Report #7: The Missing Files

This report (Report #7) is the seventh 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

Missing files – an ongoing problem

“They are not files. Papers to be just handed over. They are our life stories – we have spent a lot of time trying to forget what happened – it’s a really big step to get the file and takes massive courage to read it. Most of us don’t read it – ISN give us the timeline and talk us through it which makes it bearable and helps us to talk about what really happened.”

“The council has told 10 of us that we have got no file at all.”

Islington Survivors 2018

“When I presented 4 hours of evidence to the Cassam/McAndrew Inquiry (1993) all my records for the children who were victims of organised abuse were missing from their files. I had copies. I showed them a photograph of one girl’s serious injury which the investigators later denied I had shown them.”

Liz Davies 2018 @theIslingtonSN

“Any investigation will be hindered by lack of documentation. The White report confirmed that files had gone missing. The survivors who apply for files have a varied experience. Some have no files, some have been told over years that there is no file and then a file is now found and some files have been carefully sanitised omitting years of time spent in specific homes. For some a lifetime in care gave them just a few pages of heavily redacted notes.”

Liz Davies report to Sarah Morgan QC 18.2.2018:10.2

ISN analysis of one file – as an example

The file consists of 118 pages covering a period of 4 years.

 56 pages are lists of offending behaviour – for the 4 years the file covers. The offences are  petty offences.

18 pages are illegible – too faint to read or very severely redacted so as to be of no value.

 5 pages are of little relevance but are right to have been included – such as school rules unrelated to the child

 pages are from child in care reviews – disorganised and difficult to know what they relate to but it can be slowly pieced together with care and comparison of handwriting.

This leaves less than 10 pages of some relevance for each year of this survivor’s time in care. Three known abusers (including one charged and one convicted) write notes on this file – including inappropriate remarks such as that the child is shy about being seen naked in the shower. 

The survivor’s account of prolific abuse is nowhere recorded on the file and behaviours indicative of abuse pass unquestioned.

Morgan had no access to the White Inquiry archive

Morgan QC based her findings substantially on the White Inquiry. Morgan came to her conclusions without having seen the archive material relating to that Inquiry.  This was because those files were missing.

“Incredibly, the original/archived papers from Ian White and Kate Hart’s inquiry could not be found by the time I came to conduct this Review

It had not been possible to find the papers from Ian White and Kate Hart’s working on the White Inquiry and so they were not available to me”

Sarah Morgan QC Review 2018: 13.13 and 19.1

 Morgan QC repeats the rationale from White’s Inquiry of why files went missing without qualifiying this in the light of more recent information.

“There is no evidence to support the allegations of collusion, but there is significant evidence to support the assertion that ‘missing files’ were a feature of poor administrative systems.”

Sarah Morgan QC Review 2018: 10.11

Morgan QC seems unaware of recent statements by the Leader of the Council who, with far more up to date information and having listened to survivors, reached a very different conclusion.

A month before Sarah Morgan QC’s report was published, Richard Watts, Council Leader answered a question from ISN about missing files related to the fact that 10 survivors have received no file.

I dont know what the cause of the holes in the files is, but I am willing to guess it is a combination of both historical incompetence and malpractice. That seems to be the fairest bet available we have.”

How did files on abuse survivors go missing? 5 October 2018, Islington Tribune

A year previously Mr Watts had proposed a more detailed suggestion as to why and how files might have gone missing if there were “well-run paedophiles networks running in and around the council” which he thought on the balance of probabilities there was.

“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.”

“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.”

Claim council workers ‘helped paedophiles’, Islington Tribune, 6 October 2017

Islington Council’s long history of poor management of children’s files

“The issues raised about Access to Records processes by the Council Agenda in 1986 and the various Inquiries have clearly not been resolved. ISN consider that Islington Council failed to retain, preserve, secure and manage the files of the children who were in the care of the council over 40 years. Trauma of abuse in the care system is exacerbated by the inhumanity of the access to records service run as an administrative task without understanding of the re-traumatising impact of applying for and/or receiving a childhood file. ISN have repeatedly said that staff delivering this service should be qualified social workers as used to be the case. ISN survivors, who have received their files and timelines with ISN involvement, often say this is a building brick on the road to healing. 

ISN survivors fear that their applications for files are defined as a threat in terms of litigation instead of the high quality service to which they are entitled.”

ISN Report to Council on Missing Files 22.10.2018

Council Minutes 1986 – an access to records policy

In 1986, it is recorded in the minutes of the Council Agenda for April that;

“Systematic case recording is essential to the management of the department’s work whether it relates to activities or individuals. It is essential that the worker immediately responsible for the work maintains a clear record which is regularly reviewed by the supervisor who in turn records and monitors their conclusions, decisions and recommendations”.

Islington Council Minutes, 22.4.1986

 On 20th May 1985, Islington Social Services Committee had already agreed a policy on access by clients to their own records stating;

“Our own systems date from the days of the LCC, our files are voluminous with relevant, indeed essential, information scattered over different points. Some matters tend to be under recorded whilst for others the file is used as something of a confessional, an account of often untested hypotheses. A balance needs to be struck between a narrative account of each contact and a periodic review when trends and patterns can be identified. Nor is there clarity of what level of detail of recording is required by different types of case.

As a starting point a working group set out the range of objectives that it felt a case recording system should seek to meet…. An important concern has been to achieve a standard type of file that can be adapted for use in all settings. Such an arrangement will make it easier for the information held in a residential establishment for example to be read alongside the recording by the fieldworker.”

Islington Social Services Committee, Minutes 20.5.1985

Liam Johnson Inquiry 1989

Shortly after this, on 24.11.89, following the murder of 3 year old Liam Johnson, the ‘Liam Johnson Review Report of the Panel of Inquiry’, by Elizabeth Lawson QC, raised serious concerns about the pressures on administrative systems in Social Services. 

“The level of absenteeism of administrative staff is very high. This means there is often no-one available to carry out routine tasks such as filing or typing. The level of administrative support for each office is determined centrally. In our view the indicators used give a totally inadequate measure of the real level of admin support required by social services.  Whenever there are financial constraints admin staff tend to be regarded as expendable…”

Liam Johnson Inquiry 1989:10.16

‘The problems we highlight mean proper prevention work and considered planning for children at risk are not able to be carried out. The situation is worse now than in 1986-7.”

Liam Johnson Inquiry 1989:10.29

The report recommended that administrative support for social services at all levels needed to be examined.

McAndrew’s Missing File Inquiry 1994 

Evening Standard 1993

In 1994, as one of the 14 Inquiries of the ‘90s, author Brian McAndrew provided an Inquiry into allegations concerning missing files’.  

This inquiry was conducted following allegations made in the Evening Standard in relation to a number of cases they had investigated where files had gone missing.

“There were a number of references made in the Evening Standard to missing files, but more specifically the allegations were that information had been deliberately withheld or that files had been removed and that this was with the knowledge of, or at the instigation of, senior managers. The cases involved allegations of misconduct and abusive behaviour by residential staff and there was concern that they were being protected.”

McAndrew B (1994) Missing Files, 6.3.4

“Much relevant material about alleged abusers was missing from files shown to original inquiry (Re: material relating to a child victim of network and organised abuse).”

White Inquiry 1995:48

Concern about the lack of records relating to alleged abusers continues as Liz Davies told Sarah Morgan QC;

“When I refer to the LADO former staff who I consider should not be working with children, the response is most often that there is no record of employment, no HR file and no pension claim. There is almost inevitably no trace in Islington Council systems of foster carers where survivors report abuse allegations. History has been erased except for my fragments of documentation and the survivors’ and witnesses’ memories and photographs. Current council staff have no knowledge of the children’s homes and staff who worked in them. ISN have trawled council minutes and local news coverage for evidence of a planning or policy decision which mentions a home as this proves it did exist and provides dates.”

Liz Davies report to Sarah Morgan QC 18.2.2018: 10.3

McAndrew visited the archive and questioned whether ‘the archive is a valued source of records and information or a dump used only occasionally in an emergency for which no-one has ownership or accountability’ (6.3.3). He was concerned at the lack of a central process and coding systems as well as security issues (5.2). “Files exist for communicating actions and progress. They should not be removed from offices without permission if at all. Managers must identify a secure system for files.” (4.2)

“It was also reported to me that there is no accurate central process to enable anyone to locate files and that the central record store is overburdened with files which are uncoded”

McAndrew B (1994) Missing Files 5.2.

McAndrew (1994)  and White (1995) both referred to a file that went missing when a social worker left his job suddenly in 1990. McAndrew referred to this as a ‘noteable case of malice’ and White (1995:54)  suggested that, as the worker went abroad, police should have been involved from both countries. Despite this recommendation, Islington did not involve the police. ISN are well informed that this social worker, who left for personal reasons unrelated to work, did not remove any file. It is interesting that both McAndrew and White jumped to conclusions to place the blame for the missing file on a social worker when they had no evidence of any kind that the social worker was responsible. Serious questions remain about this missing file;

McAndrew B (1994) Missing files 6.6.1

Why did this one specific file go missing?

Why was one social worker blamed for it going missing?

Where is this file?

Which senior manager provided information indicating that the social worker had taken the file?

ISN call for a thorough investigation of this extraordinary set of circumstances.

“In the main the evidence points to careless, misinformation, and miscommunication rather than any conspiracy or cover up’ (6.1.2). Although McAndrew listed many uncertainties when seeking the reasons for files going missing, including missing records noted by two inspectors appointed by Islington, his focus was nevertheless on poor administrative systems rather than individual managerial accountability.

the general scruffiness, carelessness and illegibility give a poor unprofessional impression of standards in general’ and that administrative support should be strengthened.”

Ian White,  however, expressed concern that despite changes being made by the London Borough of Islington he was uncertain that, ”the effects of any changes are such as to fully address all the issues…’ (White 1995:59)

 McAndrew B (1994) Missing Files, 6.3.4d

Paul: Serious Case Review 1995

In 1995 the Bridge published a Serious Case Review ‘Death through Neglect’ following the death of Paul – a baby of 17 months. The authors commented;

‘A wide range of information was scattered across a diversity of records’ (4.79) and few professionals ‘had read their agency file in full – much of the detail was buried in quite dense amount of text which makes bringing the story of the family together extremely difficult. Important information about the history of the family went unrecognized or unreported’ (4.92).  ‘Information was not collated accurately’ (4.93).

Paul: Serious Case Review, 1995

The file had contained misinformation. This is a finding relevant to ISN survivors where negative labels such as  ‘delinquents’ and ‘maladjusted’ recur throughout files unquestioned and unchallenged.

“Most professionals seemed to be accepting at face value the way in which the family was portrayed and the information they presented.  Eleven years of a fixed perception seemed to dominate.”

Paul: Serious Case Review, 1995, 4.98

The Serious Case Review emphasised the need to complete case history charts. ISN note that very few files include chronologies and most lack any form of analysis. Most importantly  the review said;

“We are alarmed at the lack of entries in records which show what the children were saying or thinking about their situation.”

Paul: Serious Case Review, 1995, 5.171

The storage of Islington children’s files

“ISN have raised questions about storage of the children’s files. One survivor has been told his file was destroyed in a flood at the town hall. Another’s file record states it was stored in a premises Club Union House on Upper Street. ISN have been informed by a former social worker that files were kept for some while in two garages on the Andover Estate. An administrator told ISN she had worked converting paper files to microfiche but the project was abandoned. Adoption records it is said were stored in the basement of a children’s home. ISN have asked where the files are currently stored but this is not information that has been shared with the survivors.”

Liz Davies report to Sarah Morgan QC 18.2.2018:10.1

More recently survivors have been told of a flood at Conewood Street children’s home and a fire at the Town Hall.  A file record, dated 13.9.84, stated that records were missing in a fire in Shepperton Rd.

McAndrew refers to ‘a master set of child care records that was inadvertently destroyed in 1993‘ (McAndrew 1994:5.3). He says he made a brief visit to the council archive.

McAndrew B (1994) Missing Files 5.3.

ISN have been informed that the council has now brought together all the children’s files and are involving archivists in a process of storage. Sarah Morgan QC makes reference to an archive in the Strong Room which ISN had not been aware of.

Out of 56 files known to ISN, less than a handful have any records from residential staff and yet two files include daily records by Gisburne House staff.  This indicates that it was common practice in one home in the late 80s to make individual children’s daily residential record entries, raising the question as to where all the other survivors’ residential records have gone.

“Residential care records are nowhere to be seen but this is strange as I recall them being routinely added to my fieldwork files. My timelines chart the file content alongside survivor’s views and it is always two substantially different accounts.”

 Liz Davies’ Report to Sarah Morgan QC, 18.2.2018:10.2

The evidence of former staff as a means of validating survivor accounts in the absence of records

“There are some older staff in Islington who would recall important detail about the care system. ISN have asked the council to ask them to assist the work of ISN and assure them of no recrimination. ISN learnt about one social worker who was very upset at what she had witnessed in one of the homes but was too scared to come forward in case she lost her job.”

Liz Davies’ Report to Sarah Morgan QC, 18.2.2018:10.4

Council Leader Richard Watts, 2.10.18, assures former staff of no recrimination

As ISN work with Islington Council towards a redress scheme, the location of files and proper content of files becomes ever more important. If a survivor has no file then ISN will gather witness (including photographic) evidence from former staff, survivors and witnesses to attempt to validate the survivor’s experience in the care system.

To be continued ….

Report #8: Police Matters

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