OPENING SUBMISSIONS ON BEHALF OF 27 SWITALSKIS CORE PARTICIPANTS
- We represent 27 CPs; some of whom will be giving evidence, although the evidence of those not called to give live evidence is equally important. Many have only relatively recently been able to speak in detail about what happened to them. Many are still coming to terms with what happened to them.
- They are relieved that Lambeth Council has accepted responsibility for its failings and for neglecting children in its care and has offered compensatory payment through the redress scheme. They appreciate the efforts of SOSA which helped to bring this about and are grateful to other supportive bodies too.
The CPs’ View
- CPs welcome this Inquiry and understand its nature and scope: upon institutional responses to allegations of sexual abuse. They have waited a long time for an opportunity to find out why terrible things happened to them. They wish to contribute. At the same time some are concerns:
- Some worry that the individual wrongs they suffered but which were repeated across decades, will not be put right: wrongs that included social workers who must have seen that something was very wrong with some of the children and failed to act, to the perpetration of appalling abuse and degradation, by identified and unidentified abusers.
- Some are concerned that the exact numbers and identities of those who perpetrated abuse and the nature and extent of any activities – including how organised they were, might never be fully known but, it is important to shine a light on to what happened, and to be unsparing in doing so and the Core Participants we represent wish to contribute to that and are willing to place their trust in this Inquiry.
- Context is important: the late 20th century saw many changes in child- care legislation; child protection and the investigation of crimes against children and that in Lambeth itself, there was political and financial upheaval and mismanagement and, at times, chaos. What they need to know is how it was and why it was that the abuse was able to happen, over decades, when between 1985 and 2003 no less than 20 investigations, Inquires and Inspection Reports were produced relating to children, their care and abuse.
- It is also important to recognise that when Lambeth took over responsibility for the children’s homes it inherited from the London County Council when it was created in 1965, children living in them were already being neglected, badly treated and sexually abused. There can be no doubt that paedophiles were operating in the children’s homes and that some, such as Leslie Paul, were doing so not only for their own gratification, but for commercial gain.
- As this Inquiry has heard, there have been deaths. One of those was only a baby, aged 11 months who was placed in an inappropriate harness and as a result, asphyxiated.
- Why was it, our Core Participants ask, that insufficient attention seems to have been given to the situation in the children’s homes when Lambeth took over, at a time when it was reasonable to expect that there would be, at the very least, a level pf professional curiosity about the circumstances in which children were living?
- Some of the experiences of our CPs were shared by other CPs and some common themes emerge from the experiences of those we represent:
Removal from vulnerable children from family homes was confusing, frightening and traumatic.
(LA-A299) Aged only 8 he taken into care when left in care of older siblings by a parent who had made a temporary trip abroad for family reasons.
After a night elsewhere he was taken to Shirley Oaks Children’s Home and ended up staying there for just over a year. No effort appears to have been made to find alternative carers for him from within the extended family.
Once in care, whether in a children’s home or in foster care, with a few exceptions, they experienced:
- disregard for culture and religion
- cruel treatment;
- exposure to abuse from strangers, from those whose job it was to care for and protect them and even from other children: the complete opposite of the care they needed.
(LA-A321) placed in care at Daisy Cottage, at Shirley Oaks at about age 9 in about 1960. His mother had died. No one asked him if he was alright. The House parents were cold and unfriendly; they would always come and go.
LA-A323. In early 70’s she was at Shirley Oaks (Musk House). As a very young child (under 5) she was repeatedly hit by adults around head and legs. She was repeatedly told by the house mother she was nothing, wanted by nobody, was bad and a bastard child, unloved and unwanted. No love was shown.
LA-A299, a Muslim child, had to eat pork. LA-A299 sexually assaulted by a Dr under the pretext of a standard examination. He was also bullied by older boys and nothing was done.
He had had a nice SW, but another one took over who was not interested and barely talked to him, failing to notice how he was becoming withdrawn.
LA-A327 was told by staff at Cumberlow Lodge (1970s) that her parents didn’t love me and that was the reason I was there.
Paedophiles such as Michael John Carroll were manipulative and sophisticated. He sexually abused LA-A181. At one stage LA-A181 went home under a care order and the abuse it continued, as Carroll had befriended and “groomed” his father by doing favours for him. Carroll was later convicted in 1999 of indecent assault but at that earlier stage there was no escape for LA-A181.
Children from BAME backgrounds suffered racial abuse. Sometimes the abuse was both racist and sexual. Before going on to sexually abuse her, the man who ran Lavender House, part of Shirley Oaks, told LA-A309 that most children of mixed parentage ended up in care and that races were not supposed to mix. Efforts were made to dissuade her from attending a mass at Christmas by a staff member who said the bible forbid mixed relationships – so she couldn’t even take comfort in God.
Later his language changed to refer to her as “exotic”, informed, I suggest, by stereotypes about black women and girls as overly sexual. Some were targets for the worst kinds of sexual depravity.
The idea of culturally appropriate placements was introduced in Lambeth in late 1986. One of the CPs we represent, LA-A304, of mixed ethnic heritage, had suffered sexual abuse in one care home before being placed with a white family. She where she was happy and felt well looked after. After she left there, once the same race policy had begun to be implemented, she was moved to another city, she believed by Lambeth, and told she “had to be placed with a black family” where she was bullied, beaten, not fed properly and told she was “possessed”. While the aims were laudable, and may have been successful in some cases, this was not always so. In this case, the policy seems to have been prioritised over what the child needed, suggesting a rather simplistic approach to children’s cultural needs.
Another theme: while convictions have been achieved, much of the time children were too frightened to complain; if they did, there was either no response at all and they were ignored, there was a bare acknowledgment or they were dismissed as liars and complaints were not followed up.
When LA-A307 was about 9, in the early 1960s, in the sick bay at Shirley Oaks, he awoke to see a man by the bed masturbating, When he told the matron or nurse the next day he it was dismissed as a bad dream. It happened again, only this time he was assaulted. He complained and was told to “stop this nonsense.”
LA-A299 sexually assaulted by a Dr under the pretext of a standard examination and bullied by older boys. When he complained about the Dr, he was told he wouldn’t have to see him alone again, but the Dr continued to work there. The bullying from older boys worsened and progressed to a serious sexual assault. LA-299 was unable to tell anyone.
“I was scared, felt dirty and felt as though it was my fault.” He felt he had no one to turn to.
LA-A300 was abused by Leslie Paul. In the late 1980s she agreed to be interviewed by Lambeth Council about Paul. She told them what had happened and believed that
She was being listened to, but a few weeks later she was written to and warned that she would be taken to Court for slander if I ever repeated the allegations again. She was not listened to or believed and received no support.
On another occasion the Council went to her home to interview
Her about her time in care and abuse. She discussed this with them but never heard anything back afterwards. This left her feeling as if she was part of a tick box exercise.
LA-A327 was suffered sexual abuse from boys at Calais Street CH. During one such
occasion when she was aged 14 or 15 A staff member walked in when one was in bed with her but his only reaction was to tell the boy to get out and nothing was done.
While at South Vale in the mid-1970s when she was aged 12, LA-A309 witnessed
another child being sexually assaulted. When she reported it to staff she was told
not to mention it again, “we are dealing with it.” She didn’t hear any more about it.
Later, after complaining about sexual by LA-F33, she was interviewed in the same room as the man she alleged had sexually abused her.
Failure to provide proper education is another theme.
Children’s education was neglected and time was lost, especially for those who struggled with literacy.
Support for leaving care
When they left the care system many had no or very little practical or psychological support on leaving. Some survivors left homeless; others were left in sub-standard and unsafe accommodation with no guidance of how to live independently or budget. More than one took an overdose in a suicide attempt rather than face bleak reality. In effect, they were left to fend for themselves.
It is hardly surprising that some turned to alcohol or drugs to help them cope, to block out what had happened.
Questions on behalf of the CPs
- And it is these sorts of experiences that they ask you to keep in mind:
- Whether there has been a Conspiracy of silence; whether there was a large-scale, organised network of paedophiles; the conditions under which children suffered appalling, degrading and caused long term harm to them and their families were already in place:
- why were paedophiles able to continue as they did and to flourish?
- why were those who were supposed to protect children so apparently indifferent to them?
- The CP’s are hoping for some clear answers.
- Many wonder if they were ignored; disbelieved and treated with indifference and worse, because of who they were, once they became the responsibility of the state as children in care who came from families who faced a number of difficulties:
- who lacked resources;
- who came from were abusive or neglectful backgrounds;
- who were working class;
- who were from a black or minority ethnic background;
- or who were simply unfortunate enough to end up in care.
- They want to know how anyone can be confident that with this history and these experiences, things will be different in future?
- This is not a problem confined to Lambeth. There are recent examples in which the institutional response to complaints of abuse has been inadequate, for example, in Rotherham.
- Michael John Carroll, a schedule 1 offender (that is a person whose offence is listed in schedule 1 the CYPA 1933 as a warning that any such offender could cause a particular risk to children) was able to obtain a job with Lambeth, work to manager level and was able with his wife, to apply to foster children. Even when his offending was discovered by another LA, he was left in post for some Was this:
- a failure to appreciate the significance of the previous conviction for indecent assault on a male under 16.
- wilful blindness and neglect when it came to children in care?
- was there a willingness to play down the significance of clear evidence he was a risk to children? If so why? Was it simple arrogance? Or more?
- The experience of many of the CPs we represent has been that that if they dared to complain, the starting point, the assumption seems to have been that any allegation they made was untrue. As if they were less worthy of being believed than other people.It is no exaggeration to say that although the late 20th Century has seen a raft of legal and social reforms in relation to children, what happened to these children has parallels in the 18th and 19th centuries when we had slavery and child labour: Children were penned or contained, rather than properly homed; Kept in ignorance, rather than properly educated Abused and neglected rather than nurtured and cared for; ignored rather than listened to. Treated as less then human. It is a scandal and a source of shame that this could have happened.
- That the state’s ability in the form of the LB Lambeth to care for its most vulnerable citizens has been found grievously wanting is not in issue, but to prevent this happening again, our CP’s feel that a different approach is required and hope that once Inquiry has heard the evidence; and once some of them have been able to tell their stories you will reflect, consider and take this opportunity to make strong recommendations for the changes that are clearly required.