Report #5: The ’90s – Knowledge of Organised Abuse: 1. Children’s Voices, 2.Child protection Policy and Practice

This report (Report #5) is the fifth of a series of ISN themed responses to the Sarah Morgan review. In these reports Islington Survivors Network present a challenge to the findings of Sarah Morgan QC

1. Children’s Voices

Morgan states that the voices of the children were entirely silent yet it is obvious few were listening

“As I read both the minutes of the Case Review Sub Committee meetings and the inspection reports which were being received at those meetings, I found it startling that the voices of the children and young people living in the homes were entirely silent.”

Sarah Morgan QC Review 7.11.18:15.19

Children raising the alarm – protestors were punished

ISN have no doubt how difficult it was for children to talk about what happened to them but they were not all silent. Islington survivors tell how they spoke to social workers, senior social work managers, teachers, psychiatrists and politicians. Some of the professionals they told reported to senior managers where nothing more seemed to happen. Children also told some of their friends and families who have struggled for many years to seek justice – including for those children who died. Little of this evidence remains on any file records but some residential and social work staff, who remember the truths they were told, are now witnesses to the survivors’ accounts.

Among ISN survivors are some of the adults who as children made protests when they were being abused by residential staff.  Instead of being heard the children were punished and treated like criminals. The children who campaigned together were separated and removed to different children’s homes or secure units. The survivors challenge the tone and reporting of these incidents just as they now challenge Sarah Morgan’s Review. ISN have heard the same accounts of these events from different survivors who were there as children.

Children from Highbury Crescent children’s home march to Islington Town Hall,
Islington Gazette, 24.3.1972. The children were separated and sent to other homes.
Children from Highbury New Park, Islington Gazette 12.2 1988
Survivors say they were not drunk but that a member of staff was abusive to them. There was an internal investigation with that member of staff present which was chaired by a councillor. They told her of the abuse.
Children from Northampton Park children’s home find what has been written about them in their care files and burn them, Islington Gazette, 11.8.1988. These children were charged with arson and separated.

1984: Islington children from care attended ‘Black and in care’ conference but could not tell about being abused in the children’s homes

In October 1984, a conference Black and In Care included contributions from children from Islington’s children’s homes.  Organised by the voluntary sector, it highlighted the needs and experiences of black children in the care system. It is indicative of some positive initiatives at a time when ISN survivors speak of the many aspects of racism evident within childrens homes and foster placements. It is a measure of the fear of the consequences of disclosure that, even in this supportive setting, those children who attended did not speak to the organisers of the ongoing sexual and physical abuse they were experiencing. 

One of the Islington children who attended the conference, later, as an adult, spoke on the radio of how he and other children were networked to different homes at weekends for the making of  ‘abusive images’.  He said he saw the manager of the childrens home, where he was a resident,  accepting money for the photos. He was in the same Islington home as Jason Swift who was murdered in 1985 by Sidney Cooke and he spoke out when Cooke was due to be released from prison in the late 90s.  Although now deceased, another survivor contacted him at the time and confirmed it was him on the programme. Some Islington children had learnt to be silent for fear of the consequences.

2. Child protection policy & practice

1987: A Child Sexual Abuse Conference in Islington – why did it not help to bring about a safe care system?

In 1987  Child Sexual Abuse: Towards a Feminist Practice A conference was held at The Child Abuse Studies Unit at North London Polytechnic. The Editors of the conference report were Mary MacLeod and Esther Saraga. The planning group included a number of Islington social work staff. 

A paper entitled Developing a Policy (p27-30) was presented at this conference by Margaret Boushel (Islington’s Principal Assistant Children and Families) who spoke as one of a group of workers in Islington Social Services who had been working on child sexual abuse issues for a couple of years. The group was mainly women but one or two men were involved. Boushel had, with Sara Noakes, (Principal Assistant Child Abuse), written Islington Social Services  Child Sexual Abuse Policy and Practice Guidelines (pp.65-74).

As Islington’s lead on Child Protection, in the early 90s, Sara Noakes contributed to many of the managerial meetings and working groups on organised abuse following reports presented to her by staff in Irene Watson Neighbourhood Office (1990-2).  She did not, as far as is known, provide evidence to the White Inquiry and like many other senior managerial staff, does not seem to have ever had to account for the critical role she played in the events of that time.  

In the mid 90s, Noakes left Islington to work at the National Children’s Bureau with John Rea Price (Islington Director of Social Services 1972-92) where later Noakes co-authored a book on child protection training (Noakes et al (1998) Developing child protection practice. London National Children’s Bureau).

Islington Child Protection Policy (1987 : 65-74)

Boushel described Islington as having an explicit child care policy which prioritised prevention work, emphasised parental rights and aimed for the early return home of children who do come into care. However, she commented that workers can be in a dilemma as to when to remove a child ‘given our reservations about the quality of the alternatives we are able to offer’ (p28). She pointed out that residential workers and foster carers have no training in child sexual abuse work and ‘at worst there is a risk of further abuse to the child’. ISN wonder if she had knowledge at the time about abuse in Islington’s children’s homes leading her to make these worrying comments ?

Boushel debated the methods of joint work with police and adopting methods that do not destroy police evidence which is often ‘the only way of getting the abuser out of the child’s life’ whilst ‘at the same time taking account of the traumatic effect of the investigation on the child if not carried out with care‘. It is clear Boushel and Noakes designed a policy which dealt with the disclosure and suspicion of child sexual abuse and ‘the immediate protection of the child’.

It was based on recognising that most abusers are men and aimed to protect the child by removing the abuser wherever possible. It aimed to enlist the mother’s support as an ally in doing this but recognised the difficulties this might pose for her.  Some of her words have a resonance 31 years later.

“We have a lot more work to do on enabling the abused child to become a real survivor …

Field social workers, residential workers, day care workers and foster parents need training and support to contribute to that process.

And that is something we have to take up as a department and carry forward.”

1987: Margaret Boushel, Islington Principal Assistant Children and Families

Sandy Marks’ knowledge of allegations concerning organised abuse during 1982-1995

Sandy Marks had access to information and learning about organised abuse at the time when she held political control of so many children’s services committees.

She was the Council’s preferred spokesperson for all Social Services matters even on occasion when she wasn’t Chair of the Social Services Committee. 

As Demetrious Panton stated to Sarah Morgan, Marks was a well-known councillor around Islington:

“For those of us, who were actively trying to improve social services in the 1980s and 1990s, Ms Marks was a well-known individual in the political circles that surrounded social services in Islington. This is unusual, given that not many individuals can name their own ward councillor, let alone the Chair of what was then in the words of the “White Report” a semi-detached department of the authority.”

Demetrious Panton email to Sarah Morgan QC 27.2.18

She represented Islington Social Services on the London Boroughs Childrens Regional Planning Committee and chaired or attended as a member the Case Review Sub-Committee and the Social Services Committee.

Due to Morgan QC’s limited access to the Case Review Sub Committee minutes (none available prior to 26.6.89 according to Sarah Morgan Review p24:5.2(b)), several early years during which Marks served as Chair remain uninterrogated. This is particularly relevant because it was during the period of time that several incidents of organised abuse perpetrated by Islington staff were reported in Gazette headlines (Carol Hines (1983); John Picton (1983); Abraham Jacob (1986)) and it was prior to allegations raised by IWNO to the Evening Standard.

Given that she was so well informed, why did she make derogatory comments about children in the care system as reported in the Islington Gazette?

Sandy Marks, Social Services Chairwoman: “It is as if the kids who come into our homes turn from well-behaved little angels to prostitutes who use drugs and get drunk every night.” Islington Gazette 8.10.92

1988: Islington’s Policy & Practice Guidelines – Area Review Committee’s Child Abuse Manual adopts a “coherent inter-agency approach”

The Islington Child Sexual Abuse Policy and Practice Guidelines were undoubtedly ahead of the times. They were agreed by Islington Social Services Committee in September 1987. John Rea Price, Director of Social Services, presented his report on the adoption of the policy by the Area Review Committee (10.2.88) to the council on 21.4.88 stating the the ‘‘Area Review Committee’s Child Abuse Manual was complete’. A Principal Assistant Child Abuse was appointed (Sara Noakes).

It seemed that everything was in place in Islington for a “coherent inter-agency approach”: a comprehensive multi-agency response to child sexual abuse and the investigation of all forms of abuse.

Chair Social Services Committee 20.10.1987:  Chair Sandy Marks, Vice Chair Mike Devenney

“We [Islington Council’s Social Services Committee] report, for information, that Policy and Practice Guidelines on Child Sexual Abuse have been drawn-up by the Social Services Department. This valuable work has been done in close consultation with other agencies (including the Police, the Health Authority and the ILEA) and via the Area Review Committee to ensure a coherent inter-agency approach.”

Social Services Committee 20.10.1987
Annual Report to Area Review Cttee 31.1.88 by John Rea Price Director of Social Services and Chair of ARC. Presented to Council 21.4.88
Annual report to Area Review Committee (multi agency leads)  by John Rea Price(DSS) & Chair ARC 13.1.88 presented to council 21.4.88

As John Rea-Price (Islington’s Director of Social Services 1972-1992) was Chair of the Area Review Committee, the members of which were one set of the users of the Child Abuse Manual, it is most important for him to speak up as to where he thinks the failings between guidance and practice occurred and why. The failure of Sarah Morgan’s Review to at least acknowledge if John Rea Price was contacted and/or failed to reply casts a shadow over its probative value overall.

1990: ‘Child sex rings’ as defined by LBCRPC (Chair Sandy Marks)

In 1990, in response to investigations into organised abuse across London, and in particular to Operation Hedgerow in Brent, Sandy Marks as Chair of the London Boroughs Children’s Regional Planning Committee developed a working group and policy guidance. The proposal for this project clearly defined Child Sex Abuse Rings including in the context of ritual abuse. The working party listed below included the leading investigators and authorities in London at the time on a Committee on Child Abuse Networks (known as COCAN) although with no representation from the London Borough of Islington. After resigning her employment in Islington, Liz Davies attended some of these meetings. Founder and Chair of COCAN, Bibby (1996) writes that he took a roadshow about Organised Abuse to members of each Area Child Protection Committee in England on this ‘newly identified phenomenon’. (Bibby P (1996) Organised Abuse. Hants: Ashgate Publishing xvii).

Although no longer used, the term ‘child sex ring’ was used by Liz Davies on 8.4.90 when she presented her concerns to the Irene Watson Neighbourhood Forum in a report on organised abuse in the area.
London Boroughs Childrens Regional Planning Committee: Child sexual abuse rings – A proposal for a project group.Report of Principal Advisor (1990:1)
London Boroughs Childrens Regional Planning Committee: Child sexual abuse rings – A proposal for a project group (1990:3)

Organised abuse: Sandy Marks had access to excellent reports and research about organised abuse at the time she chaired children’s committees

  • Within Islington, impressive policy and practice guidance was in place in the late 80s and early 90s.
  • National guidance was also in place specifically from 1991.
  • Statutory multi-agency guidance clearly defined organised abuse.

In 1991 Ralph Morris was convicted of sexual abuse of boys at Castle Hill School and practice guidance published by Shropshire County Council was widely influential in steering national investigation methods into organised abuse (Brannan C, Jones J, Murch J (1991) Castle Hill Report Practice Guide. Shewsbury. Shropshire Co.Council). Methods of investigation of organised abuse had developed since the Bexley experiment in 1984 which established a joint team of police and social workers to investigate abuse (Metropolitan Police and London Borough of Bexley (1987) Child sexual abuse, Joint Investigative Programme. Bexley Experiment. London. HMSO).

Joint working was in place across the country Hereford and Worcester and Havering.  Since the publication of Working Together (Home Office et al, 1991), police officers and social workers had been tasked with working jointly to protect children. Both agencies had specialist teams some of which were co-located. In the 80s and 90s, social workers and police worked effectively together in the investigation of hundreds of institutional and organised abuse cases enabling the protection of children and prosecution of many perpetrators

Bennetto J (2001) Child sex abuse inquiries will top 100. The Independent 8th January

Wolmar C (2000) Forgotten children. The secret abuse scandal in children’s homes. London. Vision)

In 1991 the Department of Health published guidance for Social Services Departments in training staff ‘Working with Child Sexual Abuse’. This stated ‘Allegations from children should always be taken seriously’ (Department of Health 1991). An NSPCC publication in December 1991 examined definitions and incidence of institutional abuse of children.

It explored barriers to children in residential care reporting stating:

“Abusers in residential placements are made even more powerful because of the power they can exert over the child’s subsequent placements and their knowledge of the system which enables them to cover up their behaviour and arrange opportunities for abuse. They also have access to confidential and intimate information about the child which they can use to undermine the child’s credibility.”  

Westcott H (1991) Institutional abuse of children. From research to policy. A review. London. NSPCC

In 1991 Tower Hamlets Social Services published ‘The Poplar Project’ a comprehensive and informative account of an investigation of 23 boys sexually assaulted by a local man. It was written to enable other authorities to learn from the experience and the author was one of the members of the LBCRPC Working Group informing Sandy Mark’s knowledge at the time. If only Islington had followed this example.  

“Conclusions and recommendations are brought together to contribute to the knowledge and experience of the discovery, the organisational response and working with young victims of paedophile rings which is emerging as a significant part of child protection work .. we hope that others who have to investigate a CSA ring will find the report useful. Successful coping in organisations requires both internal flexibility and creativity to make the changes which are demanded by the information obtained (Jean Gabbott: child protection coordinator).”

Tower Hamlets Social Services (1991) Poplars Project. A social work team’s account of its work with a group of sexually abused young people. London. Tower Hamlets Social Services

Ian White knew from his own local authority about the investigation of organised abuse so perhaps this made him astutely aware of how in Islington the evidence of organised abuse had not been substantiated.

In 1992, Maria Godfrey, senior social worker in Oxfordshire, wrote ‘Findings from a large scale child abuse investigation in South Oxfordshire’ as a report for a multi agency seminar – the authority where Ian White, author of the White Inquiry, had been serving as Director of Social Services in 1988. It concluded:

“Following recognition of cases of organised abuse a worker is appointed by SSD immediately to work alongside children and families, liaise and support professional and develop a strategic interagency plan to facilitate ongoing interagency work with the children and their families.”

Godfrey M (1992) Findings from a large scale child abuse investigation in South Oxfordshire. Report for a seminar

To be continued

Report #6: Organised Abuse – the Islington evidence

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