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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


H.4: The Social Services Inspectorate

38. A further aspect of the suggestion that there was political interference in the investigation into Lambeth Council children’s homes is linked, as set out above, to the involvement of the SSI. As noted above, it was suggested by both DI Driscoll and Dr Goldie that Mr Clark of the SSI had told them that he would provide a briefing to the Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson MP, about politicians’ names being linked to children’s homes in Lambeth.[1]

39. Mr Clark did not have a clear memory of being involved in Operation Trawler, although he agreed that some records suggested he had attended some meetings about it.[2] He had a much clearer memory of Operation Middleton. He thought that Dr Driscoll’s evidence that he (Mr Clark) had cautioned care about naming high-profile people sounded like the sort of advice he would give.[3] However, he did not recall being at any meeting where the names of politicians were mentioned.[4]

40. Mr Clark also explained that he would not have briefed the Secretary of State for Health personally.[5] There was a chain of command and briefings were passed through this chain. Mr Clark confirmed that what was communicated to the Minister was calibrated through a formal process of ministerial briefing. Mr Clark had no memory of ever having provided a briefing on high-profile persons linked to Lambeth Council. His recollection was that Lambeth Council was full of gossip. It was not his job to report gossip but to report on the facts around the progress of Lambeth Council or Operation Middleton. Mr Clark was asked the direct question of whether he would have provided a briefing in order to tip off a minister or a Secretary of State about high-profile people being linked to investigations. Mr Clark stated that his “career has always been to protect vulnerable children, not to obscure investigations”.[6] He stated that he had not provided a briefing to be given to Frank Dobson MP, with the names of any high-profile individuals or persons who had been mentioned in the course of Operations Trawler and Middleton.[7]

41. Ms Jo Cleary was the SSI’s assistant chief inspector for the London region between 1998 and 2002, to whom Mr Clark reported.[8] She was asked about her state of knowledge in August 1998, when she prepared briefings about investigations into Lambeth Council.[9] These briefings do not refer to allegations about high-profile persons having visited Lambeth Council children’s homes.[10] Ms Cleary stated that when she wrote them she was not aware of any information linking political figures or ‘VIPs’ to children’s homes in Lambeth.[11] She also prepared a briefing for the then chief inspector of the SSI in November 1998. It concerned the press reporting about the allegations that a child in Lambeth Council’s care had alleged sexual abuse against Steven Forrest as early as 1992. It also referred to a meeting that had taken place the night before between Ms Cleary, Mr Clark, Dame Heather Rabbatts and the then director of social services, Celia Pyke-Lees, about this situation. Ms Cleary referred to Lambeth Council appreciating the seriousness of the situation and that an independent inquiry was to be launched into these allegations.[12] Although this briefing is marked ‘draft’, it is nonetheless helpful for its recording of events for the reasons set out below.

42. Dame Denise Platt was the chief inspector of the SSI in 1998. She explained that the briefings prepared by Ms Cleary in August 1998 had not been provided to any minister. Ms Cleary had done some further work checking some points for accuracy (conveyed in an email by her).[13] Dame Denise Platt noted that Mrs Boateng had been chair of social services during part of the period of Carroll’s employment. That constituted a clear conflict of interest for her husband, the then Minister for Social Care. Dame Denise Platt told us that she spoke to Mr Boateng in a face-to-face meeting, informing him that there was a potential conflict of interest, as a result of which the SSI could not brief him on the specifics of the investigation about Carroll. Mr Boateng understood the point and so was not briefed on any aspects of the Carroll investigation or police investigations in Lambeth Council.[14] Dame Denise Platt also confirmed that John Hutton MP took over Mr Boateng’s role as Minister shortly afterwards, from October 1998.

43. Dame Denise Platt also gave evidence that, during this period, when she was briefed on the investigations into Lambeth Council children’s homes, she was not aware of any information linking political figures or VIPs to children’s homes in Lambeth Council. She was not aware of any information, even speculation or rumour, suggesting that Mr Boateng visited the Angell Road children’s home or knew Carroll.[15]

44. In addition to there being no mention of information or speculation about politicians visiting Angell Road in Dr Goldie’s memo (at some point prior to 14 September 1998), there is no mention of it in the contemporaneous SSI briefings.

45. Lord Boateng told the Inquiry that the only occasion when investigations into Lambeth Council were raised with him when he was a minister in the Department of Health was in a discussion with Dame Denise Platt. He explained that she raised with him that there was an investigation in which the SSI was involved that covered a period where Mrs Boateng had been chair of social services in Lambeth. He said:

She raised the issue with me of an investigation in which the SSI was involved, told me that it covered a period where my wife had been chair of Social Services in Lambeth, and we agreed, readily, that, because of that, I should have no I should recuse myself from any engagement or involvement at all in any work the Department of Health did with the Social Services Inspectorate or with Lambeth or with the police or with anyone else.”[16]

46. Ms Johnson, who is now deceased, made a statement in 1998 to Merseyside Police. She made no reference to Mr Boateng or any other politician visiting Angell Road in that statement. In a later statement, in 2013, she referred to visits by Mr Boateng to Angell Road. In a further statement, in 2015, she referred to Mr Boateng visiting Angell Road, a child sitting on his knee and his going upstairs with the child.[17] Lord Boateng told us that he had no recollection of visiting Angell Road.[18] He might have done so if, as a solicitor, he was representing a child who had lived there, but he could not recollect a specific instance of that happening. He had no recollection of meeting a man named Michael Carroll or Michael John Carroll and certainly did not know him personally. Neither he nor his wife knew anyone at Angell Road so there was no way that he would have attended social events there. He stated that he would most certainly not have taken children up to the flat at Angell Road or on outings from Angell Road. He further stated that he did not volunteer with the Association of Combined Children’s Youth Clubs (ACYC). He had no institutional involvement as a patron. He had no connection with any adults who went on trips with ACYC. He did not attend any holiday camps the ACYC were involved in running.[19]

47. The evidence does not support the contention that Mr Clark, Dame Denise Platt or Ms Cleary had grounds to believe in 1998 that Mr Boateng’s name had been mentioned in relation to Angell Road and tried to tip him off about this or interfere with any investigation. Dame Denise Platt and Ms Cleary (who prepared the briefings) both said that they were unaware of allegations linking high-profile persons to Lambeth Council children’s homes. Dame Denise Platt was aware that Mrs Boateng had been the chair of the Social Services Committee. This caused her to suggest to Mr Boateng that he should not be part of the information chain or decision-making in respect of the investigation into Lambeth Council children’s homes. He readily agreed to this. The SSI took appropriate steps to ensure that neither he nor the investigation were compromised.

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