By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
A baby died after being tied to a bunk bed in a care home – one of the 48 deaths in 20 years of children in its care.
There were six deaths in 1974 alone, an inquiry into child abuse in Lambeth has heard.
Lambeth social workers failed to support the family of the baby in one of its children’s homes, the inquiry heard.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is looking at the “horrifying national scandal” of children being abused there, and the failures to protect children.
Lambeth’s outgoing director of children’s services, Annie Hudson, first apologised to all the victims, expressing an “enormous sense of shame”.
She said: “It’s very important for me to make a personal apology. It’s clear to me that a very, very great number of children effectively had their childhood stolen as a consequence of the abuse, the racist abuse, the emotional abuse, the sexual abuse, the physical abuse, and the general neglect of them and their lives.
“I’m really sorry for what happened to those children and I recognise that Lambeth’s betrayal of them was very profound and very prolonged.”
Ms Hudson knew of 15 deaths in care, but inquiry barrister Rachel Langdale QC said that data due to be dealt with later in the inquiry showed there were 48 between 1970 and 1990, with at least one death per year except one, with as many as six in 1974.
But Ms Hudson said there hasn’t been until relatively recently a “strong and robust system” for recording the information.
Ms Langdale asked about the baby who died from asphyxiation after she slipped out of a safety harness.
The inquiry heard that the baby’s sister believed care workers were force-feeding her and had tied her to the bunk bed.
Lambeth put out seven recommendations afterwards, but no criminal investigation resulted.
Ms Langdale: “A record states the baby’s sister told her mother by phone that staff force-fed the baby and tied her to the bed when the baby was crying.
“An inquest did not return a verdict of accidental (death), it returned an open verdict. The jury felt that extra vigilance was needed at the home in the hours of darkness.
“In 1976, in the minutes of a meeting of the social services committee discussing this case, a councillor expressed particular concern that a pyjama cord had been attached to the harness which had been on [the baby].
“He wanted to know if it had been authorised and asked that this point be recorded in the minutes.”
The baby’s brother, one of the core participants, is seeking a proper inquiry into her death.
“He makes it clear how the death has impacted on his whole family, and says how Lambeth failed to offer comfort and support following his sister’s death,” Ms Langdale said.
“He’s also provided to the inquiry a record by a Lambeth social worker who discussed the death of the baby with his mother.
“The mother made the comment, ‘If I had done that, being responsible for the baby’s death, they would have put me in (HMP) Holloway’.”
The inquiry also heard one boy was found dead in the bathroom of a home after being sexually abused by the house father, Mr Hosegood.
When the young boy was 12, a police investigation into the abuse was thrown out.
A statement from his sister, read to the inquiry, said: “Had fate been kinder to my beloved (brother), and had counselling and support been available, he may have been able to represent himself today.
“The police charged Hosegood with many sexual crimes against minors. What failed my beloved brother more than anything was the total lack of support offered when the judge dismissed the charge against Mr Hosegood.”
A letter sent to the coroner’s office said school staff “were shocked by his untimely death,” describing his mood as happy.
Ms Hudson said she was “astonished” that there was no reference to what he had been through.
“It beggars belief really,” she said. “It was not a true picture of what had happened to him and his experience. I’m quite staggered by reading that.”
Ms Langdale said there was a “theme of nepotism” within the council, where staff were either promoted from within or hired “by virtue of who they knew,” often without the relevant training.
Ms Hudson said: “Recruitment processes seemed to be done by word of mouth, rather than through proper equal opportunities approaches, so we wouldn’t have necessarily been getting the best and right people for those roles.”
Ms Langdale presented a 1989 document on planning policy for children in care to the inquiry.
It stated children and young people were “at risk” from abuse in care homes, and warned that staff “must be alert and aware of this possibility”.
The document said: “The abuse may come from other staff within the home, staff from other agencies, field workers, youth workers, teachers, or from other young people within the residential home.
“If abuse of this nature occurs it must be pursued with the same urgency as in all cases of child abuse.”
Ms Langdale said: “All disclosures and allegations of child abuse must be reported to a senior member of staff and must then be reported to the children’s home officer or principle manager.
“Any allegations against Lambeth appointed staff should be responded to speedily.”
She also presented a 1982 report on child policy from the director of social services, which recommended where possible that “no child in the care of Lambeth should spend the major part of its childhood in local authority care”.
Priorities for children coming into care were rehabilitation with their families, or finding another permanent family. Recruitment, training, and retention of staff was a “priority”.
Ms Langdale said the recommendations were “just not implemented”.
The inquiry continues.
Pictured top: Roses being dropped into the sea in Brighton in memory of the victims of abuse at the hands of Lambeth council
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