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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


D.2: Michael John Carroll: a sexual offender

3. Carroll became a full-time member of staff at St Edmund’s Orphanage, Liverpool in the early 1970s. He had been a child in care there.[1] From March 1978, he worked at Lambeth Council’s Highland Road children’s home. He was made the officer in charge of Angell Road children’s home on its opening in 1981, and remained there for the next 10 years.

4. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1975, which makes provision for the circumstances in which offences become spent, is subject to a number of exceptions. These are set out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (as amended). In 1978, one exception was employment by a local authority in connection with the provision of social services enabling the holder to have access to children. Such employment required disclosure of convictions even if they were considered spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.[2] Carroll had a conviction in 1966 for the indecent assault of a child.[3] Carroll did not disclose it to Lambeth Council, as required, in his application form.[4] A check made by Lambeth Council with the Department of Health did not bring the conviction to light.[5] Consequently Lambeth Council was not aware of his conviction at the time of his original application or his application in respect of Angell Road.

5. In July 1999, Carroll was convicted of the sexual abuse of two boys in the care of Lambeth Council between 1980 and 1983, as well as nine boys from St Edmund’s Orphanage in the 1960s and 1970s. The indictment before the court contained 76 counts relating to offences of child sexual abuse. Carroll pleaded guilty to 34 charges and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.[6]

1986: awareness of Carroll’s conviction

6. Between 1985 and 1986, Carroll and his wife (who worked at the Highland Road children’s home) sought to foster a child in the care of Croydon Council.

7. During checks in its fostering process Croydon Council identified that Carroll had a conviction for the sexual abuse of a child from 1966 which he had not disclosed to Croydon.[7] Croydon Council rejected the Carrolls as foster carers for three reasons:

  • The standards which applied in employing staff in residential childcare should apply equally to family placements. (In other words, if Croydon Council would not employ a convicted abuser to work in a children’s home, it would not permit them to foster a child.)
  • Carroll had not disclosed the conviction to Croydon Council prior to it obtaining references.
  • Croydon Council’s “responsibilities in placing a child ‘in trust’ in a family setting, precludes the nature of the risk in this case.[8] (We understand that what Croydon Council meant by this was simply that it owed responsibilities to the child in question, and the risk of placing the child with the Carrolls was too great.)

These reasons were communicated orally to the Carrolls on 21 January 1986 and then in writing on 5 February 1986.[9]

8. Croydon Council also told Carroll that they would inform Lambeth Council about his conviction. They gave him a month to inform Lambeth Council first.[10] Against that background, it appears that, at some point, Carroll told Mr Don Thomas (the senior children’s homes officer) about his conviction, who in turn told Mr Robin Osmond, the director of social services.[11]

9. This appears to have taken place prior to Croydon sending a letter dated April 1986 informing Lambeth Council about the 1966 conviction.[12] Consequently there was a period of time between early February 1986 and April 1986 when Lambeth Council officers were likely to have been aware of Carroll’s conviction. Lambeth Council waited for the letter from Croydon Council before charging Carroll with misconduct offences.[13]

Disciplinary action

10. The information from Croydon Council led to disciplinary action being taken against Carroll by Lambeth Council for misconduct. The charges were set out in a letter of 22 April 1986 and the hearing commenced on 19 May 1986. Carroll was not suspended during the disciplinary process.[14] The two grounds for misconduct were:

  • Carroll’s failure to declare the conviction under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in his applications to Lambeth Council in 1978 and 1980; and
  • that as an officer in charge of a children’s home, these actions undermined the trust that Lambeth Council placed in him.[15]

Lambeth Council did not treat the conviction itself as a ground for misconduct. Nor did it treat Carroll’s dishonesty in withholding the conviction from Croydon Council as a ground for misconduct.

11. In May 1986, Mr Thomas presented the management case against Carroll to a panel of two senior members of staff – Mr David Pope, then assistant director personal services (social work services), and Mr Gerallt Wynford-Jones, senior personnel officer.[16] It appears that little investigation took place in the approximately five weeks between notification in April and the disciplinary hearing in May, including in relation to Carroll’s conviction. Mr Pope, the chair of the disciplinary panel, asked Mr Thomas “if he had checked further into the nature of the offence”, but Mr Thomas “only had the information contained in the letters from Croydon dated 10th and 15th April”.[17] He stated that, because of the length of time that had elapsed since the conviction, the conviction was not the basis of the management case.[18] In his view, the sexual offence committed in 1966 “would not necessarily have precluded Mr Carroll from being shortlisted for the posts”.[19] The misconduct charge was based on Carroll’s failure to disclose the offence; he had contravened policy in not declaring his conviction under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Further, his failure to disclose the information “breached the trust placed in him by the Council, particularly because the offence is directly relevant to the work which he undertakes”.[20]

12. Carroll told the disciplinary panel that the “incident” had taken place when he was 17 years old in the children’s home in which he had been a resident (in fact the offence took place when he was visiting the home after he had left). He said that they had been “larking around grabbing each other’s testicles” while changing for a football match. He said that the mother of one of the boys “pursued” a charge.[21] He explained that he “did not disclose his conviction … as he had worked previously in a social services setting”.[22]

13. At the conclusion of the hearing, the disciplinary panel found that the first charge was proven.[23] As for the second charge, regarding trust and confidence, the panel:

had made a note of statements made in mitigation and so had not been able to reach a decision in respect of the second charge until management had obtained information from the relevant statutory authorities and confirmed Mr Carroll’s statements about the incident.[24]

14. Further information was received from Merseyside Police in July 1986. This stated that Carroll returned to his former children’s home and:

Entered a bedroom of a 12 years [sic] old boy and tickled him then pulled his pyjamas down and played with his penis.[25]

Despite this description of the offence contradicting Carroll’s account of it during the misconduct hearing, the minutes of a further hearing in July 1986 recorded that the information differed only “slightly”.[26]

15. The disciplinary panel also received information from Carroll’s former referees, who both seriously minimised the significance of Carroll’s sexual offence.[27] One referee, Mr McHugh, said that Carroll, as the “oldest boy” present at the time:

had to take responsibility for something quite harmless, which should have been dealt with on the spot … The organisation of St Edmund’s did not take the matter seriously”.[28]

16. The other (we understand to have been a nun) who was in charge of the St Edmund’s home at the time of the offence, said that:

John suffered the consequences of what happened namely boys larking about … I think it is very sad that he has now to have a fault of twenty years standing put before him, a fault that should be now spent and forgotten”.[29]

While both had been Carroll’s original referees in 1978, Mr Pope told this Inquiry that the disciplinary panel did not know this.[30]

17. The hearing was adjourned again until August 1986, when the second charge was also found proven.[31] The disciplinary panel imposed a final written warning:

We have taken into account the mitigating factors … we have viewed your criminal offence in the context of your age at that time and the fact that you were in care and the detailed circumstances of that offence. Additionally there is no evidence of any other offences or incidents of a similar nature, or managerial concern regarding your conduct and relationships with children placed in our care during your 8 years of service … [32]

18. There were a number of obvious weaknesses in the misconduct process.

18.1. Given the potential risk to children in care, there should have been a more rigorous investigation into Carroll by Mr Thomas. Having employed a man with a conviction for the sexual assault of a child to run a children’s home, Mr Pope should have considered the risk that he posed to children. Mr Pope told us “at the time we felt, on balance, that he was not a risk to children”.[33] The disciplinary panel lacked any foundation for that conclusion.

18.2. The way the hearing developed should have been a cause of concern for Mr Pope and Mr Wynford-Jones. By the time of the first hearing, Mr Thomas had not investigated the underlying facts of the conviction, despite having had some weeks to do so. Throughout the misconduct process, he did not make any of the points that he might have been expected to make (such as the fundamental breach of trust represented by a failure to declare a conviction). On the contrary, he presented the case in a way which was favourable to Carroll.[34] In his evidence to us, Mr Pope said that he and Mr Wynford-Jones:

were concerned that the case was being presented as if – almost in a way it was just going to be dealt with without any further information being gathered or without any real scrutiny. I mean, he hadn’t been suspended from duty when the offence came up, and it did appear that management were not pursuing a particularly strident line”.[35]

18.3. There is little evidence of any such concern reflected in the notes of the hearing or the questions asked by the disciplinary panel.[36] For example, Carroll was not challenged about the different answers he gave about why he had failed to disclose the conviction, or about his suggestion that he did not understand the basic requirements of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The question ‘do you have a conviction?’ does not require an understanding of the legislation but a willingness to be truthful. Mr Pope admitted that the disciplinary panel gave greater weight to Carroll’s account than to the objective evidence before it:

Yes, there is no doubt about that, because it’s crystal clear we did, but what we did was, we talked – we got information from the nuns and the staff who were looking after him to see if this behaviour that he was describing was something that was taking place in the home, and they confirmed it was. So, ultimately, yes, we did. We took his explanation of it, rather than what the charge said, yes.[37]

18.4. At the time of the offence, Carroll was 18 years old. This was clear from the record of his conviction (which showed the date of the offence and that it was before a magistrates’ court not a juvenile court).[38] Mr Pope said that the disciplinary panel accepted Carroll’s assertion that he was 17 years old, rather than calculating or establishing it themselves; he said that “in my head for a long time, when I talked about it, I thought he was 17 and a half”.[39] Mr Osmond – despite having been sent as director of social services the record of Carroll’s offence by Wirral Magistrates’ Court – also told the Inquiry that “My understanding was that he was 17. But that’s only my understanding”.[40] These senior staff failed to establish the basic fact of Carroll’s age at the time of the offence or to investigate Carroll’s account.

18.5. When asked by Mr Pope whether there had ever been any reason to question Carroll’s behaviour, Mr Thomas said there was “none whatsoever”.[41] However, an anonymous letter received by Lambeth Council’s social services department in 1984 referred to Carroll as a “dictatorial autocrat” who, for example, treated in 1993 items such as the home’s minibus as though they were his, and required staff to do laundry and cook for teenage boys who were no longer in care.[42] Mr Pope confirmed to us that this was the sort of letter that would be kept in a personnel file.[43] Mr Richard Clough, former chief executive of the Social Care Association, led an independent inquiry in 1993 into Lambeth Council’s retention of Carroll; see Part G). The Clough report referred to the letter having been misfiled. It was, however, made available to Mr Clough.[44] It is difficult to understand how that letter could have been made available in 1993 to Mr Clough but not to the misconduct hearing in 1986. If Mr Thomas was aware of it, he did not mention it to the disciplinary panel.[45]

19. The 1986 misconduct proceedings against Carroll were clearly inadequate. There was little real investigation by Mr Thomas or by the disciplinary panel of Carroll’s conviction, and no substantive consideration given to the potential risk Carroll posed to children in Lambeth Council’s care. Carroll sought to minimise the offence and the lack of rigour from Mr Thomas and the disciplinary panel (Mr Pope and Mr Wynford-Jones) enabled him to do so.

20. Carroll failed to declare the conviction twice to Lambeth Council. He also failed to declare the conviction to another local authority in the context of a fostering application. He actively misled both. Mr Clough confirmed that the normal response to someone who falsified or failed to declare a conviction in this context would be summary dismissal.[46]

21. The panel’s decision to retain Carroll was made relying on their subjective assessment of Carroll and what they thought about the position. The panel failed to make an objective judgement about his continued employment based on the clear evidence of Carroll’s dishonesty and the risk he presented to children. The decision was blatantly wrong and Carroll should have been summarily dismissed.

22. In its written warning, the panel wrote:

The disciplinary panel acting on behalf of the authority has the responsibility to ensure that any identified risk of abuse to the children in our care from our own staff is eliminated.[47]

Far from eliminating risk, the decision by Lambeth Council to retain Carroll in 1986 (and its subsequent failure to monitor him in the light of his conviction) resulted in children at the Angell Road children’s home remaining at risk of sexual abuse from him.

Institutional response to the misconduct proceedings

23. A number of individuals within Lambeth Council were aware of Carroll’s conviction at the time of the misconduct proceedings or soon thereafter.

24. After the 1986 misconduct hearing, Councillor Phyllis Dunipace (chair of the Social Services Committee) was told about at least some of its conclusions by Mr Osmond. In oral evidence to the Inquiry, she said the following:

A: He [Mr Osmond]would have told me after the disciplinary.

Q: What did he tell you? Can you remember?

A: That there had been a disciplinary and that he’d been given – that he [Carroll] hadn’t been dismissed.

Q: Did he tell you about the sexual offence that Michael Carroll had committed?

A: I don’t recollect the detail. I presume he [Mr Osmond] did, but I don’t recollect the detail.[48]

No one appears to have pursued as an issue of concern that a convicted child sexual offender was working in a children’s home.

25. Carroll remained in charge of the Angell Road home for a further five years. His conviction did not surface again until after he was dismissed in July 1991 for fraud.[49] Carroll appealed against the dismissal, and Councillor Anna Tapsell was appointed to hear the appeal in 1992.[50] The papers she received as part of that appeal made no mention of Carroll’s prior final written warning.[51] She told the Inquiry that she learned of his conviction for child sexual abuse from someone at Wandsworth Social Services.[52]

26. It is clear from documentation at the time that Councillor Tapsell had “major concerns[53] about the decision to retain Carroll and to allow him to continue in his position. She wrote to David Lambert, assistant chief inspector at the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) in September 1992, stating:

In allowing John Carroll to continue working at Angell Road the department put him in a terribly vulnerable position. I happen to believe that they also put children at unnecessary risk.[54]

27. The question was raised by the SSI as to whether, in the light of this information, children who had been in the care of Carroll ought to be interviewed.[55] Lambeth Council suggested at a meeting with the SSI in October 1992 that, rather than instigate a child protection investigation, “under cover of a research project” it would send children a questionnaire about their experience in care. To that end, it identified “3 dozen” children to approach.[56]

28. David Pope sent a memo in November 1992 to Jim Carlton (a principal officer within the Social Services Department) about this questionnaire:

You will be aware of the need for this matter to be immediately progressed in view of recent correspondence and the inevitable meeting for DSS in late November to explain action (or lack of it by DSS). It would be extremely helpful to me if the list of identified children had been sent the very simple questionnaire by late November which allowed for them to respond and agree to an informal meeting. Please do all you can to help in this timescale”.[57]

29. In a statement to Operation Middleton, Mr Carlton said that he created a questionnaire which was sent out to about 20 ex-residents of Angell Road asking whether they had any concerns whilst they had been in care. He sent these by post to their last known addresses. As far as Mr Carlton was aware, one former resident responded to the questionnaire and made contact.[58] DI Morley was unable to find records of the questionnaire to confirm the situation regarding any responses.[59]

30. This work of seeking responses to questionnaires was apparently superseded by investigations into the death of Mia Gibelli and South Vale children’s home.[60] When questioned by the Inquiry, Mr Pope was unable to recall this questionnaire and Ms Hudson stated that she did not think that it went anywhere.[61] This exemplifies how Lambeth Council dealt with external scrutiny. As John Rowlands, assistant chief inspector at the SSI noted:

I would have thought the possibility of undiscovered abuse having taken place in a Lambeth children’s home would have made that a considerable priority for the Council’s attention … there is the danger of the SSD’s management not taking the right steps because of being compromised by their earlier incompetencies a familiar phenomenon in residential child care.[62]

Instead, in the face of proper concern that children may have been at risk at Angell Road, the questionnaire appears to have been no more than an effort to appease the SSI. It did not, for a moment, constitute a serious attempt to ascertain whether children had been abused.

31. After the disciplinary process concluded in 1986, neither Mr Pope nor Mr Osmond took any steps to reduce the risk Carroll might pose to children. Lambeth Council did not move him to a different position within social services, review his management of Angell Road, review the well-being of children there or monitor the home.

32. Instead, Carroll retained distinct responsibilities for carrying out a form of work with children at Angell Road that was claimed to be therapeutic in nature and was referred to as ‘direct work’. Senior staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council also supported and facilitated Carroll and his wife having access to specific children they wished to foster and allowed him to play a key role in the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse against other members of staff at Angell Road.

Direct work

33. Direct work was “an attempt to ensure that children could be encouraged to express themselves and talk about what their own feelings were”.[63] It included “intensive preventative work, intensive creative rehabilitation programmes, and careful work at depth in preparing children for adoption”.[64] The Inquiry was told that it was conducted on a one-to-one basis between the social worker and the child.[65] Direct work was described as “a greatly neglected area in Lambeth.[66]

34. In 1984, Helena Allen (a social worker) and Carroll proposed that the staff flat at Angell Road be used as a site for residential staff from the home and field social work staff to do ‘direct work’ with children.[67] It was intended to be a shared resource for Area 3 social workers and Angell Road staff.[68]

35. The Inquiry has not seen written confirmation that this proposal was officially approved or that any implementation plan existed. However, Mrs Valerie Suebsaeng, a team leader in the social services department, confirmed that Carroll set up a direct work centre at Angell Road, with a special room set aside at Angell Road for this purpose.[69]

36. Whilst direct work included play, it was claimed to be therapeutic in nature. There was specific reference to it including techniques that were a form of psychotherapy.[70] Contemporary records listed equipment such as toys, arts materials and baby equipment.[71] Councillor Clare Whelan visited Angell Road twice between 1991 and 1994, and on one occasion the member of staff who showed her around said that “grown up people had crawled around that room in nappies”. The member of staff also picked up two anatomical dolls and placed them in a sexual position.[72]

37. Ms Hudson told us that direct work “needed to be undertaken by really well-trained and well-supervised people”.[73] However, by 1988, the majority of staff at Angell Road had undertaken only basic training on direct work with children. This included Steven Forrest, accused of sexually abusing children when employed at Angell Road, and LA-F4.[74] Despite this, they practised with individual children – for example, to develop techniques to enable children through play to ventilate feelings of grief, loss and anger.[75]

38. Direct work was carried out unsupervised, on a one-to-one basis.[76] As a result, and as recognised by Ms Hudson, Carroll and other members of staff were given “carte blanche” to do direct work with children “without any of the kind of checks and balances and oversight” that would be expected.[77] This created an obvious risk of emotional and psychological harm to children. It also provided an obvious opportunity for sexual abuse.

39. Some concern was raised about Carroll in respect of this work. Carroll attended an advanced social work course in 1986 or 1987, and was required to submit a piece of work related to working with a child. Carroll showed Ms Allen photographs of his work with a child. One picture showed the child wearing only underpants. Ms Allen regarded it as unusual, and Carroll’s tutor on the course also spoke to Ms Allen about it because she thought it was inappropriate.[78] Carroll told Ms Allen that the reason the child was undressed was due to hot weather.[79] Ms Allen was no longer employed as a social worker by Lambeth Council at this time and there is no evidence that she communicated these concerns, including to senior staff in Lambeth Council.

40. In a report of January 1990 in Mr Pope’s name (as director of social services) it was recommended that Angell Road specialise in working with “children who had suffered abuse, and emotionally damaged young people requiring ‘longer term work’”.[80] Mr Pope told us that he did not recall connecting Carroll’s conviction with this proposed change in Angell Road’s functions.[81] He said:

if it had registered, I would still not have thought that wasn’t appropriate, because I did not believe at the time that he was a risk to children. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be there in the first place.[82]

41. It appears that there were also children who spent time at Angell Road during the day despite not being in care and without any formal process or criteria for admission. Ms Hudson accepted that this was:

a very haphazard … bordering on irregular, kind of mechanism by which children came to be there, for what, for how long, and so on. So it is kind of odd. At certain points external managers who were kind of coming in new were sort of saying, ‘What is this about?’, and nobody has a kind of good answer.[83]

Children from the Highland Road home stayed at Angell Road occasionally.[84] As discussed in Part E, LA-A23 also stayed at Angell Road with his foster carer (who had been dismissed as a teacher for gross indecency with children).[85] Children whose presence at Angell Road lacked any formal framework, and whose selection for being there was open to question, were very vulnerable. Their presence also suggests that Carroll was selecting children to spend time in the home.

42. Baroness Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health between April 1992 and 1995, agreed that permitting direct work with vulnerable children in a children’s home run by a man with a conviction for the sexual assault of a child “beggars belief”.[86]


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