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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

D.3: Failures to investigate sexual offending

LA-F4 and allegations made by young children

43. There are strong grounds for believing that there were other individuals who were working at Angell Road who sexually abused children during the period that Carroll was officer in charge. In particular, there were serious allegations involving three children. In order to protect their identity, we refer to them as Child X, Child Y and Child Z.

43.1. In April 1988, LA-F4’s staff supervisor at Angell Road wrote to Carroll with specific concerns about two children, including Child X. LA-F4 (a residential care worker) was spending a lot of time with Child X (including when he was off duty, on leave or off sick) as well as buying presents for Child X:

He will be there for X night and day. This causes a lot of problems with … other children feeling left out.”[1]

The supervisor also stated that LA-F4 continued to see a number of children after they left Angell Road, undermining staff at those placements and leading to one of those placements breaking down.[2]

43.2. In November 1988, in the course of a therapeutic interview with a care worker at Angell Road (who was unqualified to undertake disclosure interviews with children), a child also made an allegation that suggested that LA-F4 had sexually abused Child X.[3]

43.3. Around the same time, in another therapeutic interview, Child Y (who was less than five years old) described circumstances involving her, LA-F4, another adult and Child X that indicated that she and Child X might have been sexually abused. That such an interview took place at all is troubling. At the time, Child Y was not in care – she spent time at Angell Road on an informal basis and did not appear to have a social worker.[4] The care worker who conducted the interview was not qualified to do so, and yet anatomical dolls were used.[5]

43.4. LA-F4 was suspended in mid-November. He was suspected of being in subsequent contact with Child X, and also went to another children’s home to ask a child to give a statement on his behalf.[6]

43.5. On 18 November, Carroll went to see Child Z alone in her bedroom about LA-F4, and she made a disclosure to him about LA-F4.[7] At the end of November 1988, another child told Carroll that she saw LA-F4 and Child Z kissing and that she had seen LA-F4 go into Child Z’s bedroom.[8]

43.6. Carroll spoke alone to other children who had made allegations, including Child X.[9] On 25 November, Carroll went to see Child X alone, putting Child Y’s disclosure to him (which, according to Carroll, Child X denied). However, Child X did make a disclosure to him about LA-F4 and Child Z.[10]

43.7. On 16 December 1988, there was a meeting between Ms J Durrant (now Dr Kwhali; assistant director children and young persons division from mid 1987 to March 1989), Ms M Ahluwalia (personnel officer) and LA-F4 (and his National and Local Government Officers’ Association [NALGO] representative). This meeting drew together the disclosure made by Child Y and the allegations made in relation to Child Z. Ms Durrant observed that the allegations were serious and unconnected to each other.[11] As set out below, by this date, Ms Durrant and other senior officers within Social Services, including Mr Verley Chambers (assistant director) and Mr Jack Smith (principal officer, social work), knew of Carroll’s conviction. Indeed, they were dealing contemporaneously with the consequences of Wandsworth Council’s refusal to approve the Carrolls’ application to foster.

43.8. In mid-January 1989, Carroll was supposed to see Child Y’s mother about Child Y’s disclosure but said he was unwell and sent another Angell Road staff member. The staff member did not actually have any detail of what might have happened to Child Y.[12]

43.9. By January 1989, a social worker appointed to Child Y’s family realised that Child Y’s mother had not been told, or had not been given a full account, of her child’s disclosure.[13] The social worker telephoned Carroll and, according to his notes, recorded that Carroll first said he had told Child Y’s mother everything and did not understand why she would give the impression that he had not. Thirty minutes later, Carroll called back to say he did not mention anything about adults being involved when he spoke to the mother. The social worker said:

I asked him what exactly was going on and had procedures been followed. He could not tell me why it seemed that, in the two months since the disclosure, nothing had been done”.[14]

43.10. Records gathered as part of the Children’s Homes in Lambeth Enquiry (CHILE) documented that Carroll told others that the police had been contacted at the time about the allegations, but had decided not to proceed with them. He also said that Ms Durrant was dealing with it.[15] At the end of January 1989, the Metropolitan Police Service informed one area manager for Lambeth Council’s social services department that they could not have been told anything about Child Y’s disclosure because they would have spoken to her parents.[16] This gives rise to the real possibility that Carroll was deliberately mis-stating the position.

43.11. In early February 1989, three months after Child Y’s disclosure, there was a planning meeting about her. This was attended by various Lambeth Council Social Services staff including Carroll, a hospital doctor and three representatives from the Metropolitan Police Service. While there was an offer of some assessment for therapeutic work, no child protection case conference was proposed. A police representative said that LA-F4 would not be prosecuted, as there was not enough evidence, and it was too late for them to examine or interview Child Y.[17] A decision was made to close Child Y’s case.[18]

43.12. Despite Child Y’s disclosure raising the possibility of sexual abuse involving two adults and another child, none of the professionals or organisations involved pressed for any further investigation. They did not even see the value of interviewing Child Y, and prejudged that an interview would be of no value. As for Child Z, there were other children who were able to corroborate her account, but this did not lead to any further investigation. Her disclosure was not referred to the police at that time. The different sets of allegations were not dealt with together and treated as raising a single, very serious child protection issue in relation to LA-F4.[19] Again, this was despite the fact that staff already had independent concerns about LA-F4’s relationships with other children, including Child X.

43.13. The Metropolitan Police Service made a premature decision to close the investigation into Child Y’s allegations. Where such serious allegations were made, despite the passage of time, an interview with Child Y was merited. There was also clear evidence that Child Z was being abused, but her case was not considered to even merit investigation.

43.14. Child X’s mother went to an area manager in 1994, alleging that Child X had been sexually abused by LA-F4.[20] It appears the police were involved in child protection meetings. There was no criminal investigation.[21] When CHILE sought to investigate these events in 1998, it was not easily able to locate the files for Child X.[22]

44. These events raise a number of matters of concern.

44.1. No immediate action was taken by Lambeth Council in relation to Child Y’s original disclosure. The need for prompt and careful interviewing of Child Y was obvious. The police may well not have been contacted until some three months after Child Y had made her original disclosure. The police chose not to interview her at that time. As noted above, in light of the gravity of the allegation, this decision was premature. An attempt should have been made to take an account from her.

44.2. The information was not shared by Lambeth Council with the family at the time of the complaint being made by Child Y.

44.3. It appears that Carroll was able to control the investigation into Child Y’s disclosure about LA-F4. LA-F4’s supervisor had specific concerns about LA-F4’s conduct months before any allegations were made against him by children at Angell Road, but Carroll did not act. Carroll managed to hold external involvement – by the police and Lambeth Council more generally – at arm’s length for a significant period of time.[23]

44.4. Similarly, despite the fact that there was corroborative evidence that demonstrated Child Z might be being abused by LA-F4, her case was not subject to investigation by Lambeth Council and not referred to the police.[24] There is no explanation as to why these allegations were not referred to the police, either alone or in conjunction with Child Y’s disclosure.

44.5. The social work team should have taken charge of investigations in 1988 and 1989. The delay in conducting a planning meeting in Child Y’s case, and the consequent decision to close her case because of the time that had elapsed, indicates the unwillingness of senior staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council to prioritise and deal with serious allegations.

44.6. As set out below, by August 1988 it is clear that some senior officers, including Ms Durrant, Mr Smith and Mr Chambers, were aware of Carroll’s conviction for indecent assault and yet Carroll assumed a central role in the investigation into LA-F4.

44.7. No effective action was taken by other senior managers to assess the safety of children at Angell Road. Ms Hudson accepted that Lambeth Council did not question Carroll’s involvement in the investigation into Child Y’s disclosure, despite Carroll’s actions being contrary to proper investigatory procedures. His interviewing of children on his own was, in Ms Hudson’s words, “incredibly inappropriate[25] and “flaunting the requirements … in a very profound way”.[26]

45. Misconduct proceedings were brought against LA-F4 in 1989, on three grounds:

  • sexual abuse of one or more children at Angell Road;
  • an inappropriate relationship between LA-F4 and the parent of one of the children; and
  • behaviour of a sort that was inappropriate given his position as a residential care worker.[27]

These allegations were found by the disciplinary panel to be proven, and LA-F4 was dismissed. This disciplinary panel was made up of staff within social services (Sylvia Medhurst, assistant director) and John Ballatt (principal manager, daycare) and a personnel manager (Yvette Adams). Subsequent to the disciplinary hearing, Sylvia Medhurst raised concerns with David Pope about Carroll’s knowledge of LA-F4 and his role in the case. She stated that Carroll as officer in charge must have known that “something irregular” was happening between LA-F4 and the victim.[28] Ms Medhurst said that she told Mr Pope of her concern and, according to her, Mr Pope said that he would need proof of her concern before he would look into it.

46. LA-F4 appealed. The appeal panel (consisting of Councillors Hunter, Shakespeare and Watson) was only in a position to find the third allegation proved.

47. There were no statements from the children concerned, nor any recorded interviews with them. Although there was some evidence of what children had said, this was set out in statements from staff from the Angell Road home, including Carroll. The appeal panel found that this did not amount to a proper process of gathering evidence specific to the allegations. There was a single taped interview with Child Y, but the appeal panel decided that it was of “no evidential value” because the interview had not been conducted according to “proper disclosure principles”.[29] The interview was carried out by the same care worker from Angell Road who conducted the first interview with Child Y. The appeal panel recorded its concern about the absence of proper procedures for securing the children’s accounts:

It is a sad fact in this case, although the staff concerned do appear to understand the meaning and importance of proper disclosure sessions, none were actually instigated. It is regrettable that for whatever reason outside expert assistance was not forthcoming.[30]

48. The appeal panel made a number of recommendations at the conclusion of the hearing, including that guidance be produced as a matter of urgency “setting out basic rules of evidence” for appeal proceedings. The panel also recommended that the director of social services investigate how disclosure sessions with children were being carried out to ensure that they conformed to legal requirements and that they were being conducted by appropriately qualified persons. LA-F4 was not reinstated at the conclusion of the hearing.

49. The panel found the third allegation proved because LA-F4 admitted to unprofessional conduct. This conduct included buying children presents, kissing and hugging a child and entering the bedrooms of female children at night. The panel recorded it was “very concerned” that this conduct had been:

allowed to continue for a prolonged period without adequate Management action after they had been clearly advised of the concerns of staff in respect of the poor professional standards and behaviour displayed by the appellant”.[31]

50. These findings demonstrate that Carroll failed to act in the face of information that a member of his staff was acting in a disturbing way towards children at Angell Road. Furthermore, the failure to institute a child protection investigation impacted on the findings which were made in the misconduct proceedings.

Other evidence of sexual abuse at Angell Road

51. The situation brought about by the failure to take proactive steps at Angell Road created the ideal opportunity for the sexual abuse of children. Carroll posed a direct risk to children and, as the officer in charge, he was also able to influence the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse made against others. He was able to defer external investigation into LA-F4 in respect of Child Y until the police considered that it was too late to interview her.[32]

52. In 1992, evidence emerged of prior harmful sexual activity between children at Angell Road. There was evidence that three older children had involved a child who was under the age of four years in this. This should have been the subject of an urgent investigation, but this did not take place.[33] Files related to these allegations have been lost. Ms Hudson confirmed to us that “Lambeth is aware” that this was one of a number of incidents whereby files that were potentially relevant to sexual abuse linked to Angell Road went missing.[34] This was not the only incident of missing files that were relevant to child sexual abuse, as set out above in the case of Child X.

Steven Forrest

53. In 1996, LA-A29 (who was in care from two years old) alleged that he had been sexually abused by Steven Forrest. Forrest was a team leader and a senior residential care officer at Angell Road from 1982 until 1991, and died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992.[35]

53.1. Lambeth Council’s failure to respond appropriately to this disclosure – despite its potential gravity and possible broader implications for the health and well-being of the child concerned (as well as other children) – was the subject of the independent Barratt inquiry. John Barratt was appointed by Lambeth Council in December 1998 to examine its response to LA-A29’s allegations about Forrest.

53.2. Mr Barratt was sufficiently concerned about what he discovered in the course of his investigation about LA-A29 that he issued an interim report to Lambeth Council in May 1999. He informed Heather Rabbatts, the chief executive, that he considered it his duty to make this report, referring to his “deep concern about the continuing fractured and ineffective practice of Child Protection by the Lambeth Social Services Department which the inquiry has revealed”.[36] His report, The Lambeth Independent Child Protection Inquiry, 1999, Part 1 (dated September 1999), referred to a “catalogue of organisational incompetence” and characterised the care of LA-A29 as “shocking”.[37] It set out, in extensive detail, a number of failures on the part of Lambeth Council.[38] These may be summarised as Lambeth Council’s failure to care for LA-A29 generally; that he spent almost the entirety of his childhood in the Council’s care; the “practical irrelevance of the Council’s splendid-sounding Child Care Policies of 1982 and 1991” and the failure to respond to LA-A29’s disclosure of sexual abuse (“nothing actually happened. Even when it was subsequently pointed out that nothing had happened, still nothing happened”).[39] Returning to LA-A29, the Barratt Part 1 report found that he made a specific allegation in early 1996 that he had been sexually abused by Forrest. LA-A29 was a young teenager.[40]

53.3. Senior staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council were aware that Forrest had died of an AIDS-related illness, and the question was raised as to whether other children might have been abused.[41] Mr Barratt noted that, despite the existence of genuine concerns, children’s social care “failed as lamentably in relation to wider issues of possible/probable extensive child abuse as it continued to do in relation to LA-A29’s individual care”.[42]

53.4. A planning meeting about LA-A29 was held in February 1996, but the Metropolitan Police Service did not attend.[43] DI Morley said that, as a result, the police missed an opportunity to influence the investigation and to ascertain whether other children might have been abused by Forrest.[44]

53.5. Forrest’s death meant that there would be no criminal investigation into his behaviour. However, as Mr Barratt pointed out, the possibility that more than one child had been abused was “substantial” and “the possibility that a paedophile working in a children’s home might have had associates could not be dismissed”.[45]

53.6. October 1996 marked the end of any attempt by Lambeth Council to respond appropriately to LA-A29’s disclosure. The wider issues raised by the possibility that other children may have been put at risk “lay untouched” and nothing was achieved in response to LA-A29.[46] No child protection investigation took place.[47] The matter remained dormant until the allegations were discovered by Operation Care (the criminal investigation into Carroll) in 1998.

53.7. Mr Barratt also wrote a final report (of 24 October 2000), which set out his broader conclusions about the operation of Lambeth Council’s social services department. Among his conclusions were: Lambeth Council had repeatedly failed to fulfil its statutory duties and its own policy objectives towards children; it had failed, for over a decade, to create and control an effective social services department; and the Council’s chain of command had decayed and disintegrated.[48]

54. It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of Lambeth Council’s failure to respond to LA-A29’s allegations. In addition to sexual abuse, there were significant possible implications for the health and well-being of LA-A29 (and potentially other children) at Angell Road.

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