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Children in care of London borough subjected to decades of cruelty and sexual abuse, Inquiry finds

For decades children in the care of Lambeth Council were subjected to levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are “hard to comprehend”, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has found.

In a report, Children in the care of Lambeth Council, published today, the Inquiry found that institutional failings involving corruption, bullying, intimidation and racism impacted upon the provision of childcare services and the handling of allegations of sexual abuse.

The report detailed numerous cases in which children in the council's care reported sexual abuse. One of Lambeth's biggest care homes, Shirley Oaks, received allegations of sexual abuse against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. In June 2020, the local authority had complaints of sexual abuse from 705 former residents.

Four other homes in Lambeth in which children reported sexual abuse were highlighted in the report: Angell Road, South Vale, Ivy House and Monkton Street.

One case highlighted by the Inquiry involved a child who was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth failed to inform the coroner that the child had alleged he was sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his 'house father'.

As a result of this finding, the inquiry recommended that the Metropolitan Police Service conduct a criminal investigation, examining the council's actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding the child's death.

IICSA noted that the council had a culture dominated by politicised behaviour and turmoil during the 1980s. "The desire to take on the government and to avoid setting a council tax rate became their primary purpose rather than the provision of quality services, including children's social care," 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."

Record keeping at the council was also criticised after Lambeth told the inquiry it could not confirm the accuracy of a figure it provided on how many children died in its care between 1969 and 1992. Lambeth told the inquiry it identified 15 cases of children who had died in its care during that time. However, a conflicting report suggests that as many as 48 deaths were recorded between 1970 and 1990.

In the absence of underlying documents, the inquiry could not reconcile the two figures, 15 and 48. "It is indicative of the chaotic record‑keeping (even without an obligation to report all child deaths) and the lack of value placed on a child in care's life that Lambeth Council was unable to provide this Inquiry with accurate and comprehensive figures and details for children who lost their lives whilst in the care of Lambeth Council," the report said.

The inquiry also uncovered reports of racism in Lambeth's children's homes. In 1980, more than half (57%) of the children in Shirley Oaks were black, and between 1990 and 1991, 85% of children living at South Vale were black. According to the report, some black and ethnic minority children were subject to "overt racism or suffered indirect discrimination". The inquiry also heard of a lack of recognition of physical needs, such as hair and skin care, and diet.

IICSA has made four recommendations, which can be summarised as:

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

The report noted that Lambeth had accepted 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 it “created and oversaw conditions … where appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated”.

In its report IICSA concluded that the council’s apology was fulsome, but noted it “did not make any meaningful apology until relatively recently. This is despite the many investigations and inspections over 20 years which made clear the duty of care it failed to deliver to so many child victims of sexual abuse.”

Cllr Claire Holland, Leader of Lambeth, said: "On behalf of all elected Members and staff, Lambeth Council wishes to re-state our sincere and heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse and neglect while in Lambeth's care."

Cllr Holland added: "The council was responsible for their care and protection but failed, with profound consequences.

"As the IICSA Report sets out, the council of the past failed to protect many of its most vulnerable children. A disproportionate number of those children were from Black, Asian and Multi-Ethnic backgrounds. The extent and scale of the horrendous abuse, which took place over many decades, remains deeply shocking."

She said: "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. The council takes responsibility for contributing to conditions in which adults were able to abuse with apparent impunity.

"Lambeth Council fully accepts the recommendations from this inquiry and will continue to strive to improve the care we provide to children and young people".

According to Cllr Holland, Lambeth has already formulated an action plan to deliver improvements, and the plan will be reviewed in light of the report.

Adam Carey

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