Children suffered ‘horrendous’ sexual abuse in Lambeth care homes as officials ignored problem

·5-min read
Professor Alexis Jay: head of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (PA)
Professor Alexis Jay: head of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (PA)

Children in the care of Lambeth Council suffered decades of violent and sexual abuse as “pawns in a toxic power game” between local and central government, an inquiry has found.

Convicted paedophiles were allowed to work in children’s homes across the London borough, as the local authority failed to root out sexual abuse as well as bullying, intimidation, discrimination, and violence, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

Delivering a damning report on Tuesday, inquiry chair Professor Alexis Jay said children in care in Lambeth were treated as “worthless” and exposed to “levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend”.

She recommended a criminal investigation into the death of a child in the 1970s, whose allegations of sexual abuse against a senior care home figure were withheld from the coroner.

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

“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.”

At one of the council’s biggest care homes, Shirley Oaks, allegations of sexual abuse were made against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home. By June last year, complaints of abuse had been made by 705 former residents over three care homes, Shirley Oaks, Angell Road, and South Vale.

“Children should be safe, nurtured and protected in care, but many Lambeth Council staff in children’s social care appeared to demonstrate a callous disregard for the vulnerable children they were paid to look after”, the report concluded.

“In many instances, their needs, their well‑being and their childhoods appeared to be of little or no importance.”

At hearings in June and July last year, victims gave evidence of the horrific abuse they endured after being put into care or fostered.

A former resident at Shirley Oaks in Croydon said he was sexually abused by a doctor at the age of eight and a teacher “encouraged” other boys to bully him.

A woman revealed how she was raped hundreds of times by older boys and a teacher at Shirley Oaks in the 1950s, as children were “constantly afraid” of a regime of violent punishments.

“There was no-one to speak up for me at the time or for me to go to”, she said, recalling how her complaints to a care home superintendent were ignored.

Another victim fell pregnant after a string of attacks by male care home staff, telling the inquiry: “I felt like I was a sex slave. It was about survival.”

One convicted paedophile, John Carroll, was in charge at Angell Road and continued to be allowed to work with children after his criminal past was known.

The inquiry found he had faced an “inept” disciplinary process, as children were repeatedly put in harm’s way because council staff “simply did not care enough”.

After investigating how abuse was allowed to thrive at the borough’s care homes for so long, the inquiry concluded an all-consuming battle in the 1980s between the council and government over tax rates had been partly to blame.

“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”, the report says.

“Despite a self‑styled ‘progressive’ political agenda, 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.

“Intimidation was experienced by those at the most senior levels of leadership within Lambeth Council, such as chief executives Herman Ouseley and Henry Gilby. Their seniority suggests that there were undermining, even criminal, forces at work which were undeterred by high status or the possibility of complaint to the police.”

Another paedophile in Lambeth’s care system, Leslie Paul, was jailed for two-and-a-half years in 1994 for sexually abusing children, following the instigation of a Met Police investigation named Operation Bell.

However the inquiry found the police probe had been limited, failing to uncover the full extent of Paul’s offending at South Vale, and key case files were subsequently lost.

A further five-year investigation – Operation Middleton – was shut down “prematurely” in 2003 without identifying possible prolific offenders. It was not until 2016 that Paul was properly brought to justice and jailed for 13 years, when a judge said he was suspected of being instrumental in a paedophile ring.

Donald Hosegood, a house parent at Shirley Oaks, was charged with multiple counts of rape and indecent assault in 1975, but the case against him collapsed on the fourth day of his trial.

The inquiry heard the allegations were dismissed by a senior council officer as “pure fantasy”, while child accusers were not supported by the local authority during the legal process.

Two years later, one of the boys who had accused Hosegood was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks, but his involvement in the sex abuse trial was not disclosed to the coroner. Scotland Yard has now been urged to open an investigation.

The inquiry heard that six of the eight children who lived in a cottage with Hosegood came forward with allegations of sexual abuse.

Hosegood, who is now dead, is said to have waved his Freemason handbook when he was first arrested, though the inquiry did not turn up evidence of undue influence being exerted.

The hearings also looked into claims that former government minister Lord Boateng had intervened in a bid by John Carroll to foster children. Professor Jay concluded there was not enough evidence to support the claim.

In a statement before the inquiry began, Lambeth Council said: “We are truly sorry for what happened to children in our care in the past and the consequences for their adult lives.” The “Redress Scheme” had paid out more than £46 million in compensation to more than 1,300 victims of abuse.

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