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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

D.4: Carroll’s fostering applications

55. The Inquiry is aware of several attempts by Carroll and his wife to foster children. The first related to an 11-year-old boy in the care of Croydon Council, an application that was refused in February 1986 and brought Carroll’s conviction to light.

56. Another attempt to foster was made in respect of two children in the care of Lambeth Council who were living at Angell Road in 1986.[1] Mrs Suebsaeng, the social worker for these children, explained that the Carrolls were not subject to any formal process of assessment related to fostering them. They were interviewed in order to determine whether or not they should be formally assessed.[2] Lambeth Council decided not to proceed with a formal assessment, preferring another family who offered the children a permanent home. The application was therefore not referred to an independent local authority for assessment.[3] According to Mrs Suebsaeng, Carroll argued strongly against the decision not to place the children with him and his wife.[4]

The Wandsworth assessment

57. In addition, in 1987 the Carrolls sought to foster two other boys who lived at Highland Road children’s home, where Carroll’s wife worked, after they developed a relationship with them.[5]

58. Carroll asked Mrs Suebsaeng for a reference in support of his application to foster. Despite Carroll having told her about his conviction and about the misconduct proceedings, she provided the reference supporting the application. Mrs Suebsaeng told us that Carroll “minimised” the offence and was “grooming” her.[6] She said that at the time she was balancing knowledge of the criminal conviction “against the fact … that this had happened 20 years previous, that John had actually been a child in care himself and was expressing a wish to give something back to children in care” and her own experience of him as “committed and popular in the area she worked in”.[7] She also stated that she spoke to Mr Pope, who confirmed that Carroll had been given a full written warning but was allowed to continue to work.[8] Nevertheless Mrs Suebsaeng should have applied professional judgement to the provision of a reference based on all of the information available to her. It was a poor decision to provide a reference and when doing so Mrs Suebsang did not adequately consider the risk Carroll posed to children. She accepted in her evidence to the Inquiry that it was “the wrong decision”.[9]

59. Ms Hudson explained that during the 1980s there was a general agreement across Greater London that it was not appropriate for authorities to undertake assessments of their own staff to be approved as foster carers; other local authorities would undertake the assessments with a view to ensuring objectivity. In 1981, there was an established practice that Wandsworth Council and Lambeth Council would undertake this work on behalf of each other’s authority. Lambeth Council asked Wandsworth Council to carry out the assessment of the Carrolls.[10]

60. In 1987, the case was referred to Ms Bernadette Khan, a Wandsworth Council social worker, by Ms Brenda Jones, principal officer for the Lambeth Adoption and Fostering Unit. In the early 1970s, Ms Khan had been a co-opted member of the Lambeth Social Services Committee. She was not elected and had no political powers but was able to attend meetings and carry out visits to children’s homes. This included Shirley Oaks.[11] Ms Khan said that Ms Jones “reported the application to be a fait accompli” – the children already spent weekends and holidays in the Carrolls’ home and Lambeth Council was supportive of the application.[12]

61. Records demonstrate that Lambeth Council staff sought to interfere with the independent assessment.

61.1. In March 1988, Ms Khan made the following note:

Brief discussion with Alison Barraball, Principal Officer, who had already had discussions with Brenda Jones, Principal Officer, Lambeth Adoption and Fostering Unit, as to the complications of the case and which Panel the report should be submitted to. It has been suggested and agreed in joint discussions between Brenda Jones and Jack Smith, Chair of Lambeth Adoption and Fostering Panel, that my report state against police reference ‘satisfactory’ and Jack Smith will take personal responsibility for dealing with the matter at his Panel”.[13]

This suggests that Wandsworth Council officers were being invited to make a dishonest entry on a report to a fostering panel, and to have the case dealt with at a Lambeth Council, not Wandsworth Council, fostering panel.

61.2. Ms Khan recorded in her notes that she had:

Expressed my concern about the case in general, in particular Mr Carroll’s denial of the incident, and the direction given by Lambeth personnel in dealing with the police reference matter, which I found unprofessional and irresponsible, given our responsibilities towards children in care as their guardians. I have stated I would not be prepared to collude with such disgraceful professional practice.”[14]

This concern was raised with Alison Barraball, Miss Khan’s supervisor and principal officer (fostering) Wandsworth.

61.3. Mr Jack Smith, the principal officer for social work, admitted that he asked for the telephone call to Wandsworth Council to be made.[15] He also confirmed that he had written a note supporting the Carrolls’ application, even though, as chair of the Lambeth Council Foster Panel, he should have been neutral about this application.[16] As the Clough report concluded, Mr Smith “should not have become involved in this particular case in the way that he did and his professional behaviour during this time is a cause for regret and concern.[17] Mr Smith was asked by the Inquiry to explain these (and other) actions under rule 9 of the Inquiries Rules 2006. Mr Smith declined to do so, and as he lives abroad he could not be compelled to provide a statement.

62. It appears that Carroll provided Wandsworth Council with information about the conviction. He gave Ms Khan a similar account to that which he had given to his misconduct hearing. Ms Khan saw the record of conviction and challenged Carroll “with the police report stating that the incident took place in a bedroom”.[18] In her evidence before us, she referred to Carroll’s “repeated dishonesty relating to the facts surrounding his conviction”.[19]

63. The Wandsworth Council adoption and fostering panel rejected the Carrolls as foster carers at a hearing in August 1988, with its reasons including that Carroll needed to come to terms with his conviction.[20] After this, there were “quite a number of telephone calls” between the two councils.[21]

64. Lambeth Council was made informally aware of Wandsworth Council’s decision not to approve the Carrolls as foster carers.[22] Confirmation was delayed until December 1988 (because Wandsworth Council considered that it needed the permission of the Carrolls to provide this information).[23]

65. Ms Patricia Orton became an area manager in Lambeth Social Services in 1987. She reported to Jack Smith, who in turn reported to the assistant director, Verley Chambers. She became involved in the children’s case because she was the manager of their social worker. On 31 August 1988, Ms Orton wrote to Jack Smith (principal officer, social work), copying the letter to Ms Constantia Pennie (principal manager adoption and fostering), Verley Chambers and Ms Durrant. She stated that she had been informed that the main reason that the Carrolls’ fostering application had been rejected by Wandsworth was because of Carroll’s conviction for a Schedule 1 offence. Ms Orton observed that if this was correct it had serious implications for Lambeth Council as his employer.[24]

66. In September 1988, despite knowing that Wandsworth Council had concluded that the Carrolls were not fit to be foster carers, senior officers from Lambeth Council formalised the Carrolls’ role as so-called social uncle and aunt to the children.[25] The officers involved in this decision making were Mr Pope, Ms Durrant, Mr Chambers and Mr Smith. This meant the children stayed with the Carrolls at weekends and during school holidays.[26]

67. In a letter of 21 September 1988, Ms Orton set out her concern, having discovered that the Carrolls, without permission, had the children staying at their home during the summer holidays. She said that she failed to understand how Carroll could not know that children were only allowed to stay away from their placement as part of a care plan. She said that the Carrolls must seek her permission for any visits and that overnight visits were not permitted. She also clarified that the children could not visit unless both Carrolls were present.[27] Despite Ms Orton’s clearly expressed views on the issue, the children continued to stay with the Carrolls.[28]

68. In May 1989, Ms Orton wrote to Mr Chambers about the new Accommodation of Children (Charge and Control) Regulations. She considered that they applied to the arrangement with the Carrolls and that the Carrolls needed to be assessed. This would involve a police check. She received a response from Mr Chambers that there was no point in doing this as they already knew what the check would say. She wrote a couple of further memos to Mr Chambers and Mr Smith but received the same reply. In her view “they were just covering it up”.[29]

69. In November 1989, Ms Khan learned that the children continued to spend weekends and holidays with the Carrolls. She considered that “it makes a nonsense of the whole process of assessment”, and described Lambeth Council’s conduct in letting the children stay with the Carrolls as an abuse of procedures “through a professional network system, whose main responsibilities and accountability are to the overall welfare and protection of children”.[30] She was concerned that these children and others were being put at risk.[31] She was correct – this was another demonstration of Lambeth Council putting children in its care at risk.

70. Although there remained concerns about contact between Lambeth and Wandsworth councillors and staff, the Clough report found no evidence of improper contact between Lambeth councillors on the one hand and Wandsworth councillors on the other, or between Lambeth councillors and Wandsworth staff.[32] Lambeth Council’s children’s social care revived its internal investigation (it having been suspended pending the production of the Clough report) into the same allegations and exonerated Mr Smith.[33] Its conclusions were inconsistent with the Clough report, Ms Khan’s note and the admission by Mr Smith recorded in the Clough report. Mr Pope insisted to us that there was no evidence that Mr Smith provided a reference for Carroll.[34] However, an inventory of the contents of the desk used by Ms Pennie (now the assistant director for children and families) referred to a letter dated 3 November 1992 from Mr Pope to Mr Smith asking about the provision of a reference for Carroll. The inventory states:

Attached are the answers provided by Jack Smith including a statement that he did provide a reference”.[35]

71. Wandsworth Council officers who dealt with the Carrolls’ application strongly disagreed with the findings of the internal report (which had been shared with them). They wrote to Henry Gilby, the chief executive of Lambeth Council, stating:

The investigation may have concluded that there was no evidence of improper motives by Lambeth Officer. However, as the workers within Wandsworth who were involved in this case, we wish to place on record our view that an improper and unprofessional suggestion was made to the Principal Officer (Fostering) Wandsworth. We are clear that this suggestion came from the Principal Officer (Social Work), and the team leader acted as messenger in communicating this. In our view, this was contrary to good child care practice, in particular in relation to the role of Social Services staff in protecting vulnerable children.[36]

This disagreement was not reflected in the internal investigation by senior staff written in the name of Mr Pope to the Social Services Committee in February 1994.[37] The only action taken as a result of that internal investigation was a reprimand for Ms Jones for unprofessional behaviour.[38] Action should have been taken against Mr Smith (Lambeth Council principal officer, social work).[39] By reprimanding Brenda Jones and taking no action against Mr Smith, Lambeth Council demonstrated the lengths it was prepared to go to protect a senior manager, Mr Smith.

Southwark Council

72. In 2014, in a press report, it was suggested that Lambeth Council asked Southwark Council to assess the Carrolls (prior to approaching Wandsworth Council) and that an unnamed politician had telephoned Southwark Council to indicate that he was unhappy that Southwark Council had refused the application.[40] While the source was not named, it said that a new witness told the Labour MP Tom Watson that a Southwark social worker had advised that the fostering should be halted because of Carroll’s conviction.

73. Southwark Council has no record of it being asked to carry out any such assessment.[41]

74. Mr Clive Walsh, head of fieldwork and community services at Southwark Council from 1985 to 1989, told us that Southwark Council had been asked to assess the Carrolls as foster carers.[42]

74.1. His recollection was prompted by reports about Carroll from around 2013 or 2014, which led to him preparing a written account of events. Mr Walsh gave his written note to his former Southwark colleague, Tony Watson (father of Tom Watson MP), and spoke to him because – although these events were memorable – they had been difficult to understand and, in his words, I’m not very good with, and never have been very good with, memories – with names.[43] He could not provide the dates when Southwark Council considered this application, although he was clear that “there was an extant fostering application that was unlikely to succeed, but that formally it hadn’t been yet rejected”. He told the Inquiry that Croydon Council had learned of Carroll’s conviction during its consideration of a separate fostering application, that there had been a disciplinary hearing and that Carroll had been given a warning.[44] If this is correct, then, on Mr Walsh’s evidence, any such application to Southwark is likely to have been made after August 1986 (the date of Carroll’s final misconduct hearing and when Carroll was given a warning).

74.2. However, Mr Walsh also believed that the children were in the care of Croydon Council. When asked why Lambeth Council would ask Southwark Council to assess the Carrolls as foster carers for children in the care of Croydon Council, Mr Walsh suggested that this was because Croydon Council did not intend to approve the Carrolls as foster carers, and that the Lambeth Council approach to Southwark Council had “all the hallmarks of a side movement” to get approval for the Carrolls to be foster carers.[45] We note, however, that there would have been no conflict in Croydon Council assessing the Carrolls as foster carers for children in its care, and only Croydon Council could ultimately determine who fostered the children in its care. It may be that Mr Walsh confused the application that Croydon Council did consider and refuse – in respect of the 11-year-old boy in its care – and the application to Wandsworth Council regarding the two boys in Lambeth Council’s care. Such confusion may be understandable given the time that has elapsed, but it reinforces the need to approach Mr Walsh’s evidence with care.

74.3. Mr Walsh said that he refused the application and confirmed this to Mr Don Glen (a principal officer at Southwark Council) to pass on to Lambeth Council. He also indicated to Mr Glen that he could inform Lambeth Council that he did not think that Carroll should be running a children’s home. In his words:

I delivered, as I would quite ordinarily, my decision to Mr Glen and the area office at the time in writing, and made it clear in that they were free to share this with their counterparts in Lambeth.”[46]

74.4. A few days later, Mr Walsh said that he attended a meeting with Lambeth Council representatives. According to Mr Walsh, these were Janet Boateng (later Lady Janet Boateng) – who at the time either was, or had been, chair of the Social Services Committee – and two officers. Mr Walsh believed one of these officers to have been responsible for giving Carroll his final warning and the other to have been the senior officer in charge of Lambeth Council’s fostering and adoption function.[47] According to Mr Walsh, the main reason for this meeting was that Lambeth Council wanted Mr Walsh to withdraw his view of the inappropriateness of Carroll working as a head of a home.[48]

74.5. In her evidence to us, Lady Boateng denied participating in any meeting that discussed the Carrolls’ fostering application. She considered the allegations “absurd” and without “sense”.[49] Lady Boateng recalled another meeting that she attended with Southwark officials related to her membership of the Secure Accommodation Review Board (a national board to review secure accommodation cases). When she visited one such establishment – which she thought was Orchard Lodge, run by Southwark Council – a child approached her and said that he had been sexually abused.[50] She informed Mr Osmond (the director of social services at Lambeth Council) as there were children in Lambeth Council’s care accommodated there. This led, in turn, to a heated meeting with Southwark Council officials.[51] When asked if he attended a meeting with Lambeth Council about a child at Orchard House, Mr Walsh said that he would not have been at any such meeting, as secure accommodation was outside his area of responsibility.[52] In response, Mr Walsh was asked why he would not have been part of such a meeting given his responsibilities for fieldwork in Southwark. He said that he would have been involved if his residential counterpart had been part of that meeting but the meeting described by Lady Boateng was not a meeting that he was part of.[53]

74.6. Mr Walsh also said that, after the meeting, he received a phone call from a man who said that he was Mr (now Lord) Paul Boateng, asking if he “could be of assistance in resolving this troublesome matter”.[54] Lord Boateng told us that he did not telephone Mr Walsh, that he did not know Carroll and that the focus of his life from 1985 or 1986 until 1987 was being elected to Parliament.[55] In a witness statement to the police in 2014, Mr Walsh had referred to Lord Boateng being a member of parliament at the time, although he was not elected until June 1987 (over a year after his wife had been suspended as a councillor).[56]

74.7. In terms of the timing of the meeting, Mr Walsh was very clear that Carroll had been disciplined but retained by Lambeth Council at the time. Lady Janet Boateng was disqualified as a Lambeth councillor in March 1986.[57] She would not have been a Lambeth councillor at the point in time when, on Mr Walsh’s evidence, the meeting occurred, after Carroll’s misconduct hearing in August 1986. Neither would Lord Boateng have been a member of parliament.

74.8. Taking these various points into account, it is possible that Lambeth Council staff could have asked Southwark Council to consider approving the Carrolls as foster carers in respect of the same children that Wandsworth Council was asked to assess. This could have happened when it became apparent that Wandsworth Council was not going to approve the application. If Mr Smith was prepared to ask Wandsworth Council officials to lie so that the Carrolls might be able to foster, then the possibility that Lambeth Council also asked Southwark Council to carry out an assessment cannot be excluded. However, if there was such a meeting, we are not satisfied based on the evidence available to us that Lady Boateng was present or that Lord Boateng telephoned afterwards or had any involvement in the matter.

References

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