By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
A child abuse victim gave away all her compensation so that “every smile Lambeth took from me, I made sure I have given to someone else”.
From the 1930s to the 1990s, hundreds of children in Lambeth Council’s care were subjected to prolonged sexual, racial, and physical abuse.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), looking into the “horrifying national scandal”, heard this week that already vulnerable children were targeted by paedophiles working at children’s homes controlled by the council.
One survivor, known as LA-A323, gave evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday (July 1).
She was just five days old when she was put into foster care, before being placed in Shirley Oaks children’s home when she was two with her sister, whom she was separated from.
Between then and when she was three-and-a-half, she was physically, mentally, and sexually abused.
She was told by her house mother that she was “nothing”, and a “bastard”, while her house father twice split her head open on a table.
The inquiry heard that her house mother cut off all her hair because she was playing with it, that she used to be locked in a dark room for “hours and hours”, and preyed on at night by a sexual abuser.
Despite being “very vocal” about the physical abuse “nobody ever took any notice”, she said. She was also forced to take sedatives, which left her with “visual disturbances” and in a “fog”.
LA-A323 developed an eating disorder from being served the same food over and over again.
After she left care, she was sexually abused again when she was six – her mother smacked her when she told her what happened and refused to speak about it.
“By this age (six) it just felt that that’s what happens to me,” she said, adding her body “never felt like it was mine for a long time”.
After giving birth at 14, she said life began for her.
“From the day that she was born and she looked at me, it was the first human that I felt love from, and she looked at me and I looked at her and it was amazing, absolutely amazing, because she loved me, there was no judging, and I loved her and I had to fight to keep her, and I did,” she said.
She said she “exists” now, rather than lives a life.
“I exist for my children. I am 51 and I sleep with the light on.
“I cannot have a relationship, a proper relationship, because I am scared that they might do something to my children.
“I have no trust, I have very few friends, I am on medication, I suffer with flashbacks. If it wasn’t for my children, I wouldn’t be here.
“Because my whole life – you know, people talk about what they did at school and what fun they had and how they snuck out, you know, from home and had a party; I had none of that to offer anybody, you know.
“Even as a friend, I’m hard work. You know, I suffer with anxiety and, yeah, I don’t have nothing to offer anybody still.
“I knew from the family friend what a home was meant to feel like, and I knew how it was meant to be, but I never, ever felt safe there, because I knew that at any point I could be picked up by my parents and either taken home or put back in care,” she said.
Asked what should be done for the future of children in care, she said people need to listen, watch for the signs, and always believe the child first.
“Because once the damage is done, it is there for life.
“It doesn’t matter if you put somebody away forever who has done it, it’s too late, the damage is done.
“If a child says to you, ‘This is going on’, you have got to believe them. Believe them first,” she said.
Inquiry barrister Rachel Langdale QC asked what she meant from a line in her statement that said: “Every smile Lambeth took from me, I have made sure I have given a smile to someone else.”
Lambeth Council has given out £46 million to more than 1,300 victims so far.
She said she hasn’t kept any of the compensation.
“Because it was never about the money for me. I’m quite happy being skint, to be honest.
“For me, that was dirty money.
“But from that dirty money, I could turn it into positivity by helping other people and, if they needed something, and it bought them a smile, that was a smile back, and that is literally what I did with that money.
“Whoever needed, I gave, and they have been able to smile or they have been relieved and it’s made them happy, and that’s made me, in turn, smile, and that’s what I mean.
“It’s them smiles that I never had I have now put out there, yeah, and that’s it. I have. Yes. I feel proud of that and happy,” she said.
The inquiry heard from another survivor, LA-A321, who went into care aged nine after his mother committed suicide.
He said he got no emotional support when he arrived with his siblings, describing Shirley Oaks as a “cold, uncaring kind of place”.
He stayed in Daisy Cottage, where his house father crept into his bed at night and raped him under the guise of keeping him warm. He felt he couldn’t tell anyone.
He left care aged ten, and became rebellious in his teenage years, drinking, stealing, later becoming depressed and suicidal.
Another survivor, LA-A299, was taken into care by Lambeth Social Services just before he was eight.
Before that, his mother had left him and his siblings with a family friend who abandoned them a few weeks later, leaving them to fend for themselves until social services found them.
He was in care for 13 months.
The inquiry heard that as a Muslim, his house father forced them to eat pork and that he “enjoyed” watching them do so.
LA-A299 told the inquiry of the abuse he suffered, from a doctor he saw once and from other boys who savagely bullied him – he said an adult encouraged the boys to do it.
“It was always done in the presence of an adult, another teacher, and they would always speak to this particular person.
“I believe they took their instructions from him,” he said.
One of the boys went on to sexually abuse him, and said nobody did anything.
“It was obvious because at some point during the time where, before that incident happened, I was terrified of school, I was scared.
“They knew it. They knew about the bullying. They all knew […] and nobody actually did anything.”
After his time in the care, he said he couldn’t bear to be in school as it reminded him of Shirley Oaks, and as his mother was an alcoholic he could get away with staying at home.
He grew up with no qualifications, and said any connection with his siblings was “destroyed”.
He said “each and every one of those people in charge of a vulnerable person needs to be investigated thoroughly”, as well as their associates, close family members and friends.
He suggested that social workers should be trained in understanding what has brought children to care in the first place.
The inquiry continues.
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