IISCA Update – Day 7

July 14th, 2020

On day 7 of the Inquiry, the panel heard from a number of witnesses who had senior roles within Lambeth Council.

Lady Boateng denied involement in a meeting putting pressure on Soutwark officials relating to Michael Carroll’s fostering application

Lady Boateng gave evidence about how she worked at Shirley Oaks from 1977 to 1978 as an Assistant Residential Youth Worker. She was shocked and horrified by the level of neglect she witnessed and the emotional distress of the children in Shirley Oaks. She confirmed the children’s cultural needs were neglected in terms of their hair and skins care, as well as food. She did not feel she could challenge the housemother who was a robust individual. Lady Boateng then became a Lambeth Councillor in 1982, following which she became the Chair of the Social Services Committee.

She confirmed:

  • she tried to initiate reforms to give children a voice.
  • the trade unions put the interests of their members above the children and the wider community. She confirmed she was hell bent on pushing for the closure of Shirley Oaks but the unions didn’t like the proposed closure because they felt it impinged on the jobs of the residential and other workers.
  • She accepted she might be accused of grilling and being hard on individuals, but that was the role of the oversight required from the social services committee.
  • She established a rota of visits to the children’s homes by members of the committee and she knows this was taken up by members. She said she did not really know Michael Carroll or his wife.
  • Lady Boateng denied the evidence suggested by Clive Walsh earlier in the morning that she participated in a meeting with Southwark officials in which Michael Carroll’s application to foster 2 children was discussed. She denied knowledge of the meeting or pressure being put on Southwark officials. She was not aware of any improper lobbying by councillors on behalf of foster carers.
  • In relation to allegations of abuse in Ivy House, she was told that the alleged perpetrator had been suspended when in fact he may have been put on special leave. Boateng confirmed she was quite clear the man should be removed from his post in Ivy House.
  • She supported Lambeth recruiting more black foster carers and black adoptive parents to respect and reinforce their cultural identity and to help them live in society which was racist.

Dame Heather Rabbatts questioned on awful crisis in lambeth children & families service – they were trying to hold the service together by their fingernails – she was sent a memo querying about £130,000 paid by Lambeth for children placements in North Wales.

Dame Heather Rabbatts confirmed she was the Chief Executive Officer at Lambeth Council from 1995 to 2000. She confirmed:

  • Lambeth was an organisation of 10,000 people then with a turnover of about 9 million and it had no leadership across crucial areas of services
  • She was trying to turn Lambeth away from a spiral of decline
  • She felt there had been decades of political mismanagement. This had gone on for more than 20 years.
  • Lambeth was behaving in many ways unlawfully. It wasn’t collecting rates, it had a huge number of public interest reports because it did not abide by the requirements of a public service, which had been inspired by the politicians who came in the decades before.
  • Trade unions undermined management leadership. If you did try to discipline an employee there would be an industrial tribunal. There were huge worker absence levels
  • There was a fundamental breakdown in managerial authority driven by the preceding political interference
  • There was an atmosphere of fear, of people being bullied and harassed, so there was a failure to act in the face of service failure.
  • She felt she improved the council’s partnerships working with colleagues in health, the police and the private sector.
  • When she arrived there was suspicion towards the police by many councillors
  • The overspend in the adult care budget meant they had to refocus to bring social services budget back in line – that meant real reductions.
  • There was a crisis of confidence in David Pope, the Social Services Director, relating to the adult budget overspend and he left the council.
  • She was not aware that David Pope had kept Michael Carroll the schedule 1 offender in post and there is no reference of fault in the Clough report against David Pope
  • When she arrived Lambeth Council was in chaos, many papers had been shredded before her arrival & she was instantly thrown into crisis
  • She wrote in a report to Central Services Committee in 1995 that there was no evidence to support that council staff had exchanged pornographic videos. There was no evidence to pursue this. The police had been alerted and that was sufficient.
  • She was aware social services was in a fragile state when she arrived. She was trying to focus the work for child protection, adult services and Lambeth did have the highest number of unqualified social workers, huge levels of absence.
  • She was faced with an awful crisis in children and families. The Assistant Director was suspended, the director had gone, they were literally trying to hold the service together by their fingernails, dealing with daily issues besetting managers.
  • The Barrett report and the issue of police checks was flagged in her meetings. She sent in the corporate antifraud team. She made it clear it was fundamentally unacceptable practice. In her opinion it was that police checks were not being recorded.
  • There was a six month lag time with police for checks at that time
  • The lack of police checks/recording was hugely serious. She could not believe something as basic as that practice had been absent. They removed some foster carers, three managers were dismissed and she put the audit in. She made it clear senior managers could not abdicate responsibility to others.
  • As Chief Executive she takes overall responsibility but she also made it clear the Director of Social Services was accountable to the Department of Health.
  • She was not involved in the details of the Middleton investigation. Helen Kenward was brought in to be independent and manage the CHILE operation.
  • She confirms Nigel Goldie alerted her to a conversation in which names were revealed by DI Driscoll, which was contrary to protocols and this gave rise to the police being notified. She wanted the protocols and confidentiality maintained to safeguard and to ensure survivors felt they could come forward to CHILE and Operation Middleton.
  • Lambeth’s whole filing and maintenance system was extremely poor, so Barrett received as much as could be obtained
  • Dame Rabbatts was asked about a memo from Helen Kenward sent to her querying about Lambeth payments in excess of £130,000 for placements in North Wales. Rabbatts confirms she annotated the memo confirming the new Chief Executive would have to deal with that, she left at that time.