“Too often after an inspection or inquiry senior people moved on and little or nothing was done” – Inquiry into sex abuse in Lambeth care homes draws to a close

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

The victims of prolonged abuse under the care of Lambeth council are calling for mandatory reporting of abuse which would make it against the law not to report it.

In closing submissions to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on Friday, legal representatives of the core participants described again the horrific sexual, physical, racist, and mental abuse suffered by victims over decades.

They discussed the severe and long-lasting impact of the abuse, which has continued throughout the victims’ adult lives.

Barrister Susannah Johnson said: “There can be no doubt that there was widespread abuse of children in the care of Lambeth over decades by multiple perpetrators – male, sometimes female, and sometimes other children.

“At times it was coordinated and well organised, their abusive treatment started as soon as they entered care, the abuse continued and their abusers became virtually untouchable.

“The damage done to core participants, all of them, has been long-lasting and extensive.

“It has affected them, but also their families and their relationships. We say too that there was a clear case to answer for criminal neglect that is the manslaughter that led to LAB2’s (one victim) death.

“We say that there should an investigation now into what happened to her.”

She said from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was a “lack of any real interest by those in power and oversight over children’s services into their welfare,” along with “very poor social work”.

She said: “Whilst there has been an apparent willingness to admit failures and to take credit, proposed remedial action, and for policies which were supposed to protect children, these were not implemented.

“Too often after an inspection or inquiry senior people moved on and little or nothing was done. There have been many, many missed opportunities.

“The attitude to the children in Lambeth was characterised by a failure of imagination and empathy.

“You do not need to know about paedophilia and grooming as concepts to consider that children are or may be at risk,” she said.

She said the way serial child sex offender Michael John Carroll was allowed to work at a children’s home with a previous conviction for child abuse, and continue working after it was uncovered, while he was supported by council workers, was a “shocking dereliction of duty”.

Ms Johnson said that while there have been “welcome” changes in institutional approaches, more change is needed.

“These survivors have had enough of hearing about lessons being learned, and beyond the redress scheme, they need to see real changes being thought about, which will offer other children the protection and the redress that they never had,” she said.

Victims’ representatives called for mandatory reporting, better regulation of social services workers, better record-keeping, a full admission of responsibility from Lambeth council and adequate compensation for victims, and more protection in law for children in care.

Barrister Iain O’Donnell, speaking on behalf of his clients, said they recommended that children should be regularly taken out of homes and given the opportunity to speak in a different environment, that foster carers need to be vetted more carefully, that there should be more spots checks on foster parents, and that social workers “must create relationships with children that are stronger than the parents they are supervising”.

Malcolm Johnson, representing one of the victims, said there was a need for changes in the law following the inquiry.

During his submission, Imran Khan QC spoke about a UK Government guide on the conduct of children’s homes from 1952, which described “what a home should be like”.

He said: “It talks of a children’s home as one that must supply affection and interest in the child, must care for his or her future, and notably it must create a homely environment.

“For example, each child must feel at bedtime that he or she is especially wanted and cared for.

“Success in the home is measured by whether staff are able to take the place of parents, and that the children’s home should attract men and women of the highest quality needed for this crucial work.

“That is what our clients needed and wanted, at a minimum what they were entitled to,” he said.

Alex Verdan QC, representing Lambeth council, said the hearings provided the council with a “valuable further opportunity to reflect, to learn, to be held accountable, and to make and implement change”, and acknowledged the “brave and moving” testimonies of victims.

The report on the inquiry hearing is expected in the summer of 2021.

Pictured top: Relatives and friends throw flowers into the sea at Brighton in memory of the victims

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