IICSA Report into abuse at Lambeth Council does not go far enough
Alison Millar examines the IICSA Report into the experience of children in the care of Lambeth Council and considers why it does not go far enough
Posted on 10 August 2021
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report into the experience of children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s will leave many of my clients and others affected feeling that, yet again, an opportunity has been missed to get at the truth behind the pervasive abuse in Lambeth Council’s children’s homes.
Its scope was to “investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, the sexual abuse of children in the care of Lambeth Council, including those cared for in children’s homes, by foster carers and/or by adoptive parents” and was the third of three investigations by IICSA considering the sexual abuse of children in the care of local authorities.
Five children’s homes in Lambeth were selected for detailed case studies: Shirley Oaks children’s home, South Vale assessment centre, Angell Road children’s home and two of Lambeth’s ‘specialist units’ for children with complex needs and communication difficulties, Ivy House and Monkton Street.
Nineteen days of public hearings in 2020 took evidence from 57 core participants, Lambeth Council, the Metropolitan Police Service, and other institutions and individuals. The Inquiry obtained more than 35,000 documents (more than 360,000 pages).
The investigation confirmed The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) assertion that children were ‘abused on an industrial scale’ and said it is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings.
It acknowledges that the true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth Council’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded: by June 2020, Lambeth Council told IICSA it was aware of 705 former residents of Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road who have made complaints of sexual abuse.
It addresses serious failures in services and staff practices which rendered children in care unsafe; notes defensiveness and resistance to change at Lambeth Council where politicised behaviour and turmoil dominated, and bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived, all within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement. The report criticises the ineffectiveness of police Operations Bell and Middleton.
Yet the report does not answer why there has been so few prosecutions and convictions of the perpetrators involved.
Only six perpetrators were convicted of child sexual abuse. The earliest was Leslie Paul in 1994. Only Paul was convicted as a result of Operation Bell. Only three people were arrested and Paul again convicted with one other as a result of Operation Middleton. Following his third prosecution, Paul was finally sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in 2016. Lambeth Council is now aware of at least 43 children who have alleged sexual abuse by Paul, 39 of them while in the care of Lambeth Council.
The Inquiry does not go far enough to try to explain a protective ring that was thrown around Michael John Carroll who was convicted of the sexual abuse of two boys in the care of Lambeth Council, as well as nine boys from a children’s home in Liverpool, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1999.
Carroll had been previously convicted of a sexual offence of a child but failed to declare this in his applications to work in Lambeth children’s homes in Highland Road and Angell Road (of which he became Officer in Charge). His conviction came to light when he made an application to foster children in a neighbouring authority. After the local authority wrote to Lambeth, disciplinary action was taken against Carroll.
However, Carroll was not suspended during the disciplinary process and the outcome of the process was to give Carroll a written warning but to retain him in post. The IICSA report goes into detail about how the senior children’s homes officer effectively soft-pedalled when presenting the management case and Carroll made assertions which were untrue (such as the circumstances of the offence of which he had been convicted) but these went unchallenged. Carroll remained in charge of the Angell Road home for a further five years. He was permitted to develop Angell Road as a centre for ‘direct work’ with children who had suffered abuse and to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against other members of staff (which he obfuscated).
Senior staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council supported and facilitated Carroll and his wife having access to specific children they wished to foster and the principal officer, social work and Chair of Lambeth Adoption and Fostering Panel (who should have remained neutral) gave Carroll a reference and tried to interfere with the independent assessment of the children and omit Carroll’s conviction from the report to the fostering panel considering the application.
The investigation Report notes that when Carroll was dismissed from Lambeth Council’s employment (which was for his part in a fraud), he went to live in North Wales and purchased a ‘pub/hotel’ there. The Inquiry heard that concern was expressed to the police during the criminal investigation into Carroll about how he had been able to afford to do so.
The Investigation Report refers to Lambeth Council demonstrating an “inexplicable” loyalty to Carroll, a known sex offender, and that “incomprehensibly”, Lambeth Council children’s services department proposed making Angell Road a specialist home for abused children, with Carroll in charge.
It also states, under the heading “Allegations of interference”, that it was alleged that a protective network was formed around some individuals, principally Carroll, so as to insulate him from investigation.
The investigation fails to find out why senior Lambeth Council staff were prepared to go to such lengths for Carroll or to answer the allegation that Carroll was shielded.
Similarly, the Investigation Report mentions intelligence and evidence that there were networks of abusers operating but does not seek to probe into whether there were ‘paedophile rings’ operating in Lambeth’s children’s homes and how far these extended – in particular, whether there were officers and social work staff involved and / or whether these networks extended into the Metropolitan Police.
For example, names of foster carers, including a couple who were suspected of sexual abuse of a child placed with them, were found in Carroll’s house. The judge in Lesley Paul’s 2016 trial commented that Paul was knowledgeable about and in contact with “a group of paedophile men”. A report in 1994 into Lambeth Council’s Housing Directorate described evidence of informal networks of men involved in the exchange of pornographic videos and also suggested that Paul was involved. It was the firm belief of police officers investigating Paul in 1992 during Operation Bell that Paul was involved in the commercial production of child sexual abuse images.
The Police are criticised for failure to identify and investigate networks and links between offenders. However, for many of those directly affected by this scandal, it will be unsatisfactory that IICSA does not find that there was any improper interference in police investigations. There is a chapter in the report about whether political influence prevented some high-profile individuals from investigation. The Investigation Report concludes that there is no evidence that Operation Middelton deliberately avoided the investigation of high-profile persons. However, that does not fully consider whether there was collusion or cover-up by the Met Police behind the “serious investigation failures” that undoubtedly occurred.
SOSA has announced its intention to continue to investigate and campaign until the full truth is uncovered. Surely no less is due, both to the memory of those who have died and those who continue to live with the scars of the horrendous abuse that was perpetrated, and to ensure there is accountability to prevent reoccurrence.
One of the most shocking parts of the Investigation Report, for me, was that it says that the Inquiry heard evidence of a more recent case – in 2016 – of a child in the care of Lambeth Council placed in Sheffield who made allegations of rape, but neither local authority convened a strategy meeting, as should have happened. Vulnerable children continue to be failed. I know from my clients that what they most want is for no other child ever to have to experience what they went through.
IICSA’s Lambeth Council Investigation Report leaves too many questions unanswered for my clients to be confident that the toxic legacy of past wrongdoing won’t continue.
Alison Millar works in the human rights department at Leigh Day, where she is the Head of Abuse claims