IICSA – Lambeth Council Findings – Special Report

July 27th, 2021

For decades, vulnerable young people in the care of Lambeth Council have been exposed to dangerous, predatory sexual offenders. These people, rather than providing the care and protection these children so desperately needed, preyed on them and subjected many of them to serious and repetitive sexual abuse. The legacy of this has been a generation of young people who have been fundamentally failed by the system they relied upon to take care of them.

In the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was set up. Part of their remit was to examine in detail the role of Lambeth Council’s failure to protect young people in their children’s homes, including the notorious Shirley Oaks Children’s Home. The IISCA investigation looked at both the historic and the ongoing situation, and in 2020 held a virtual hearing to investigate the issues raised and to listen to those who were directly affected.

In response, a total of over £46million has been paid out in Individual Redress Payments to date. The IRP scheme remains open until 2022.

This report looks at the background, the issues raised, the investigation and the subsequent inquiry. It will also examine the findings of the Inquiry, and how they may affect the future of child services not just in Lambeth, but across the UK. It will also briefly detail the role of Verisona Law in representing those who suffered abuse in this disturbing case.

Overview

Inquiries can be set up for a number of different reasons, but in this particular case, it was to examine the fundamental flaws in the protection of at-risk children from sexual abuse in care homes. The key aspect of this Inquiry is to learn from previous failings and to put safeguards in place to ensure the past does not repeat itself.

IICSA was set up to address the concerns of the government. In their opinion, certain organisations charged with delivering safe care for vulnerable children had failed in their duty. As a result, the government considered that children had been and still were vulnerable to sexual abuse and molestation. The idea was to look both retrospectively at historic cases, as well as current policies, and ascertain whether or not there were still failings. Sadly, the IISCA found this to be the case.

IISCA’s role is to conduct investigations and public hearings which highlight the failings, both historically and currently. Throughout a series of investigations, they have gathered evidence to expose shortcomings, highlight concerns, and provide recommendations for the future.

IISCA found that there were multiple instances where vulnerable young people had been subjected to repeated abuse, sometimes for years. As these children were supposed to be in a safe and secure environment, this finding was particularly disturbing. The Inquiry was opened to all those who felt they had been abused during their time in children’s homes, including those run by Lambeth Council and in particular the Shirley Oaks facility.  The response was unprecedented, and disturbing.

The Lambeth Council strand of the Inquiry published its findings on the 27 July 2021. Verisona Law is pleased to see the findings of this particular IICSA inquiry have brought to light the awful failings. We hope that this paves the way for a marked shift in the checks and policies put in place to ensure the safety of young people in care homes now and in the future.

What IISCA investigated

The Inquiry was wide-ranging and comprehensive, which in itself demonstrates just how deep the problem runs. The inquiry carried out 15 investigations, heard the testimony of 648 witnesses, including 94 survivors of abuse, and examined over 24,500 documents. The investigations included:

  • The cases of British children in care who were sent to parts of the Empire including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the former Southern Rhodesia between 1920 and the 1970s
  • Alleged failings at Lambeth and Nottinghamshire councils including Shirley Oaks, Cambridge House Boys’ Hostel, Knowl View School and other institutions arranged by Rochdale Borough Council; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches; custodial institutions, residential schools, and the support services and legal remedies available to survivors
  • “Areas of contemporary concern” including the internet and organised abuse networks
  • Allegations of child sexual abuse by “people of public prominence associated with Westminster” and claims of cover-ups
  • Allegations against the late Lord Janner, the former Labour peer who in 2015 was ruled unfit to stand trial on child sexual abuse charges.

Lambeth and Shirley Oaks – the specifics

Verisona Law is one of the specialist law firms working in partnership with The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA). This organisation was set up by Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton. SOSA started its own investigation into Lambeth children’s homes including Angell Road, Monkton House, Ivy House, South Vale, and – most notorious of all – Shirley Oaks Children’s Home, which Lambeth owned and ran from 1965 until its closure in 1983.

Shirley Oaks Children’s Home was able to accommodate up to 350 children in Lambeth Borough Council’s care at any one time. Unfortunately, that meant there were far more survivors who had been directly affected and had suffered at the hands of abusers. SOSA was able to galvanise over 1,600 individuals to give evidence in an interim report. This explosive report identified 120 paedophiles and resulted in Lambeth Borough Council setting up a £100 million redress scheme for claims of physical, racial, sexual and psychological abuse, many cases of which resulted in lasting issues including learning and physical disabilities.

The Lambeth Council Redress Scheme

The Lambeth Council Redress Scheme was set up to provide redress to previous residents and visitors of the children’s homes run by Lambeth Council for physical, sexual and emotional abuse between 1948 and 1990.

So far, over 1700 applications have been made to the scheme and it is expected that more will take place following the publication of the report. As of January 2021, a total of 1,401 Individual Redress Payments have been made, totalling £46.9 million. This figure includes interim payments and those that have exceeded the Scheme limit of £125,000.

The Scheme opened to applications on 2 January 2018 with new applications able to be made through to 1 January 2022. Applicants to the Scheme are not required to obtain a copy of their social care records before making a redress application. Verisona Law has recovered over £7.5m for 136 survivors of abuse whilst in the care of Lambeth Council.

However, this report is not just about financial recompense for the survivors of systematic abuse while in the care of Lambeth Council and others. Whilst the government has acknowledged its failings, this doesn’t relieve the Council of its duty to properly address what happened and put the appropriate safeguarding measurements in place to ensure that it never happens again.

While providing adequate redress for those whose lives have taken a different path because of the Council’s failings to identify and stop serious sexual abuse in its children’s care homes, it is the acknowledgement of failings and tangible evidence that systems are being put in place to prevent it from happening in the future that is more important to the survivors.

“We are truly sorry for what happened to children in our care in the past and the consequences for their adult lives. While we cannot right those wrongs, we want everyone who is eligible for compensation to get it.” – Lambeth Council Website

The scheme remains open until December 2021 for those who wish to bring forward a claim. This can be done independently or through a solicitor.

The Findings

In its executive summary the report states:-

“Far from being a sanctuary from abuse and neglect, Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish”.  “

The Inquiry found:-

  • “Lambeth Council’s actions and decisions made it easy for the sexual abuse of children to occur, in four principal ways. It knowingly retained in its employment adults who posed a risk to children, it failed to investigate its employees when they were suspected of child sexual abuse, it exposed children to situations where they were at risk of sexual abuse despite, in several cases, having full knowledge of these risks, and it allowed adults suspected of sexual abuse to leave their employment and sexually offend elsewhere, without alerting any known employers”.
  • “In respect of volunteers, it appears that Shirley Oaks opened its doors to anyone from the community who expressed an interest in befriending children – for example playing sports with them or taking them out – without any checks on their suitability. In other words a potential licence for child sexual abuse”.
  • “Despite this ‘progressive’ political agenda, bullying, intimidation, racism, nepotism and sexism thrived within Lambeth Council, all of which were set within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement, which permeated much of Lambeth Council’s operations”.
  • “Lambeth Council’s policies and actions had created the perfect conditions for systemic abuse by dishonest employees, dishonest members of the public and dishonest contractors”.
  • Whilst detectives failed to identify and investigate networks and links between offenders, despite relevant information they held which should have been followed up, the Inquiry found no evidence amounting to improper interference with investigations by the Metropolitan Police.
  • The report acknowledges that foster care did not routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. It found that for many years foster carers were not adequately vetted.
  • Lambeth’s failure to ensure children had an allocated social worker, were placed with approved foster carers and were visited regularly exposed children to an increased risk of sexual and other abuse.
  • The report found that South Vale assessment centre created an environment which put children at risk of sexual abuse. “The regime was punitive, stigmatising and encouraged favouritism”.  This is an establishment where over 3,500 children were placed.
  • “Trade unions were able to influence the investigation of child protection failures, prioritising the interests of their members above the welfare of the children”.
  • “Serious issues have been raised as to the effectiveness of Operation Middleton, but the evidence received by this Inquiry does not suggest that it deliberately avoided the investigation of high-profile persons2”.

The information uncovered in this particular strand of the IISCA inquiry has been extremely disturbing. With failings spanning over 50 years, we can only hope that the findings uncovered in this report from the brave survivors that have come forward that we are closer to ensuring that those who are placed into care are protected.

The Recommendations



Within its report, IICSA have made four recommendations as to how improvements can be made to safeguard children in Lambeth’s care.

Recommendation 1: Response to this investigation report

Lambeth Council should develop and publish a comprehensive action plan which details the actions that it will take in response to the issues raised throughout the Inquiry’s investigation report. The action plan should be developed and published within six months of the publication of this investigation report, and should be accompanied by timescales for completing identified actions as soon as possible.

Recommendation 2: Training for elected councillors

All Lambeth Council elected members should receive training on: (i) safeguarding and (ii) corporate parenting. Newly elected members should receive training on these matters as soon as possible following their election. Training should be mandatory and repeated on a regular basis.

The training content should be regularly reviewed and updated.

Recommendation 3: Review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children’s home staff

Lambeth Council should review the application of recruitment and vetting procedures for all current foster carers directly provided by Lambeth Council, to ensure that the procedures have been followed correctly.

In addition, Lambeth Council should seek assurances from external agencies and other local authorities, in which children in the care of Lambeth Council have been placed, that recruitment and vetting procedures have been followed correctly for all foster carers and residential children’s homes’ staff working with children.

Recommendation 4: The death of LA‑A2

The Metropolitan Police Service should consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth Council’s actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA‑A2’s death.

The Report also recommends that other local authorities consider the issues identified in this report and take action as appropriate to their own circumstances.  We would hope that his may lead to investigations into evidence of child abuse within other boroughs, possibly leading to further redress schemes to compensate victims for the abuse they suffered.

Our involvement

Verisona Law has played a key role in representing 6 of the Core Participants in the Inquiry.  In addition Verisona Law has represented a total of 136 survivors in obtaining compensation from the Redress Scheme and is continuing to act for more survivors in their claims to the Scheme. As part of the Individual Redress Payments made by the Council to survivors represented by Verisona Law, a total of £7.5m has been recovered and paid out.

We have been able to support survivors throughout the claim process, providing help and insight at each stage of the scheme. We have also represented core participants in the IISCA scheme, who have helped the inquiry to produce the findings and recommendations listed above.

We can’t begin to imagine the mental strain that abuse by a ‘trusted’ adult in an environment that is supposed to be safe can have on an individual. However, with the right support and with adequate funding to pay for therapy, as well as an acknowledgement from the institutions they can look to put this chapter behind them.

In a perfect world, there should be no need for this kind of inquiry. Unfortunately, though, what has been exposed by the investigations carried out by IISCA is that this is definitely not a perfect world, and even today, young vulnerable people are being put at extreme risk. This report shouldn’t simply be a piecemeal document to placate survivors – it should be a roadmap for authorities, councils, and government to set in place a system that proactively protects young people and gives them the safe environment they need to grow and flourish.

Conclusion

The Report published today by IICSA could be criticised for not going far enough.  Whilst finding many failings within Lambeth Council’s policies and standards, it could be said that it did not delve deeply enough into issues of alleged corruption between the Council, the Metropolitan Police, Politicians and those in senior positions at the Council.

However, this report is not the end of the matter.  IICSA will be publishing a final report covering the investigations and will further address the issues of mandatory reporting and the potential for redress schemes to offer accountability and reparation to victims and survivors of sexual abuse.  The Report recommends that Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police Service publish its response to the recommendations within six months.  It can only be hoped that within their responses, both Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police acknowledge the findings of this report and take responsibility for their failings which led to so many children being let down by the very people who should have been caring for them.