Claim council workers ‘helped paedophiles’
Town Hall leader tells meeting attended by survivors that the authority was ‘culpable’ for past systematic failings in child sex abuse scandal
06 October, 2017 — By Emily Finch
Dr Liz Davies, who first exposed the abuse 25 years ago
TOWN Hall leader Richard Watts claims people within the council may have helped a national network of paedophiles gain access to children under its care.
Survivors of a historic child sexual abuse scandal in Islington have demanded an apology from the council over failures to protect the victims in the 1970s and 1980s.
In an interview with the Tribune this week, Cllr Watts said: “I don’t know [for certain], but on the balance of probabilities there probably was.”
Cllr Watts also revealed there is a gap in the council’s archive from the 1980s, including missing individual case files of children and incomplete files.
He said: “There are two reasons [as to why] it could be, one or both – which is the council was not a very well-run organisation in that period.”
He added: “There were suggestions that if there were well- run paedophile networks running in and around the council they may have taken advantage of that chaos for things to go missing automatically.”
Council leader Richard Watts at the Town Hall meeting on Thursday
Survivors stormed into a meeting at the Town Hall to share stories of the horrific abuse they suffered while under council care and to demand an apology – 25 years after the allegations were first made public.
More than 20 seats at the executive meeting last Thursday – a usually quiet and procedural get-together of Town Hall leaders – were filled by men and women in their 40s and 50s, with some travelling hundreds of miles to confront the council which failed them decades ago.
It was standing room only as the unwavering voices of victims echoed in the small committee room, which appeared frozen in time with its deep red carpet and oak-panelled walls.
During the meeting, councillors voted to launch a new independent inquiry into the validity of a previous investigation into the abuse of children under the borough’s care.
“To be honest with you, I used to sit in meetings like this – meetings about meetings about meetings,” said one ashen-faced man who frequently had to be calmed by his partner as he addressed Town Hall leader Councillor Richard Watts.
“It’s my time now. You see all these people in here? It’s our time too, so you lot are not going to have meetings about meetings, discussions about discussions.
“Don’t keep playing games and brushing it away because it will keep coming back like dirty laundry you’ve buried away.”
The man in his 50s recalled how as a 16-year-old he had told an Archway council worker of the sexual abuse he suffered at a succession of care homes – only to be shrugged off.
“You don’t know the despair. You know, when my son was born, you know when I felt joy, I felt the taste of blood in my mouth because I was so shocked about the feeling – I just didn’t understand it.
“I’d never felt joy in my life. Someone had to explain it to me but it was like the taste of blood in my mouth because of all of the stuff that was buried under there.
“Then I had a breakdown after that because it had all started coming out because something inside me opened up and said: ‘Wake up’ and I did like an idiot. And what did I do? Set up counselling, which I never got, spent more years on heroin and crack, lost my family because of it. I had a business built and everything. And I lost it all because of you people.”
The man, who had travelled from Bristol, borrowing £100 from friends to pay for petrol, walked out of the meeting shortly after addressing the councillors – too angry to hear their response.
Another survivor, a well-dressed man in his 40s, described how sexual abuse was not confined to care homes but council-run schools in the borough. “In the 1980s, in my primary school, one of the leaders from a care home would take people on school journeys and he would cherrypick people,” he said.
“I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones to go on a school journey, and for a week he sexually abused me and I’ve had to live with that for years.”
He said a school friend, who was also sexually abused on the trip, had recently died of a drug overdose.
“I think Islington Council know that it’s a Pandora’s box what’s gone on. What’s Islington Council going to do about that?
“Because he must have had help. How can someone go into an education place from a care home and go and cherrypick people and take them on a journey and sexually abuse them?”
The group told the meeting that the care home worker had reportedly never been charged, with no one knowing if he is still alive.
The survivors, part of Islington Survivors Network headed by social worker and academic Liz Davies, who first exposed the abuse 25 years ago, spoke for an hour during a meeting which usually lasts just 20 minutes.
Cllr Watts said the council was “culpable” for past systematic failings when it came to protecting the borough’s most vulnerable children. “We are desperately sorry. The council did not do its best,” he said.
After hearing from the survivors, the nine councillors present voted unanimously to launch an independent, judge-led inquiry into the failings of the White Report, a 1995 investigation into the council’s management of child abuse allegations.
The inquiry was prompted by claims that former councillor Sandy Marks had links to a pro-paedophile group called Fallen Angels during the 1970s – she chaired Islington’s social services committee in the 1990s. She denies the allegations.
In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Watts said: “Islington Council today is a very different organisation, and protecting children from harm is our top priority. But we rightly remain deeply sorry and ashamed of the failings of the past.”
‘Care home hell has affected me all my life’
ONE woman in her 40s said her Islington-based social worker failed to remove her from Gisburne House, in Watford, after she was violently assaulted in 1983.
“I got attacked by this member of staff who was really nasty. He attacked me one day as I was getting ready for school. He turned, attacked me and punched me,” she said.
She added that she was sexually abused by other boys in the care home while male members of staff would often intimidate the children and female staff.
“There was no support, no back-up, no deputy. It was hell. It’s affected me all my life,” she said.