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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

E.2: The 1980s: LA‐A23

3. LA-A23 was taken into the care of Lambeth Council aged nine in 1978 and moved to South Vale. He was then placed at a therapeutic centre outside Lambeth, but this placement was not successful. A subsequent placement at another children’s home, Cotswold Community House, also broke down.[1] During this period, which was 1979–1981, LA-A23 spent two short holiday breaks with LA-F36 (who he had met during his first placement) in Cornwall. LA-F36 offered to take LA-A23, then aged 12, to live with him in Cornwall and Mr Christopher Hussell, a senior social worker within Lambeth Social Services, agreed.[2] LA-A23 went to live with LA-F36 in October 1981.[3]

4. By November 1981, Mr Jack Smith (principal officer social work) was sent information about LA-F36 that suggested LA-A23 was at risk. A letter from the assistant principal of Cotswold Community House stated that there were “real grounds” to be worried about his future contact with LA-A23.[4]

5. A few days later, Mr Hussell (who supervised LA-A23’s allocated social worker, Mr Andrew Small) confirmed to LA-F36 that “we would like to proceed towards accepting your proposal … to offer a permanent home to [LA-A23], and … to provide [LA-A23] with education”. The letter to LA-F36 stated that Lambeth Council “would contemplate paying your fees as though LA-F46 was the proprietor of a private school.[5] Mr Hussell told us:

we didn’t have anywhere else for him to go, and here was the availability of somewhere he could go temporarily. The alternative would have been to get him back into the traditional, long-term residential – not necessarily long term, but into the residential care system, which we were anxious to avoid.[6]

One month after he was sent to Cornwall, LA-A23’s placement had still not been formalised. He was being treated as though he was on a holiday.[7] There was no formal process or assessment of the suitability of this placement.[8]

6. In February 1982, as recorded in notes of a visit to Cornwall by Mr Small, references had still not been obtained for LA-F36.[9] There were further matters of concern identified by Mr Small’s visit:

  • LA-A23’s education was “non-existent”; LA-F36 said he had not had time to organise anything, although five months had passed. Mr Hussell suggested to us that LA-F36 had used every opportunity to teach LA-A23, but this was not supported by Mr Small’s note.[10]
  • LA-F36 has identified needs in LA-A23 to regress to infantile levels, ie, LA-A23 asked if LA-F36 could buy a baby’s feeding bottle, which he did.[11] Mr Hussell did not find it alarming that a foster carer was giving a 12-year-old a baby bottle. He explained that he and Mr Small saw it as an indication of LA-A23’s needs, instigated by LA-A23 and which LA-F36 seemed to understand.[12]
  • LA-F36 was sleeping in LA-A23’s room, but Mr Hussell again did not see this as a cause for concern. Instead, he considered it a sign that LA-A23 needed to “regress to quite an infantile level”, having “attachment needs, which had never been met”.[13]
  • LA-F36’s house was said to be a “shambles” and “very dirty”, with LA-F36 and LA-A23 using only one room. Mr Hussell suggested to us that this indicated LA-F36 was “barely able to cope”.[14]

7. Despite these varied and significant issues, Mr Small and Mr Hussell did not appear to consider moving LA-A23. Mr Hussell explained that he considered the arrangement was preferable to LA-A23 being in residential care as “the available alternatives were not going to meet his needs any better”.[15]

8. In March 1982, Cornwall Social Services expressed concern to Mr Hussell about LA-A23’s placement. Devon & Cornwall Police confirmed to him that LA-F36 had been dismissed as a teacher (in a decision upheld by the Department of Education) as a result of allegations of indecent assault by three boys, who LA-F36 had taken home with him. Members of the public had also “complained about LA-A23’s welfare”.[16]

9. Mr Hussell and Mr Small interviewed LA-F36, who told them that he had held one boy in his arms and kissed him on the lips. Despite the information received from Cornwall Social Services and Devon & Cornwall Police, Mr Hussell accepted LA-F36’s account:

This was my second meeting with LA-F36. On the first occasion, I had found him a likeable, intelligent and sensitive man, in whom I had some confidence as a parent figure for LA-A23. On the second occasion, I was even more impressed by his depth of concern and commitment to LA-A23, which had strengthened in the previous six months by … the frankness with which he answered all of the questions. I was left in little doubt that the story he had told me was the truth, at least as far as he viewed it.[17]

Mr Hussell told us that this did not “raise any anxieties in me regarding abusive behaviour”.[18] It plainly should have done.

10. LA-A23 remained with LA-F36. Cornwall Social Services refused “to co-operate on any level with supervising” the placement; Mr Hussell confirmed that they were horrified by it.[19]

11. In March 1982, the police relayed to Mr Hussell that the NSPCC had received an anonymous referral about LA-A23 and LA-F36’s overbearing attitude towards him.[20] Lambeth Council’s file also included a letter from the Probation Services to Cornwall Social Services, which described LA-F36 shouting at LA-A23 in a pub, LA-A23 not attending school and LA-F36’s house being dirty and disorganised. LA-F36 was also said to be seen drunk frequently.[21]

12. A further letter was sent to Mr Hussell in May 1982, following an interview of LA-F36 and LA-A23 by an educational psychologist. It stated that LA-A23 was not receiving any formal education, instead spending much of his time wandering alone. The letter noted that Lambeth Council had no monitoring system for LA-A23’s education.[22]

13. Mr Hussell and Mr Small still failed to remove LA-A23. The placement collapsed in June 1982. LA-A23 and LA-F36 were brought to live for two weeks at Angell Road children’s home (managed at the time by Michael John Carroll, who was subsequently convicted for sexual abuse of children in the care of Lambeth Council; see Part D).[23] Mr Hussell was not concerned about bringing an adult dismissed for indecent assault to live in a children’s home. It seemed to him to be an “imaginative” solution, which would enable them to observe LA-F36’s ability to exercise “care and control of LA-A23 in any meaningful way”.[24] Ms Hudson described this move as “inexplicable” and “an extraordinary and, in my view, a professionally irregular decision, in the light particularly that it was so singularly dismissive of the views and judgements of the social services manager and police in Cornwall”.[25]

14. A short time later, having been moved to another children’s home without LA-F36,[26] LA-A23 told a staff member from another local authority that LA-F36 had tried to sexually assault him. He would not give any detail about this.[27] Mr Small visited LA-A23, who described LA-F36 attempting to sexually assault him in his bed.[28] (In 1999, LA-A23 told the police that sexual abuse did occur during the foster placement.)[29] Despite this, case conference notes from March 1984 stated that contact between LA-A23 and LA-F36 would not be discouraged. When asked to explain this, Mr Hussell said:

I would guess that we considered that there were still some positives in the relationship and discussions with A23 indicated that, actually, that was the case, that he did have some respect and liking for F36.”[30]

15. The placement of LA-A23 with LA-F36 by Mr Hussell and Mr Small is a demonstration of a social work culture in Lambeth Council that consciously exposed children to obvious risk of sexual abuse. There was little if any formality to the placement. Mr Hussell and Mr Small ignored the risk of sexual abuse to LA-A23 or the promotion of LA-A23’s welfare (still less subjected either to any assessment). They did nothing in the face of mounting evidence that the placement was unsafe. On the contrary, they regarded LA-F36’s disturbing behaviour (including giving LA-A23 a baby’s bottle) as being beneficial to the child. This culture and the failings it exposed remained uncorrected by any processes or safeguarding procedures that Lambeth Council should have been implementing.

16. This reflected the broader culture of Lambeth Council in the 1980s. A vulnerable child was sent to live with an adult whose suitability had not been properly checked, and about whom little was known. Even when information became available that LA-A23 was at significant risk of sexual abuse, staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council failed to act. Mr Hussell suggested that he had no education or awareness of grooming and child sexual abuse in 1982, but other organisations (such as Cornwall Social Services and Devon & Cornwall Police) recognised the potential risk posed by LA-F36.[31] Ms Hudson accepted that LA-A23 “should never have been placed with LA-F36” and should have been removed at a very early stage as concerns came to light. That LA-F36’s motives and behaviour were never challenged or questioned represented “abject practice failures” by Lambeth Council. The consequence for LA-A23 was “profound harm and deep distress”.[32]

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