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Mail on Sunday, November 16 2008
By Eileen Fairweather

Baby P’s relative is linked to big paedophile network

A CLOSE male relative of Baby P was feared to have recruited youngsters in care for a notorious paedophile ring, according to a secret report seen by The Mail on Sunday.
Although he is not believed to have had any contact with Baby P, his involvement in a child abuse scandal in Islington, North London, in the early Nineties raises questions on the extent of checks into Baby P’s background.

‘The family should have been subjected to forensic examination,’ said a child protection expert. ‘Even cursory checks would have rung alarm bells. Social workers might then have removed the baby, as a paediatrician and police pleaded.’ The relative was named in reports as a victim and a feared recruiter of children for pimps. In the early Nineties he was put in a children’s home.

At the time, all 12 of Islington’s then homes, and at least one of the boarding schools it used, had been infiltrated by paedophiles. The relative, then a frightened 13-year-old, was under the control of three pimps – Alan, John and George – who persuaded him with money, drugs and threats to bring other children to them. He tried in vain to blow the whistle and protect himself and other children. He gave social workers the names of others ferried from the homes to, he said, Manor Park, Tottenham, Soho and Westminster to ‘be buggered by old men’.

But none of the men were placed under surveillance or questioned. Several social workers and managers fought hard to get help for the boy and other children targeted by the paedophiles.
Social worker Neville Mighty was deputy superintendent of Islington’s then unit at 18 Highbury Grove, where pimps slept overnight. His boss claimed such men were simply ‘boyfriends’ and said Mighty was a prude to repress the children’s sexuality.

Mighty, who had received death threats, had named the relative in a report pleading with Islington’s then director of children’s services, Lyn Cusack, for help.
Ms Cusack, married to a senior policeman, did nothing save threaten disciplinary action because Mighty was ‘rude’. Eventually, in June 1992, Mighty was sacked.

Liz Davies, the senior Islington social worker who encouraged Mighty to go public, said: ‘We got too close. There were too many powerful people involved. Child sex, pornography and sadism are extremely lucrative industries.’ In 1994, a damning independent report criticised the failure of police and social workers to help the relative and to help protect children in care in Islington.

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Last month this man killed himself in Thailand after being accused of sexually abusing 300 boys. I have to ask the disturbing question: Would these boys have suffered if Margaret Hodge’s London council had not protected him?;
Many years later onevictim spoke out,only for Hodge to discredit him as ‘disturbed’. I can reveal the source of this evil slurwas none other than the paedophile who abused him

Mail on Sunday, 11th June 2006
By Eileen Fairweather

The text message from Mike Hames, the former Scotland Yard pornography squad chief, was blunt: ‘Rabet’s topped himself.
It’s made my day.’ It arrived three weeks ago, as I was sitting in a sunny garden with Liz Davies, a woman with whom I had forged a deep and unlikely bond. We hadn’t seen each other for nine months and were talking about our kids.

Then Liz’s mobile phone beeped, drawing us back to a far less pleasant past, when we both had to deal with the pain of working with abused children.
Liz and I had met in 1992. She was then a social worker who went on to help me and reporter Stewart Payne uncover a paedophile ring that had infiltrated children’s homes run by Islington Council.

We discovered that paedophiles had penetrated the network of homes so completely that they had begun using them to procure children. The council had wanted to encourage gay men into childcare in the interests of equal opportunities, but this well-intentioned aim was so naively implemented that paedophiles posed as gay men to take advantage of the policy.
The council exempted any man who said he was gay from needing professional qualifications or references, declared gay men less likely to abuse children than heterosexuals as a matter of policy and repeatedly assumed that any criticisms of men who claimed to be gay were motivated purely by homophobia. Even children who tearfully described abuse were considered prejudiced.

The leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, now a Trade Minister, had refused to believe our investigation even though it was later vindicated by a series of damning independent reports. Her attacks on our investigation, and the fact the council mislaid or refused to believe vital evidence, led to crucial delays which allowed many of those responsible to escape prosecution or punishment. Among them was Nicholas John Rabet, who had fled to Thailand to continue his vile abuse of children. The 57-year-old bachelor was deputy superintendent of one of Islington’s children’s homes until 1989 and had been accused of abusing a boy there. He had strong links with other paedophiles involved in the scandal, some of whom also worked for Islington Council. Yet despite a lengthy police investigation, Rabet was never charged.

Last month, however, his cycle of abuse ended with his suicide in Thailand, days before he was to face trial there. Police found him dead, a plastic bag over his head, his ankles locked together in cuffs, in his rented home in the sordid seaside resort of Pattaya, which has long had a reputation for child-sex tourism. Beside him was a pitiful suicide note. He had killed himself, he wrote, as ‘it is the only way to escape the stress of my life.’ Rabet had been due to face trial for molesting 30 underage Thai boys, some as young as six, and police believed he had abused up to 300 others. When they raided his home, they found 11 computer game consoles which he used to lure children, making ‘commission’ payments to those who brought him new victims.

Now, with his death, I feel able to tell for the first time the full horrifying story of what happened in Islington more than a decade ago. The fact Rabet was allowed to escape and go on to abuse children in another country makes me wonder if there is any real justice for vulnerable children in the care of social services.
And it also raises a disturbing question: could the 300 children in Thailand have been saved if Rabet and his cohorts had been jailed so many years ago?
For the first time policemen and social workers have broken their silence to reveal how Islington Council hindered inquiries and, whether through naivety or incompetence, effectively allowed these paedophiles to go free.

At the same time, I can now expose how the council’s policy of actively recruiting gay carers and classing them beyond suspicion was exploited by paedophiles. Mrs Hodge’s social services committee even amended the council’s child protection policy in 1987 to declare abusers of vulnerable children more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual men. It was a disastrous policy of political correctness that effectively protected those who set out to abuse children and its dangers remain only too relevant today. An independent inquiry later confirmed that the council allowed 26 workers facing ‘extremely serious allegations’ to leave Islington without investigation. The council also thwarted attempts by Sussex police to gather evidence against Rabet in the early Nineties, when officers learned that he had supplied a national child sex and pornography ring. Brighton-based Superintendent Kevin Moore said: ‘If we’d had the usual cooperation you expect and deserve, it’s a very strong likelihood we would have got a conviction. Justice was denied.

‘We are all, in child abuse investigations, in a position of trusting each other to do what’s right but in this case that trust was abused. The most vulnerable children were affected by that and it was disgraceful, dreadful.’ Detective Superintendent John Sweeney took over Islington police’s child protection team after the scandal was exposed and painstakingly traced long-ignored victims. He said: ‘When I first learned about the homes, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But it was worse.
‘Does Islington share responsibility? Any opportunity to intervene that was lost is an absolute tragedy.’

I met Nick Rabet long before I investigated him, when I visited the children’s activity centre he opened in 1990 on the Sussex Downs. A social worker I knew held his son’s eighth birthday party there and invited my child. He said Rabet was a socialist philanthropist, who had been deputy head of an Islington children’s home but quit to open this lavishly equipped centre on his private manor estate. He invited scores of Islington’s deprived inner city kids to visit. Local social services sent him young offenders to rehabilitate and children’s charities frequently visited. The centre’s facilities were lavish: quad bikes and mini motorbikes, free pinball and football machines, snooker and a disco.
Yet Rabet charged just £4 per child. How, I asked him, could a London social worker afford a manor and so many staff? Rabet said he inherited the estate through his ex-wife, and he was running the centre as a ‘loss leader’ until established. I felt puzzled. The men helping out didn’t seem to really like children. They were impatient and unkind when one fell. What my instincts told me, even if I didn’t then understand, was that these men had created this honeypot for children for one reason only: so they could use them. But although I resolved never to take my child there again, I did nothing further.

Two years later, I learned that a social worker wanted a journalist to expose Islington social services. Liz Davies arrived for our meeting laden with files in bulging plastic bags.
She had resigned in despair, after being investigated by the council as ‘anti-equal opportunities’ for raising concerns about a supposedly gay worker trying to foster a boy, who later said he was abused. Before leaving Islington, she photocopied the confidential files of numerous children alleging abuse. ‘I had to,’ she said. ‘Islington is destroying evidence.’ She told an extraordinary tale, claiming pimps, paedophiles and pornographers controlled Islington’s 12 care homes. Frankly it seemed so far fetched I didn’t know whether to believe her.
She said that Lyn Cusack, Islington’s assistant director for children’s services, had failed to act, as had the area child protection committee.

Davies nervously showed me a letter Margaret Hodge, then council leader, wrote in 1990, rebuking Davies’ boss for requesting funds to investigate why vulnerable Islington children were visiting a man previously convicted of running a child brothel. Didn’t this prove that Hodge didn’t care? The union wouldn’t help. Unison also feared that the concerns were ‘homophobic’. Staff had nowhere to turn save the Press, and Davies offered secretly to co-ordinate whistleblowers and evidence. ‘I’ll probably never work again,’ she said. ‘But I can’t keep quiet.’ She told me of a major police child pornography inquiry into Rabet, previously deputy superintendent of Islington’s home at 114 Grosvenor Avenue. I remembered the odd man at the children’s party and his creepy friends. I felt sickened. They had touched my child.

I checked Davies’s claims with Superintendent Mike Hames, head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad, now the Paedophile Unit, and described my encounter with Rabet. He laughed at Rabet’s claim that he inherited his country pile through a wife. He was a confirmed bachelor, he said. Rabet really acquired it by befriending its elderly owner, an American widow with an oil fortune. She made out her will to him, and died shortly afterwards. That might just seem like good luck, except that one of Rabet’s wealthy paedophile pals, who ‘donated’ £13,000 to his centre, had an identical modus operandi. Neil Hocquart inherited large sums not once but twice, after elderly men died of heart attacks weeks after bequeathing everything to him. Identifying vulnerable old people to exploit was, police believed, as important to Rabet and his paedophile friends as singling out abuse victims.

At this point I knew I had stumbled across something truly awful. Police had raided the Cambridgeshire homes of two of Rabet’s friends in 1991. They found more than 100 child sex videos and 300 photographs of children at the Swaffham Prior home of Hocquart, a 40-year-old photographer. At nearby Ely they found his friend Walter Clack, 69, a former assistant to onetime Governor of the Bank of England, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, trying to dispose of a sick home video of a middle-aged man abusing a boy. They also discovered that both men regularly ‘volunteered’ at Rabet’s children’s centre.

Hocquart had bought the centre’s quad bikes, took a child he met there on holiday with other men and dis-tributed naked photos of him to the international paedophile network through contacts in Amsterdam. Before police could question Hocquart, he took a fatal overdose. Clack was fined £5,000 a derisory sum, but child pornography offences were not taken as seriously as today. Hocquart’s diaries suggested the men belonged to a huge ring of paedophiles in the arts, clergy and busi-ness world and that Rabet was a major supplier of victims.
Police then raided Rabet’s Sussex home. Unfortunately, he had time to clear out hard evidence. But paedo-philes are compulsive hoarders and they still found a ‘shrine’, with photos of hundreds of boys. Rabet kept children’s underwear as ‘trophies’. Name-tagged clothes helped lead British police to a boy I shall call Shane, who formerly lived in Rabet’s Islington children’s home. Police showed Shane a picture of himself lying on his bed at the home, chest bare, next to Rabet. Shane tearfully disclosed years of abuse.
What happened next was scandalous.

Islington lost incriminating files, denied there were concerns about other children Rabet took away, and sacked concerned staff. Rabet was never prosecuted. Superintendent Moore says now: ‘Tragically, none of us can say why Islington did what they did.’ But he does not discount its ‘drive to set a political agenda’. Because I had met Rabet, this felt personal. I was determined to prove the children of Islington were being abused. Children’s home worker Neville Mighty answered the phone when Sussex police rang looking for Shane. Management disliked Mighty, a Jamaican with traditional views: he later stormed Lyn Cusack’s office to protest about men he called pimps staying overnight with children in care.
Now he began comparing notes with colleagues about Rabet. Islington suddenly accused Mighty of impropriety. He had supposedly touched a girl’s knee and used innuendo. He was sacked and barred for life from working with children a ban he overturned in 1999.

I and colleague Stewart Payne spent three months in 1992 talking to frightened social workers, victims and parents, mostly in grim Islington estates. By the end, we had around 30 whistleblowers. We had to protect the identity of all of them. I sometimes came away from meetings near to tears but Stewart would make me laugh. He said he felt like pouring a bucket of disinfectant over himself. I had sleepless nights and midnight phone calls from people who were too terrified to talk face to face and feared something was going to happen to them.
We found Shane. He was now 20 and in turmoil. He came into care when he was 12, after his mother had a nervous breakdown following years of domestic violence. He felt rejected but Rabet, who wore a silver sher-iff’s badge and instructed the kids to call him The Sheriff, seemed fatherly and fun.

Shane’s mother only asked Islington for brief respite care while ill. But she said: ‘They stole my son, I couldn’t get him back.’ I had started out with the prejudice that anyone whose child ended up in care was feckless, or worse, but she was a decent, honest working class woman. Rabet swamped Shane with expensive gifts and Pounds 30a-week pocket money. ‘I couldn’t compete with that as a single mum,’ his mother said. ‘This man effectivelybribed him, then Shane became frightened to speak out.’ When I met him, Shane played with toys as he talked, repeatedly throwing them into the air. His distress was palpable. Rabet had told him his mother did not want him back, plied him with whiskey and cigarettes, then photographed him after he passed out.

He took Shane at weekends to his Sussex home. Shane hated the abuse but drunkenly bore it as the price of having a father figure. His mother said: ‘I knew it was all wrong and I begged Islington at meeting after meeting to let me take my son home. But they closed ranks and tried to make out I was paranoid. No one believed me.’ I knew five social work whistleblowers did believe her, but I had to protect their identities. Shane kidded himself that Rabet really cared for him. But the day hair grew on his chin, Rabet abruptly lost interest and developed new, younger ‘favourites’. Shane knew then that he had been conned. I felt his mother’s heartbreak. It was clear she had lost her son. But Shane was also heartbroken his emo-tions had been exploited as well as his body.

Police looked for files supporting Shane’s allegation. A worried source in Islington told me what was in the council records, ‘because they’re about to disappear’. The council, he claimed, routinely suppressed the fact that allegations of abuse had been made. The files included letters from Shane’s mother, his headteacher, psychiatrist and social worker to senior management, all protesting about Rabet’s ‘ inappropriate’ relationship with the boy. All clearly feared abuse.

Sure enough, Islington said no relevant files were found. There is no evidence Margaret Hodge had any knowledge of this at this time, or of collusion by managers, although two independent inquiries later con-firmed that files needed by police in three separate child sex ring inquiries did indeed go missing. Islington’s administrative chaos was blamed.
I told police of the files’ contents. Only then, belatedly, did Islington find and produce the documents.

But, shockingly, the council still gave no help to police in tracing and interviewing other likely victims and witnesses. An Islington Labour Party source confided that the investigation was considered ‘homophobic’. Liz Davies secretly met Sussex police officers. ‘I told them everything I knew. They were good officers but seemed overwhelmed by the scale of the investigation.’ I was beginning to feel really angry. I wanted to be wrong about what we thought was going on, but this extraordinary lack of coop-eration and urgency confirmed my worst suspicions.

Nobody was ever prosecuted as police believed they did not have enough evidence. The burden of proof under British law is high and, as Superintendent Moore says: ‘We cannot always use the uncorroborated ev-idence of young people.’ But there was disquiet about the scandal. The independent Ian White report or-dered by the Government confirmed in 1995 that Islington had refused to investigate ‘extremely serious allegations’. It was ‘a deplorable state of affairs’, within a social services department which had disintegrated ‘from top to bottom’. He described Islington as a ‘classic study’ in how paedophiles target children, hugely aided by the council’s naive interpretation of gay rights. ‘Equal opportunities … became a positive disincentive for challenge to bad practice … and a great danger’.

Mrs Hodge’s council was so obsessed with creating equal opportunities that it actively encouraged gay men into childcare and was less likely to view them with suspicion than heterosexual men. However people like Rabet were not gay men, but paedophiles masquerading as such so they could work their way into the system. Mrs Hodge remained in denial. She claimed managers lied to her, no councillors alerted her, and that ‘the issue of the council’s equal opportunities policy as a barrier to good childcare practice was never raised, however obliquely’. She also insisted the police found no evidence of a paedophile ring. The senior officers who investigated find this risible. ‘All the Islington abusers knew and protected each other,’ said Detective Superintendent Sweeney.

Some of the staff accused of abuse then left the country. The managers who had failed to investigate them were allowed to quietly resign from the council and take up new jobs. As their replacements came in there were attempts to look at long-ignored allegations. It was well-intentioned but underfunded and ran out of steam. Also the trail had gone cold.

But offenders were fleeing. Rabet sold his Sussex estate and joined another former Islington children’s home boss in Pattaya three eventually ended up there. Police had his luggage searched at Gatwick and found computer games: Rabet obviously intended to abuse Thai children. Warnings were passed on but the developing country was then illequipped to challenge the thousands of Western ‘child sex tourists’.

Rabet’s friend Bernie Bain, who had been another Islington children’s home boss, went on to join Rabet in Pattaya. Bernard Leo Bain had fled Britain in 1996, just before Detective Superintendent Sweeney could arrest him for raping seven young boys in care and was briefly imprisoned in Morocco for child pornography. But he, too, killed himself, in May 2000.
His suicide note expressed only self pity. He was, says Sweeney, ‘depressed about money’.

Incredibly, Bain had gone on from running a caravan business at Islington’s Elwood Street home, widely used by other paedophiles, to co-found a travel company worth millions. I had pursued these men relentlessly because I realised how very dangerous they were to children. It was so immensely frustrating to then learn they had been allowed to escape the net.
Many years later one Islington abuse survivor, Demetrious Panton, did speak out, incredulous at Margaret Hodge’s appointment as Children’s Minister in 2003. He could prove Islington councillors and senior managers knew about allegations he made throughout the Eighties that he had been severely abused as a ten-year-old, by Bernie Bain in 1978. Bain resigned from Islington in 1979 with impunity, despite concerns he had numerous other victims.

Yet Mrs Hodge notoriously discredited Panton in a letter to the BBC, painting him as ‘extremely disturbed’. But she never explained the source of her slur against Panton, who is now a highflying consultant. Although there is no evidence this is other than a disconcerting coincidence, I can reveal for the first time that the Islington ‘expert’ who branded Panton disturbed was none other than Bernie Bain.

In February 1978, weeks before Bain first raped Panton, he circulated a report labelling the child a liar and fantasist. It was a character assassination that was to stick: a paedophile’s attempt to save his own skin recycled, however unwittingly, by a Minister. The report is the most evil and premeditated discrediting of a ten-year-old boy. No senior managers were ever disciplined over this scandal. And none of the workers accused of abuse was ever prosecuted. The police, so late in the day, and with suspects fleeing, simply could not accumulate enough evidence.

Assistant director Lyn Cusack resigned for ‘personal reasons’ in 1993. Two councillors admitted Demetrious Panton had described his abuse and asked the council to investigate Bain. But both Mike Devenney, Mrs Hodge’s chair of social services and her acolyte, Stephen Twigg, later said they could not ‘recall’ ever mentioning abuse to Mrs Hodge. Devenney later became a Disability Commissioner when Mrs Hodge had the disabilities portfolio, and Stephen Twigg became her researcher at Westminster, then her junior at the Department for Education. I watched their progress with disbelief. So did whistleblower Liz Davies. My concerns are over accountability and justice for the children. No one was ever held responsible. All the children, their families and the social workers who tried to defend them at enormous personal cost feel betrayed.

Sussex police tried, unsuccessfully, to gather enough evidence so they reluctantly released Rabet from bail. Detective Superintendent Sweeney still laments the failure to prosecute.
He said: ‘I was deeply affected by how much pain and trauma these men inflicted on really young children. They were brutal.’ But he hopes that councils who are now actively recruiting gay foster carers will be more rigorous in their vetting processes than Islington was. He said: ‘I wouldn’t say gay couples can’t foster. But people must learn the lessons of Islington. These weren’t social workers or gay people; these were paedophiles posing as gay to escape detection.’ Hundreds of children suffered horribly, in Britain and Thailand, so that the idealistic incompetents who ran Islington Council could boast they had pioneered ‘equal opportunities’.

What a very high price defenceless Thai children paid, so that Margaret Hodge and her people could state that no Islington abuser was convicted. Liz Davies, now a senior lecturer in social work at London Metropolitan University, is at least teaching a new generation of social workers to be more vigilant.

Evening standard, 13th June 1996

By Eileen Fairweather

ANYONE who investigates child sex rings survives through grim jokes.

 
Yesterday a man appalled by newspaper reports of yet another children’s home scandal asked me how on earth so many paedophiles had infiltrated British childcare. ‘It was easy,’ I replied. ‘They just knocked on the door and said they liked little boys in shorts.’

 
John Major’s commission of a national inquiry on organised child abuse hasn’t come a moment too soon. The Cabinet is right to fear the public has totally lost confidence in Britain’s commitment to protecting its most vulnerable children.

 
He has also ordered a judicial inquiry into North Wales children’s homes, as demanded by the authors of the scandalously suppressed Clwyd report. This is brilliant news, but are inquiries alone enough? Repeated official inquiries have urged simple, sensible reforms to prevent paedophiles gaining access to children – and been ignored.

 
Who needs conspiracy theories, when the Cinderella status of childcare encourages and protects perverts?

 
Today Ministers will finally debate the possible horrific result – that children’s homes across Britain have been systematically infiltrated by child sex rings. Despairing police and social services experts have raised this for years.

 
Their frustration at official indifference made many ‘whistle-blow’ to the Press, including the Evening Stand-ard. In 1992, when we began investigating claims that children in Islington’s care were routinely raped and prostituted by staff, we suspected our sources were paranoid.
That seems an age of innocence ago. It was eventually proven that 32 Islington staff were allowed quietly to resign after serious allegations, including child porn, drugs, buggery, child abduction and dishonesty.

 
Most were given glowing references, allowing them to gain work with children elsewhere.
It took five government-ordered inquiries before the full truth emerged.

 
My loss of faith in the authorities stems from this time. The Standard became sick of Mickey Mouse inquiries which looked at everything except child sex abuse, and handed a 118-page dossier of evidence to Scotland Yard and the Social Services Inspectorate. We threatened to keep publishing until an adequate inquiry was held.

 
After 60 plus articles, the Ian White report last year finally confirmed what we first alleged three years be-fore.

 
Islington has reformed, its top people were sacked. Some former staff were tracked down and sacked, but only one has been jailed for child abuse – and that was in Morocco, this spring.
The police agree at least three of the men we highlighted belong to child sex rings. But they simply don’t have the resources to investigate.

 
Will the Prime Minister please today also face the abysmal undermanning of police child protection work? Only 16 specialists at Scotland Yard are meant to keep track of Britain’s child abusers and pornographers.

 
They are only meant to advise on cases outside the Met, and have long asked in vain for a national unit. If Mr Plod in the sticks doesn’t know or care how to investigate this sensitive area – and many don’t – they can’t muscle in.

 
National problems call for national solutions. The Government’s realisation of this partly stems from the latest children’s homes scandal.

 
Up to 300 Cheshire children were preyed upon by men seemingly linked to other, now disgraced, childcare workers in Clwyd and Liverpool.

 
Every major political party includes alleged paedophiles. Journalists routinely hoot when certain names are mentioned. The evidence, such as it is, invariably comes from rent-boys or screwed-up kids from care back-grounds. It’s legally unreliable and possible scurrilous. But does this explain why no party until now has really dared tackle child abuse?

 
Mr Major is a decent man and his courage in challenging the North Wales children’s homes cover-up is to be applauded. But does the existing independent inquiry report have to remain suppressed, even MPs have not been allowed copies.

 
I’ve read the whole damning 373 pages. Up to 200 children were abused and 12 have committed suicide, or died tragically. Just seven men were imprisoned. Many other perpetrators – including public figures – were named.

 
All along the inquiry team said a judicial inquiry was needed so certain people and organisations could be forced to give evidence, and the results published: an intended cover-up was clear from the start.

 
The media has explained the Clwyd report was pulped because council insurers feared victims’ compensa-tion claims. That’s only half the story. No one in authority emerges well from John Jillings’s painstaking in-quiry.

 
Senior executives, the Welsh Office and Welsh Social Services Inspectorate – which for years failed to in-spect a single one of Clwyd’s ‘Colditz’ style homes – must have winced reading it.
It is difficult not to suspect a mutually convenient cover-up.

 
Welsh Secretary William Hague will today give a report to Mr Major.
Confidence in the Prime Minister will soar if he orders Hague to publish.
Only if we face horrors can we learn from them – and, paradoxically, keep them in proportion. Many good people work in children’s homes: underpaid and undertrained but doing their best for often deeply disturbed, difficult children.

 
Only some of the repeated recommendations for reforms cost money – for example the 1986 suggestion, following the inquiry into Northern Ireland’s Kincora home, that only qualified staff be employed.

 
Others cost relatively little, for example the long-suggested social work ‘passport’, so job applicants can no longer easily hide their employment history.
One now imprisoned Clwyd worker was investigated internally six times – no one kept tally.
Common sense costs nothing, and the Government’s belated crackdown on poor teachers needs a social work equivalent. Liberal domination of the field has made managers terrified of sacking suspect staff.

 
The equal opportunities farce we exposed in Islington widely exists elsewhere. In Clwyd, too, men who preyed on boys deflected suspicion by crying ‘homophobe!’.
Social work trainers and recruiters are fond of insisting that heterosexual child abuse is more common. But ‘straight’ paedophiles can breed their own victims, through the family. Those who prefer boys need institu-tions: hence their targeting of children’s homes (and public schools).

 
In some Islington homes there was not a single heterosexual member of staff.
Even those measures which will cost have a long-term pay-off.
Currently, an estimated 23 per cent of Britain’s prison population grew up in care. How many bitter, unloved kids could be turned from crime, if care cured hurts rather than added to them? As long as childcare remains a low-status profession, and children’s homes dustbins few want to work in, perverts will obligingly queue up for jobs in them.

 

 

Evening Standard, 30th June 2003

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IMMEDIATELY after Tony Blair appointed Margaret Hodge as the new Minister for Children in his recent reshuffle, phones started ringing among former social workers who had once worked under her. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chickens,” one commented in disgust. “A sick joke,” remarked another.

These social workers couldn’t help recalling the inside story of an appalling child sex abuse scandal many of us have forgotten. In 1990, when Mrs Hodge – then Mr Blair’s neighbour in Richmond Crescent, Islington – was the leader of Islington council, these senior social workers had reported to her that a paedophile ring was operating in the borough and that children were being sexually abused in Islington care homes.
Mrs Hodge’s response was revealing: she chose not to back a thorough investigation. Instead, she dismissed their concerns and accused these social workers of being ” obsessional”.

When the story was exposed in the Evening Standard two-andahalf years later, in October 1992, her re-sponse was equally aggressive. She accused the newspaper of “a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”. It would be a further two-and-a-half years and five independent reports later before she would half-heartedly admit that she was wrong. Yet she would have known as early as 1991 that paedophiles were preying on children in Islington’s care.

In 1991, Roy Caterer, a sports instructor at a boarding school used by Islington, was arrested and sent to prison for seven-anda-half years for abusing seven boys and two girls, some of them in Islington’s care. Caterer admitted to police that he had abused countless Islington children over many years.

In 1995, an independent report prepared by Ian White, Oxfordshire’s director of social services, utterly vindicated the Evening Standard. It lambasted the council and confirmed that the social workers and the Stand-ard, whose reporters went on to win prestigious press awards, were right. It said, in part: “The inquiry has charted an organisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was chaotic. Such a chaotic organisation breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent professional practices in relation to child care.”

Mrs Hodge led Islington council from 1982 to 1992.
What the Standard uncovered – after taping hours of interviews with staff, parents, children and police over a three-month period – was a horrendous dereliction of duty by the council that routinely exposed the most vulnerable children in its care to paedophiles, pimps, prostitutes and pornographers.

What the Standard and the White report found inexcusable was the council’s refusal – led by Margaret Hodge – to listen and act when experienced staff and terrified children tried to articulate what was going on. Their testimonies lifted the lid on horrific events that were taking place in Islington: teenagers selling sex from their council homes, a girl knifed by a sexual abuser inside a children’s unit, a girl and a boy who shared a bed with a known paedophile, a 15-year-old boy fostered with a suspected paedophile – overriding the vociferous protests of social workers – who later sexually abused the boy as predicted. We could go on and on.
The tragedy was that from the moment these children came to live in the seemingly safe children’s homes under the care of Islington council, they became fair game.

Some of the very people who were supposed to protect them were involved in their sexual abuse. On top of all this, the social workers who tried to protect them were pilloried by Margaret Hodge and her social services directors. The damage done to such children is beyond comprehension.

But the story of the Islington child sex abuse scandal would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the brave actions of a single secret whistleblower. Until today, the identity of this whistleblower has remained a secret. Nobody outside a tiny coterie of key players knew who he – or she – was. And so it would have remained. But in the wake of Mrs Hodge’s appointment as Minister for Children, the whistleblower has decided to blow her cover. She doesn’t come to this decision lightly.

But so indignant is she at this ” cynical appointment” that she has decided to tell – for the first time – the full story of what really happened.

She wants us to know the truth about our new Minister for Children. For Mrs Hodge and her management team were never made properly accountable for what happened to the children whom they failed. Instead, the whistleblower and her supporters were marginalised, whereas Mrs Hodge is now a rising star in government.
The whistleblower’s identity, we can reveal, is Liz Davies, 55. She is now a successful senior lecturer in so-cial work at London Metropolitan University.

But back in 1990, Liz Davies was the senior social worker heading up a team of six in the Irene Watson Neighbourhood Office, one of 24 similarly decentralised council offices in Islington. In speaking out, she is joined by another insider who has also hitherto remained silent – her former ally and manager, David Cofie, 63. Other social workers from that time in Islington are prepared to support the position taken by Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie.

“Margaret Hodge definitely knew everything right from the start, and by ‘start’ I mean more than two years before it was exposed in your newspaper,” begins Mrs Davies, talking to the Standard in north London. “She knew as early as April 1990 that we had uncovered serious evidence of sexual abuse among children in our care and yet she chose not to pursue our investigation.”

Her story starts at the beginning of the Nineties. “I noticed that there was a sudden unexpected increase in vulnerable teenagers coming to our office to see social workers,” recalls Mrs Davies. “They’d be crying and depressed and they didn’t want to talk. I didn’t understand it. We spent a lot of time engaging with these children and began to closely investigate their lives.”

Soon Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie began to realise that sexual abuse was part of the picture.
“The children were displaying classic symptoms of sexual abuse and we started to hear disturbing stories of a paedophile ring. At this point, we had no idea as to the scale of the network, or that the children’s homes – under our control – were involved. We began working closely with the Islington Child Protection officers and following local and national child protection procedures to the letter.”

Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies collated the information in a series of reports that were presented to the directors of social services. They responsibly asked for additional funds for two youth workers to be seconded to their team to help with investigations, which were snowballing and threatening to overwhelm them. But their request drew an icy rebuke from their council leader. In a memo to the head of Isington’s social services, John Rea Price (a copy of which is in the possession of the Standard), dated April 1990 – written on “Islington council leader’s office” stationery and from “Margaret Hodge, Leader” – Mrs Hodge wrote the following: “Sexual Abuse in Irene Watson Area: David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight- to 16-year-old children at the Neighbourhood Forum. He is clearly concerned about the matter. However, simply requesting more resources is not, in my view, responsible for a manager given the well known concern of members at the state of the Social Services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in Social Services. The obvious option for your management to consider in relation to this emerging problem in the area is to reduce the fieldwork staffing to release resources for a detached youth worker in the area. I await your response.”

“We couldn’t believe it,” recalls Mrs Davies. “We were grappling with this enormous problem and all she was concerned about was balancing her budget. It boggles the mind. It was as if we were talking about park benches, not children.”

Because this critical memo was not made available to Standard reporters at the time of the investiga-tion-only coming to light years later, in May 1995, Mrs Hodge was never made to explain how it was she knew about the allegations of abuse for over two years without fully pursuing them.

David Cofie, in a separate interview, says that the standard procedure would have been for the matter to be referred to the child protection committee for a full investigation, but that this did not happen. Mr Cofie says that Mrs Hodge resisted his requests that the matter be properly investigated on three separate occasions. “The first occasion was when I decided the only responsible thing was to alert the community to the fact that paedophiles were operating in the area,” he recalls. “I wrote a short, subtly-worded report that was to be dis-tributed to the Neighbourhood Forum, which is open to members of the public. Well, Margaret Hodge went apeshit. She started screaming and shouting at me and refused to discuss it. I later heard that she had rub-bished me to colleagues behind my back, saying that I was exaggerating the sexual abuse claims and trying to make a name for myself.

But my colleagues told her, ‘David would never do that. If anything, he’s one of the most overcautious managers we have.’ ” In May 1990, Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies were summoned to a meeting convened by Islington’s assistant director of social services, Lyn Cusack. “By now,” says Mrs Davies, “we knew that the picture was far worse than initially imagined. I had learned that children in our care were being taken to homes in the country on weekends. It was highly suspicious, and I would later discover that they were being used to make child pornography and that people who ran our homes were getting paid in hard cash. But we were criticised as ‘hysterical’ and told in no uncertain terms to stop interviewing children and to cease child protection conferences forthwith.”

Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie continued to investigate regardless. They wrote and submitted 15 detailed reports but maintain their superiors still did not believe them. When the paedophile Roy Caterer, whose name Mrs Davies passed to the police, went to prison, Mr Cofie said to Mrs Davies: “Now they’ve got to believe us.” But Mrs Hodge and Lyn Cusack and their acolytes – inexplicably – still weren’t interested. The crunch for Mrs Davies came when she was ordered to place a “looked-after” seven-year-old boy in a home that was run by someone she had raised concerns about and considered unsafe. Her position had become untenable.

At the same time, she had started having a recurring nightmare. In the dream, Mrs Davies would be drinking a lovely glass of cold white wine that would suddenly turn into jagged pieces of glass that cut her throat to bloody ribbons. A friend told her: “It’s obvious, Liz, it’s all too much for you to swallow.”

In February 1992, Mrs Davies resigned in despair and took her information to Mike Hames, then head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit. He commenced an investigation, subsequently exposed in the Standard by Eileen Fairweather and Stewart Payne. More than 50 reports were published in the paper – which Mrs Hodge scornfully condemned – leading eventually to five independent inquiries.

It was another two-and-a-half years before the damning White report would be published – singling out and naming 22 people who worked for Islington and whose names were never published. Mrs Hodge went on the record to say that she was led astray, that her only fault was in believing her senior officers like Lyn Cusack. Those on the inside – like Mrs Davies – have always believed this was a fudge.

The critical April 1990 memo, which we reprint above, shows that Mrs Hodge’s claim is, at the very least, an oversimplification. It shows that when Mrs Hodge was directly presented with details of the sexual abuse allegations uncovered by Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies, she was apparently more concerned with allocating re-sources than addressing the substance of the allegations.

By the time the White report was published, Mrs Hodge had moved on. She would take up a top job in the City, then become MP for Barking, and later Minister for Higher Education. And now she is Minister for Children. David Cofie, on the other hand, stayed on at Islington until he retired in 1998.

So did Mrs Hodge ever thank Mr Cofie for the role he played in bringing to light this appalling scandal?
” Hodge never thanked me,” Mr Cofie says. “Nor did she apologise. Even though she had wrecked my ca-reer, frozen me out, made me persona non grata.

She was never a big enough person to say to me, ‘I am sorry for how I treated you. I was wrong. Thank you for what you did to save those children.’ ” Mrs Davies is even more scathing.

“It beggars belief to think that Tony Blair has awarded Hodge the highest job in the land for protecting the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.

Blair was her neighbour at the time. He must remember her appalling record.
What in heaven’s name was he thinking?”

How scandal unfolded
1982: Margaret Hodge becomes leader of Islington council
February 1990: Liz Davies and David Cofie, senior Islington social workers, uncover evidence of sexual abuse of children, and report it to a Neighbourhood Forum which council leader Margaret Hodge attends as ward councillor.

April 1990: Hodge memos Cofie’s boss, John Rea Price, the director of social services: “David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight-to 16-year-old children. He is clearly concerned. However, simply requesting more resources is not responsible for a manager given the concern of members at the state of the social services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in social services”.

May 1990: At a key meeting chaired by Lyn Cusack, assistant director of social services, Cofie and Davies are told to cease interviewing children and to stop convening child protection conferences

1991: Roy Caterer, who worked at a school used by Islington council for its children in care, is arrested for sexually abusing seven boys and two girls, and is jailed for seven-and-a-half years. Cofie and Davies ask social services for resources to help the victims, but receive no reply

February 1992: Davies resigns and takes her information to Scotland Yard
6 October 1992: A Standard investigation reveals that a 15-year-old girl worked as a prostitute from a coun-cil home; a 16-year-old was made pregnant at a teenage unit by a man suspected of involvement in a child sex ring; a girl was knifed by a pimp at an Islington home; and a boy was abused for years by a volunteer instructor
14 October 1992: Hodge says of the Standard’s investigation: “The way they chose to report this was gutter journalism … The story misled the public on the quality of childcare services in the borough”
23 October 1992: Hodge steps down as council leader to take up a post as a senior consultant with ac-countancy firm Price Waterhouse
3 March 1993: The Press Complaints Commission rejects all Islington’s complaints against the Standard
11 February 1994: Hodge admits to the Standard: “You were right that there was abuse in the children’s homes,” and blames her initial response on “misleading” information from senior officers and colleagues
23 May 1995: Report by Ian White, Oxfordshire director of social services, backs the Standard and says care-home workers were able to corrupt children in part because Islington’s ideological policies prevented complaints being investigated. Hodge responds: “I have had no involvement with Islington council for three years. It would be inappropriate for me to comment”
26 May 1995: Hodge tells Radio 4: “Of course I accept responsibility. I was leader of the council at the time”
13 June 2003: Hodge becomes Minister for Children
27 June 2003: Hodge tells Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4: “I don’t think that any of us recognised the danger of child abuse in children’s homes to the extent that we’re aware of it now. I’ve learned from my fail-ure to understand at that time”

At last they admit it: we were right;
Damning report on Islington’s former social services department vindicate the Evening Standard’s long campaign against the evil men who preyed on children in council care

By Eileen Fairweather & Stewart Payne

An era that allowed pimps and paedophiles to flourish unchallenged at the hear of child care in Islington, corrupting and seducing vulnerable children bestowed into their care, is finally over. It has taken three and a half years. At first the scandal uncovered by the Standard’s Children at Risk investigation was dismissed by the council leader as ‘gutter journalism’, but inquiry after inquiry – there were four in all, prompted by an alarmed Department of Health – vindicated the Standard’s articles. This fifth and final inquiry marks the change of heart by the council and a new era for the exploited children of Islington.

POLITICAL correctness and a slavish adherence to equal opportunities stifled proper investigation of suspected child abusers employed by Islington Council, a report states today. Paedophiles cynically exploited a policy designed to prevent discrimination against homosexuals to escape scrutiny and some are still working in child care today.

The report is a total vindication of the Evening Standard’s investigation into child welfare in the Labour-controlled borough. Our investigation highlighted the dangerously naive equal opportunities policy and a management system in chaos, leaving children exposed to considerable risk of abuse. The report states that, following our investigation, there has been significant improvement in the borough.

The independent inquiry by welfare expert Ian White, CBE, director of social services in Oxfordshire, and his assistant, Kate Hart, confirms that, until recently, Islington was in ‘a deplorable state of affairs’ and had disintegrated ‘from top to bottom’.

Most worryingly, it reiterates the Standard’s allegation that suspected paedophiles exploited the blinkered equal opportunities policy and, despite suspicions by other staff, escaped investigation.

While accepting the need for effective equality control, the inquiry says that the way it was implemented by Islington led to ‘over-protection’ and prevented an interventionist approach by managers.

‘In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the equal opportunities environment, driven from the personnel perspective, became a positive disincentive for challenge to bad practice,’ states the 60-page report, instigated by the Department of Health. ‘Positive discrimination in Islington has had serious unintended consequences in allowing some staff to exploit children.’

The report calls for a review of equal opportunities policy in the borough and warns: ‘We are not at all sure that the equal opportunities climate has sufficiently changed so as to avoid some of the problems of the past.’ The Evening Standard submitted a dossier to the White inquiry identifying 32 staff suspected by colleagues of abuse or neglect.

Mr White confirms that only four were investigated. Most were allowed to resign, often with glowing references.

YET all the allegations were ‘extremely serious and should have been investigated with vigour. Islington did not in most cases undertake the standard investigative processes that should have been triggered.
‘It is possible, therefore, that some staff now not in the employment of
Islington could be working elsewhere in the field of social services with a completely clean disciplinary record and yet have serious allegations still not investigated in their history.

‘Managers believed they would not be supported if they triggered disciplinary investigations involving staff from ethnic minorities or the gay community. It cannot be a coincidence that of the 32 staff a number fall within that group.’

Islington’s ‘positive bias towards certain groups’ became ‘unfair protection and a great danger’, according to the report. At the same time ‘there was no strong ethos of promoting children’s rights and protecting children at risk’.

In an unprecedented development, local authorities across Britain employing former Islington staff are advised to check their backgrounds with the Department of Health and Islington’s new management.
Mr White said the scope of the Standard investigation covered both ‘criminal behaviour as well as staff misconduct’. His report calls on other boroughs to learn from Islington’s mistakes. He describes Islington as a ‘classic study’ in how paedophiles target ‘the children’s world’.

Some may have entered its children’s homes through an agency, run by a friend of a worker subsequently tried for sexual abuse, that failed to carry out police checks. The Standard has informed the White inquiry of this organisation and details have been passed to the Department of Health.

The report expresses concern that anyone can set up a voluntary organisation, recruit volunteers and work with children.

All authorities should now demand higher standards of checks on agency staff and men obtaining contact with vulnerable children through the voluntary sector, states the report.

Controversially, the report calls for a Home Office initiative to pool police and social services information about suspects in children’s homes, education and the youth service. Currently, police are unable to pass on their intelligence about unconvicted men.

While acknowledging this is a’sensitive area’, Mr White points out that ‘a large number of men involved in paedophile rings have clean records’ despite ‘very serious’ information held by police.

A new regime of management in Islington has attempted to trace some of the children whose time in care exposed them to abuse and to offer them help. The White report states: ‘It is sadly the case that, for some of these young people, there were long periods when they were receiving inadequate care and protection and experiencing distress and damage. There are inevitably limits to the extent to which current interventions can address the effects of past wrongs.’

Today’s report examines how Islington allowed suspect staff to take early retirement or resign on medical grounds with enhanced benefits and a clean record.

‘This ‘back door’ could very well have allowed staff who were acting unprofessionally to exit Islington as questions began to be asked and again allowed them the possibility of employment elsewhere in the social services field.’ Many had been recruited with minimum checks, because Islington believed in positive discrimination for gays and ethnic minorities. ‘Officers could not insist on a reference from a previous employer (or) challenge the status of the referee. In other words, an applicant could provide references from two friends.’

The Standard passed details of its inquiry to the Health Department and Scotland Yard. Its allegations included Islington staff sexually abusing children, selling them drugs, showing and using them in pornography, and colluding with shop-lifting and child prostitution.

Vital files that went missing
THE Evening Standard investigation highlighted serious failings caused by Islington dividing its welfare services into 24 neighbourhood offices, sometimes headed by an officer with no social work experience.
The White report upholds the newspaper’s concern, stating: ‘There is no doubt in our mind that a neighbourhood structure is fundamentally unable to provide the expertise, consistency, checks and balances and professional standards required of a competent social services function.’ Islington has now overhauled the service.

The report is sympathetic with managers who repeatedly drew the deficiencies of the service to the attention of their bosses, only to be ignored. There was a ‘managerial vacuum’.

Even so ‘line managers should have visited children’s homes, should have taken necessary action, should have spoken to children, should have had proper supervisory systems, should have had proper appraisal arrangements, should have carried out spot checks and should have responded to allegations as serious as the ones made and now investigated’.

The report found no evidence of organised network abuse or of Islington failing to respond to such fears.
But it does uphold a Standard allegation that vital files required in a police investigation were not made available by Islington. The report finds no evidence of collusion ‘but considerable evidence of confusion and poor management of written records’.

It says that the Islington response to a request for files was ‘unhelpful and frustrating’ and it was easy to see how suspicions arose of their being deliberately withheld.

In fact, it is a recurring theme in the White report that files had been destroyed or misplaced and the inquiry calls on the borough to review its administrative service.

In one disturbing case, a boy in care – now 18 – who made 31 complaints against the borough, alleging severe physical and mental abuse, has been awarded £5,000 in compensation. He is currently in a psychiatric hospital after a recent suicide attempt.

The White report confirms that vital files in this boy’s case and in two other police child sex-ring inquiries went missing. ‘It appears that this happened at assistant director level’ where ‘many confidential files were destroyed by mistake’.

The loss of crucial personnel and client files makes it impossible fully to investigate many of the allegations made to the Standard.

The director, Lyn Cusack, has since resigned as have many other senior officers who presided over Islington’s child care service at the time of the Standard investigation. So, too, have the political leaders, including Margaret Hodge, now a Labour MP, and Sandy Marks, head of the social services committee.

The White report makes a list of recommendations that will have far-reaching consequences on child care beyond Islington.

Some lessons remain to be learned, and the report emphasises the need to continue reviewing equal opportunities policies and for improved training.

Thankfully, the era of Islington promoting the rights of male workers at the expense of the most vulnerable children in society is finally over.