Children in the care of a London council subjected to decades of cruelty and abuse, inquiry finds

Children in the care of Lambeth Council were subjected to levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend, a new report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

03/08/21

Children in the care of a London council subjected to decades of cruelty and abuse, inquiry finds

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is calling for a criminal investigation to be considered into the handling of the case of a child who died in care.

Children in care were found to be pawns in a “toxic power game” between the council and central Government.

Lambeth Council has accepted that children in its care were sexually abused and that it failed them, with a representative for the council at the Inquiry giving a full apology on behalf of the Council. The representative acknowledged that Lambeth Council “created and oversaw conditions…where appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated.”

The report examined the scale and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s. It found one of the council’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. By June 2020, the Council had complaints of sexual abuse from 705 former residents.

Despite this, over 40 years, the Council only disciplined one senior employee for their part in the catalogue of sexual abuse.

The Shirley Oaks and South Vale care homes were found to be brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Another of the council’s care homes, Angell Road, was found to have systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse. The report finds that the true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth’s care will never be known, but authors say it is certain to be “significantly higher” than is formally recorded.

The Inquiry is also recommending the Metropolitan Police Service consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation examining Lambeth Council's actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding a child’s death.

During the public hearings, the Inquiry heard of a child who was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council at the time did not inform the coroner that he had alleged he was sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, a member of staff at the home.

The report also found that racism was evident in the hostile and abusive treatment towards the many black children in Lambeth Council’s care by some staff. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57% of children in its care were black, and during 1990 and 1991, 85% of children who lived at South Vale were black. Many councillors and staff purported to hold principled beliefs about tackling racism and promoting equality, but in reality, they failed to apply these principles to children in their care, the report found. Neither councillors nor staff made any effort to check whether their implementation was being carried out in the true spirit of increased equality and diversity.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said the levels of cruelty and sexual abuse suffered were hard to comprehend.

“These children became pawns in a toxic power game within Lambeth Council and between the Council and central Government,” Jay said.

“For many years bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within the Council, and all against a backdrop of corruption and financial mismanagement.”

“There was a vicious and regressive culture, for which a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”

“This all contributed to allowing children in their care to suffer the most horrendous sexual abuse, with just one senior council employee disciplined for their part in it.”

The report makes has recommended Lambeth Council now draws up a response and action plan on the issues raised, as well as mandatory training for elected councillors on safeguarding and corporate parenting and a review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children’s home staff.

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