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Children in care in Lambeth experienced sexual abuse, racism and cruelty

Children in Lambeth Council’s care were subjected to sexual abuse, cruelty and racism, an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

During the public hearings the Inquiry heard of LA-A2, who was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged he was sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. As a result, the Inquiry is recommending the Metropolitan Police Service should consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation, examining Lambeth Council's actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death.

“It is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings. With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission,” said the report following the investigation, which is chaired by Professor Alexis Jay.

The investigation looked in detail at five of Lambeth Council’s residential children’s units – Angell Road, South Vale Assessment Centre, the Shirley Oaks complex, Ivy House and Monkton Street. The latter two cared for children with complex needs and communication difficulties. The Inquiry also examined the council’s foster care service.

It examined the scale and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s, and the extent of any institutional failures to protect children in care from sexual abuse and exploitation.

The report found:

  • By June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation (Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road) who have made complaints of sexual abuse.
  • The biggest of these homes – Shirley Oaks – was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. It was closed in 1983.
  • The true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth Council’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded.
  • Frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse.
  • In so many cases they showed little warmth or compassion towards the child victims, who were left to cope with the trauma of their abuse on their own. More widely, it was as if staff intended to create a harsh and punitive environment for children who had the misfortune to be in public care, through no fault of their own.
  • There were many black children in Lambeth Council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 percent of children in its care were black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 percent of children who lived at South Vale were black.
  • Racism was evident in their hostile and abusive treatment by some staff.

“Far from being a sanctuary from abuse and neglect, Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Angell Road systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse. For many children, these homes did nothing to change their lives for the better. For many children, the experience they had was worse than living at home with their birth families,” said the report.

“Nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years, foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks. The Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) reported in 2000 that potentially large numbers of children in Lambeth Council’s care had not been allocated a social worker, vi Children in the care of Lambeth Council: Investigation Report were not placed with approved foster carers and had none of the protection afforded by regular visiting, monitoring or statutory reviews. Sexual abuse by carers and family members therefore occurred with no trusted adult available for a child to talk to,” the report added.

Bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism were found to have thrived within the council, all within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement, which permeated much of the council’s operations, the investigation found.

Lambeth Council’s actions and decisions made it easy for the sexual abuse of children to occur, in four principal ways:

  1. It knowingly retained in its employment adults who posed a risk to children
  2. It failed to investigate its employees when they were suspected of child sexual abuse
  3. It exposed children to situations where they were at risk of sexual abuse despite, in several cases, having full knowledge of these risks
  4. It allowed adults suspected of sexual abuse to leave their employment and sexually offend elsewhere, without alerting any known employers.

“In respect of volunteers, it appears that Shirley Oaks opened its doors to anyone from the community who expressed an interest in befriending children – for example playing sports with them or taking them out – without any checks on their suitability. In other words, a potential licence for child sexual abuse,” said the report.

Lambeth Council now accepts that children in its care were sexually abused and that it failed them. Their representative at the Inquiry gave a full apology on behalf of the Council, acknowledging that Lambeth Council “created and oversaw conditions … where appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated”.

Lambeth Council opened its Children’s Homes Redress Scheme in January 2018 to those who lived in or visited a Lambeth Council children’s home. By August 2020, there had been more than 1,600 applications to the scheme, and more than £46 million had been paid in compensation to victims and survivors. Lambeth Council has extended the closing date of the scheme until 1 January 2022, it is believed.

The report makes four recommendations:

  • A response and action plan from Lambeth Council on the issues raised in this report
  • Mandatory training for elected councillors on safeguarding and corporate parenting
  • Review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children’s home staff
  • The Metropolitan Police Service to consider whether a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death is necessary.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said: “Over several decades children in residential and foster care suffered levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend.”

“These children became pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the council and central government.”

“For many years bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within the Council, and all against a backdrop of corruption and financial mismanagement.”

“There was a vicious and regressive culture, for which a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”

This all contributed to allowing children in their care to suffer the most horrendous sexual abuse, with just one senior council employee disciplined for their part in it.”

“We hope this report and our recommendations will ensure abuse on this scale never happens again,” she concluded.

Children in the care of Lambeth Council

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