Children suffered sex abuse as ‘toxic’ battle raged between Lambeth Council and Thatcher, inquiry finds

·4-min read
Lambeth Town Hall - Andy Rain/Shutterstock
Lambeth Town Hall - Andy Rain/Shutterstock

Children in care were used by Lambeth Council to score points against the Thatcher government in a “toxic game”, the official sex abuse inquiry has found.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report concluded that council staff “put vulnerable children in the path” of sex offenders, who infiltrated children’s homes and foster care.

The damning report into decades of abuse found that 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”.

It 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.

However, the IICSA estimated that the number of victims was likely to be far higher amid a “culture of cover-up” and recommended that the Metropolitan Police consider 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. The inquiry heard Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner of the boy's allegations.

The IICSA report also condemned the council’s culture and the impact of politics, fraud and corruption on its ability to care for vulnerable children.

It concluded that “politicised behaviour and turmoil dominated” it during the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and that as a result, “children in care became pawns in a toxic power game” within Lambeth Council and between the council and central Government.

The report said: “The desire to take on the Government and to avoid setting a council tax rate resulted in 33 councillors being removed from their positions in 1986.

“That event and its consequences meant, amongst other things, the majority of elected members were not focussing their attention on what should have been their primary purpose of delivering quality services to the public, including children’s social care.”

The inquiry said that this trend continued into the 1990s and beyond. The council leader at the time was Cllr Ted Knight, who held the position until 1986 when Cllr Linda Bellos took over.

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

Shirley Oaks Survivors Association - Leon Neal/Getty 
Shirley Oaks Survivors Association - Leon Neal/Getty

At the time, there were many black children in the council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 per cent of children in its care were black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 per cent of children who lived at South Vale were black.

However, the report said that while many councillors purported to hold “principled beliefs about tackling racism and promoting equality”, in reality, they “failed to apply these principles to children in their care”.

The report stated: “Neither councillors nor staff made any effort to check whether their implementation was being carried out in the true spirit of increased equality and diversity. Had they done so, the very real issue of racism in children’s social care might have been addressed.”

“Despite this ‘progressive’ political agenda,” the report said, “bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within Lambeth Council, all of which were set within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement, which permeated much of Lambeth Council’s operations”.

In 1996 Elizabeth Appleby QC published a report documenting the chaos of Lambeth Council’s financial position from 1979, and the significant number of staff embroiled in this corruption and fraud - and the council’s tolerance of it.

“This corruption also directly impacted upon the safety of children in care,” the inquiry concluded.

It stated that from the 1980s to the early 1990s Lambeth Council’s policies and actions had created “the perfect conditions for systemic abuse by dishonest employees, dishonest members of the public and dishonest contractors”.

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. He had a role in recruiting staff and investigations at Angell Road care home.

Cllr Claire Holland, leader of Lambeth Council, said that the council “wishes to restate our sincere and heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse and neglect while in Lambeth’s care”.

“The extent and scale of the horrendous abuse, which took place over many decades, remains deeply shocking.”

She added: “That so many children and adults were not believed compounded their experiences and caused further pain and distress with lifelong impacts. The council takes responsibility for contributing to conditions in which adults were able to abuse with apparent impunity.”

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