
  • a homes manager responsible for personal supervision and professional development of officers in charge of children’s homes, and for a full-scale review of each establishment four times a year;
  • increased staff training on child sexual abuse;
  • exploring the possibility of establishing, in conjunction with other South London boroughs, a child sexual abuse unit aimed at achieving an effective and coordinated approach to the issue.[26]

Mr Palayiwa submitted the review panel interim report to the chief executive, Mr Arthur John George, and considered that it was for the chief executive to take steps to publish it.[27]

14. Mr George did not publish the review panel interim report. One of the three special panel members disagreed with some aspects of the review panel interim report, which prevented it being finalised, and it appears sufficient steps were not taken to resolve this.[28] We have seen no evidence that the review panel interim report was circulated formally within Lambeth Council, including to elected councillors. No councillor who gave evidence to the Inquiry had read it. Councillor Phyllis Dunipace, who was chair of the Social Services Committee from 1986 and had expressed concerns about how LA-A26’s complaint had been handled, was aware of the commissioning of the special panel.[29] She also advised councillors that any recommendations of the special panel be made available for public disclosure. This did not happen.[30] Mr Osmond was aware of the concerns of the special panel and of “uncertainty” regarding the publication of the review panel interim report.[31]

15. One of the review panel members, Mr William Theaker (now deceased) also attempted to pursue “grave concerns” about the consideration of complaints of child sexual abuse at Ivy House and Monkton Street.[32] Those concerns included the role of the police (in particular in relation to medical examinations of children), potential collusion of staff members which might have contributed to the initial dismissal of the case against LA-F12 and the ongoing employment of LA-F12.[33] Mr Theaker raised these concerns with the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) in 1987, which in turn discussed them with Mr Osmond.[34] Mr Osmond accepted at the July 1987 meeting with the SSI that the initial investigation by Mr Thomas into LA-F12 had been superficial and unsatisfactory. He also noted that the officer in charge of Ivy House was part of the food fraud in which the chair of the investigation, Mr Thomas, was also implicated. This pointed to collusion.[35] Mr David Lambert, the chief inspector of the SSI, commented to Mr Theaker in November 1987 that:

The uncertainty about the publication of the report could be seen by some as further reason for an anxiety or concern about the willingness of the Social Services Department to act responsibly in these and future instances of a similar nature.[36]

However, other than meeting with Mr Osmond, it appears that no action was taken by the SSI to monitor publication of the review panel interim report or to consider any underlying concerns identified by its own chief inspector.

16. The review panel interim report was never published nor its findings and recommendations acted on. It was not until the Inquiry contacted Mr Palayiwa in 2020 that the copy of the review panel interim report he lodged at the Bodleian Library came to light.[37] Lambeth Council was unable to find any copy of the review panel interim report during the disclosure process in this investigation.

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