Council staff “put vulnerable children in the path” of sex offenders, who infiltrated children’s homes and foster care, with “devastating, life-long consequences for their victims”, a damning report into decades of abuse has found.
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 Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
It heard evidence of children being raped, indecently assaulted and sexually abused, but said that of complaints from 705 former residents across three such facilities, only one member of senior staff was ever disciplined.
When children reported complaints at the time, they were routinely disbelieved.
The report estimated the number of those abused was likely much higher and recommended the Metropolitan Police should consider whether there were 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.
John O’Brien, secretary to the inquiry, said this report was the worst of the 15 issued by IISCA to date.
He told the PA news agency: “It didn’t matter which corner you look in here, you found a failure or a number of failures.
“It’s the only report where, reading through it, I’ve had to put it down at regular intervals because what it’s describing is just unrelenting.
“Everything you read just made you think: I know when I turn the next page I am just going to read another story of something not happening.”
He added: “People were in here and saw no way the environment they existed in was ever going to change.”
Lambeth Council apologised and said it fully accepted the recommendations of the report.
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.”
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.
The Metropolitan Police apologised for missing opportunities to identify offenders, and said it would consider the recommendation over LA-A2.
Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who is representing the sister LA-A2, said: “IICSA have now recommended that Lambeth Council’s cover-up in this case is investigated by the police.
“We urge the Metropolitan Police to act on that recommendation without delay and urgently establish a full investigation – anything less would be a betrayal of our client, of her deceased brother who took his own life in 1977, and of the generations of children who were let down by the litany of council and police failings set out in this report.”
Husna-Banoo Talukdar, who said she was repeatedly abused while in Lambeth care homes between 1976 and 1979, said she would not stop campaigning for justice until all the perpetrators’ names were made public.
Ms Taludkar, who waived her right to anonymity, told the PA news agency: “The inquiry missed that opportunity to get those names out there, to get it known who did what – the abusers, the council, the police who covered it up.”
The 57-year-old said she sought to banish the memories of her childhood growing up, but began getting nightmares and flashbacks in her 40s.
She said she tried to kill herself three years ago, and detailed her ordeal in a 91-page letter before taking an overdose, but survived after more than a week in a coma.
She said: “Every day counts now, I know that.
“I will not stop trying to get justice.”
In a statement, Claire Holland, Lambeth council leader, said: “The council was responsible for their care and protection but failed, with profound consequences.
“The council is deeply sorry for their experiences.
“The extent and scale of the horrendous abuse, which took place over many decades, remains deeply shocking.
“The council failed to acknowledge concerns when they arose, often failed to believe children when they disclosed abuse and then failed to take effective action.
“That so many children and adults were not believed compounded their experiences and caused further pain and distress with lifelong impacts.”
Other areas of investigation during the long-running inquiry have included Westminster, the church and the internet.
The final report IICSA of overarching findings from all 19 sections of the investigation will be laid before Parliament next summer.