London council 'culture of cover-up' saw Lambeth care home children abused

27 July 2021, 12:08 | Updated: 27 July 2021, 12:47

Lambeth town hall. The inquiry said the south London council had allowed violence and sexual assault to flourish in its children’s residential homes
Lambeth town hall. The inquiry said the south London council had allowed violence and sexual assault to flourish in its children’s residential homes. Picture: Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A report has found children in the care of Lambeth Council in London suffered years of cruelty and sexual abuse over several decades.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has also found police should consider a criminal investigation into the death of one child at Shirley Oaks in the 1970s.

Employees in the south London borough of Lambeth "treated children in care as if they were worthless", and appeared to demonstrate "a callous disregard for the vulnerable children they were paid to look after", according to the findings of the inquiry.

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At least 700 of the home's former residents have made allegations about abuse, including reports that paedophiles targeted the campus in Croydon.

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The inquiry heard evidence of children being raped, indecently assaulted and sexually abused, but said that of the 705 complaints made by former residents across three such facilities, only one member of senior staff was ever disciplined.

It estimated the number of those abused was likely much higher, and recommended the Metropolitan Police should consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into one boy who died in a care home in 1977 having previously complained of being abused by a senior member of staff.

In its summary, the IICSA report said: "With some exceptions, they (Lambeth Council staff) treated children in care as if they were worthless. As a consequence, individuals who posed a risk to children were able to infiltrate children's homes and foster care, with devastating, life-long consequences for their victims.

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"For several decades, senior staff and councillors at Lambeth Council failed to effect change, despite overwhelming evidence that children in its care did not have the quality of life and protection to which they were entitled, and were being put at serious risk of sexual abuse.

"When systemic failures were identified, time and again they were minimised and levels of risk ignored."

The inquiry into Lambeth Council, held in the summer of 2020, examined five facilities - Angell Road, South Vale Assessment Centre, the Shirley Oaks complex, Ivy House and Monkton Street - dating back to the 1960s.

The report highlighted the case of Michael John Carroll, a member of staff at the Angell Road children's home who had failed to disclose in the 1970s a previous conviction for child sexual abuse but was retained when this was eventually found out.

He was subsequently convicted in 1999 of 34 counts of child sexual abuse, including of two boys in the care of Lambeth Council between 1980 and 1983.

The report found "clear evidence" that sexual offenders and those suspected of sexual abuse were co-workers in Lambeth Council's children's homes at the same time.

Carroll also had a role in recruiting staff and investigations at Angell Road.

The report said: "Through such poor practice and its failure to respond to concerns and allegations, Lambeth Council put vulnerable children in the path of adults known or suspected to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse."

It described sex offenders as likely feeling "untouchable", while children were left feeling "isolated and ignored".

The report identified a "culture of cover-up" and a "lack of concern for the day-to-day lives of children in its care".

It said Lambeth Council was dominated by "politicised behaviour and turmoil" during the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and that the council sought to "take on the Government" to the detriment of local services.

The report said: "During that time, children in care became pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the council and central government.

"This turmoil and failure to act to improve children's social care continued into the 1990s and beyond."

It said "bullying, intimidation, racism and sexism thrived within Lambeth Council", all of which was set within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement which permeated much of Lambeth Council's operations.

The report acknowledged there were "much-improved systems in Lambeth", but said there was still evidence of a more recent case, from 2016, in which an allegation of rape did not result in a strategy meeting taking place to consider the claim.

The report added: "For several decades, senior staff and councillors at Lambeth Council failed to effect change, despite overwhelming evidence that children in its care did not have the quality of life and protection to which they were entitled, and were being put at serious risk of sexual abuse.

"When systemic failures were identified, time and again they were minimised and levels of risk ignored."

The report made a number of recommendations, including that the council publish an action plan to deal with the issues raised in the report, and for a review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children's home staff.

It also said Scotland Yard should consider whether there were grounds for criminal investigations into the council's actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances of a child's death - known during the inquiry as LA-A2 - who died in the bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977 having previously alleged his house father, Donald Hosegood, abused him.

The inquiry heard Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner of the boy's allegations.

Other areas of investigation during the long-running inquiry have included Westminster, the church and the internet.

The final report of overarching findings from all 15 sections of the investigation is laid before Parliament at a later date.