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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


F.5: Trade union influence

23. A number of witnesses considered that trade unions had too great a grip on Lambeth Council staff and councillors. Lord Ouseley considered there to have been close relationships between several councillors, different trade unions and trade union leaders.[1] Many of those councillors projected themselves as representing the interests of the staff or believed that they had an affinity with the lower ranks of employees.[2] This resulted in suspicion and a lack of trust between officers and councillors.

24. Trade unions were able to influence the investigation of child protection failures, as shown by the public inquiry report (dated 1987) concerning the death of Tyra Henry, a child who was killed by her father when she was in the care of Lambeth Council.[3] Stephen Sedley QC (now Sir), chair of the public inquiry, noted that Lambeth Council had conducted two internal inquiries into her death.

The reports of both inquiries were unacceptable to the staff and to the local branch of their union, NALGO, with the result that the independent panel whose report this is was invited by the council to conduct a public inquiry with the following terms of reference.[4]

Sir Stephen Bubb, a councillor from May 1982 until his disqualification in 1986, said that there was very strong resistance from the NALGO branch to an inquiry into the death and it tried to prevent the setting up of such an inquiry.[5] The Tyra Henry public inquiry report also referred to the “unconcealed pique” that “one limb or other of the council” showed “at the fact we were not doing what it thought we ought to be doing. For example, five days before it was due to start taking evidence, Lambeth Council’s Special Committee, without consulting the inquiry, decided to postpone the hearings indefinitely because of the non-cooperation by Lambeth NALGO.[6]

25. When Mr Richard Clough conducted his investigation in 1993 into the retention of Carroll, a Lambeth Council employee with a conviction for child sexual abuse, he guaranteed those employees to whom he spoke confidentiality even though it was for internal purposes. Mr Clough regarded it as possible that staff would not be as candid as they might be without an assurance of confidentiality.[7]

26. In 1999, Mr John Barratt investigated Lambeth Council’s failure to respond effectively to an allegation of child sexual abuse against Steven Forrest, a care worker at Angell Road children’s home. Having been troubled by his findings, Mr Barratt issued an interim report and informed Dame Heather Rabbatts that he had “read and heard enough to be satisfied that Child Protection practice, in Lambeth, remains worryingly inadequate and incoherent, and therefore ineffective”.[8] Shortly afterwards, Mr Jon Rogers, the branch secretary of UNISON, wrote to Mr Barratt advising him that in view of his interim report and the suspension of Assistant Director for Children and Families, Ms Constantia Pennie, UNISON would advise its members to play no further part in the investigation.[9] In the course of our investigation, Mr Rogers sought to justify this on the basis that there was considerable anger among UNISON members that Ms Pennie was being scapegoated, and that the Barratt interim report should not have been used in this way when it had said it could not attribute individual blame.[10] When asked how UNISON sought to balance the interests of children in care and their protection against the rights of individual UNISON members when giving advice, Mr Rogers regarded this question as misconceived. He explained that “as a UNISON representative, it was my responsibility to give guidance to UNISON members to protect their interests. It would not have been appropriate for me to have taken it upon myself to undertake the balancing exercise which is implied by the question”.[11] Mr Rogers considered that his letter did not impact upon Mr Barratt’s investigation (which did not ultimately criticise UNISON). UNISON encouraged its members to cooperate with the police investigation, Operation Middleton.[12]

27. Whilst Mr Rogers may have been advising and supporting the members of UNISON, it should be borne in mind that defending particular sectional interests can result in the failure to fully recognise the wider interests of children. It is in the interests of all children in care that child protection failures are properly investigated, that individuals are held to account and that failures of practice continue to be identified to better protect children.

28. The Barratt final report ultimately concluded that in the 1980s “managerial freedom was devalued by political decision-makers … including too close a relationship between them and the Trade Unions”.[13]

29. Industrial disputes also impacted upon children’s homes. The failure by staff in children’s social care to hold a review of each child kept in secure accommodation in 1984 was explained as a result of senior managers within children’s social care being “very heavily engaged in additional work resulting from the industrial action, which had necessitated the closure of the majority of children’s homes”.[14] The Children’s Homes in Lambeth Enquiry (CHILE) produced a document entitled ‘The History of Lambeth Social Services’, covering the period up to 1998. This stated that:

The effects of the industrial action touched all of Lambeth’s Children’s Homes and incidents were widely reported in Local and National press. The headline ‘Night Staff Walk Out on Children’ (Daily Telegraph 18/06/81) appeared after staff left children unsupervised all night at Calais Street children’s home. The British Association of Social Workers believed that children had already suffered.[15]

30. The chairman of the British Association of Social Workers Lambeth and Wandsworth branch, Mr John Wheeler, stated in the press:

We have supported the idea of a National Review from the beginning because we saw the danger in industrial action. Once you encourage Authorities to use the private and voluntary sector, they might decide to carry on doing so.[16]

31. The interests of children became secondary to the interests of staff.

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