A Culture of Abuse: Lambeth children profoundly failed
On 27 July 2021 the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (“the Inquiry”) published its report following its investigation into child sexual abuse in Lambeth. Switalskis represented 28 Core Participants to the Inquiry and have represented over 500 survivors of abuse in Lambeth to seek redress under a compensation scheme set up by Lambeth.
The Inquiry was specifically “tasked with considering the extent to which state and non-state institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to make meaningful recommendations for change to help ensure that children now and in the future are better protected from sexual abuse.”
It considered 5 Lambeth children’s homes, namely South Vale Assessment Centre, Shirley Oaks, Angell Road, Monkton Street and Ivy House. There were 33 children’s home run by Lambeth from the early 1900’s right up to the 1990s.
Given the remit of the Inquiry and the small sample of children’s homes considered it comes as no surprise that the report only scratches the surface of abuse in Lambeth.
Despite only scratching the surface the report is still very damning with the Inquiry finding evidence of corruption, collusion and a culture of cover up. As at June 2020, more than 700 survivors had come forward alleging child sexual abuse at 3 of the children’s homes (South Vale Assessment Centre, Angell Road and Shirley Oaks). Lambeth has only disciplined 1 senior member of the council to date.
In addition to its children’s homes the report found that Lambeth’s foster care provision was also lacking. The report finds evidence of dysfunction, a lack of focus by staff in children’s social care and that Lambeth Council consciously exposed children to obvious risk of sexual abuse. It is telling that in 2000 50% of its foster carers were dismissed.
The Inquiry has said:
“The report finds that the true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded.”
The Inquiry has recommended the following (summarised):
- That Lambeth Council provide a response and action plan on the concerns raised in the report
- Training for elected councillors on safeguarding and corporate parenting
- Review of recruitment and vetting checks of current foster carers and children’s home staff
- The Metropolitan Police Service to consider whether a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a child in the care of Lambeth (known to the Inquiry as LA-A2)
The report was, of course, welcome and whilst it criticises both Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police, in my view the report does not go far enough as it fails to bring to account senior members of these institutions for failing to protect vulnerable children when many of them knew, or ought to have known, what was going on under their watch. Having represented over 500 survivors of abuse in Lambeth it is very clear that the survivors want justice and for those who allowed them to be abused to be held accountable. Only a handful of abusers have been convicted to date yet at least 177 alleged abusers have been identified at Shirley Oaks alone.
The Inquiry has said:
“With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission.”
Due to the limited remit of the Inquiry the investigation did not go far enough. It failed to consider the other 28 children’s homes run by Lambeth at which horrific abuse took place over many decades. The Inquiry didn’t delve deep enough into abuse in foster care, abuse perpetrated by visitors (invited by employees of Lambeth to the homes) or children that were sent out of authority who were essentially left unsupervised and vulnerable to abuse. The survivors of Lambeth deserve to understand why they were failed on such a systematic and catastrophic level and so the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association and lawyers are calling for a further inquiry to look into the network of abusers across Lambeth and beyond.
In light of the findings of the Inquiry it is my view that the Lambeth Children’s Home Redress Scheme should be expanded to include all Lambeth Looked After Children including those who were abused in foster care placements and abused in out of authority placements such as in North Wales, Stamford House, The Melting Pot, Pine End or Frant Court (to name but a few – there are many more).
At present only those who attended a Lambeth-run children’s home or a foster placement directly from a children’s home are eligible for redress meaning that many siblings are torn apart as one sibling receives redress and the other is forced to consider gruelling litigation which can take many years, a number of which have been defended by Lambeth. Given the findings it is only right that Lambeth offer parity for all of the Looked After Children that it repeatedly failed.
The full report can be found here.