Hundreds of vulnerable children in the care of Lambeth council in south London were subjected to horrendous cruelty and sexual abuse over several decades on a scale that was “hard to comprehend,” an independent inquiry has found.
The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) received more than 700 allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of staff and individuals connected with just three homes in the borough. The true scale of abuse will never be known, it said, but it is likely to be far higher than formal records suggest.
It said Lambeth council had allowed violence and sexual assault to flourish in its children’s residential homes, had failed to act against known abusers, or tackle the brutal, harsh and punitive culture of its homes.
Although many of children had been taken into care after suffering violence and neglect at the hands of family members, the report noted that for many “the experience they had [in the residential homes] was worse than living at home with their birth families”.
“Over several decades children in residential and foster care suffered levels of cruelty and sexual abuse that are hard to comprehend,” said the chair of the inquiry, Prof Alexis Jay.
IICSA has recommended the Metropolitan police investigate the case of one child, known as LA-A2, who was found dead in a bathroom in one of the homes, Shirley Oaks, in 1977. The report found the council had not informed the coroner that he had alleged he was sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his “house father”.
The council was criticised for multiple failures to protect children, including employing staff who it knew posed a risk to children, failing to investigate employees suspected of sexual abuse, and exposing children to situations where it knew they were at risk of sexual abuse.
Despite this, over 40 years just one senior employee was disciplined for their part in the catalogue of abuse. Six perpetrators of sexual abuse connected to Lambeth homes were convicted of child sexual abuse between 1994 and 2019.
Jay said the children had been pawns in a “toxic power game” within the council, which was characterised over many years by bullying, racism, nepotism and sexism, against a backdrop in the 1980s of political chaos, corruption and financial mismanagement.
“This was a vicious and regressive culture for which a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instance by self-serving senior officials,” said Jay.
The report is scathing of what it calls the “progressive” leftwing culture of the council in the 1980s. “Many councillor and staff purported to hold principled and beliefs about tackling racism and promoting equality but in reality they failed to apply these principles to children in their care.”
It notes that the overwhelming majority of children in its homes were black. At Shirley Oaks, in 1980 57% of the children its care were black; at South Vale home children a decade later 85% of the children were black. “Racism was evident in the hostile and abusive treatment towards them by some staff.”
Jay added: “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. We hope this report and our recommendations will ensure abuse on this scale never happens again.”
Lambeth council has accepted that children in its care were sexually abused and it had failed them. It told the inquiry that successive council administrations had created and overseen conditions where “appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated”.