Guardian, 19th November 2003
Tash Shifrin outlines key dates in the row over how the children’s minister dealt with reports of child abuse at a London council that surfaced when she was the council’s leader
1982: Margaret Hodge became Labour leader of Islington council.
1985: Demetrious Panton complained to senior figures at Islington council about being abused while in the council’s care in the 1970s and early 1980s. He received no official reply until 1989, when the deputy social services director, Anthony Cousins, wrote to say the council regretted what had happened but did not believe it was at fault.
April 1990: Senior social worker Liz Davies and her manager, David Cofie, raised concerns about sexual abuse to one of Islington’s neighbourhood forums. They asked for extra staff to help investigate but were turned down. Ms Hodge wrote a memo to the director of social services saying the budget would not allow extra staff. Ms Davies and Mr Cofie continued to raise concerns, sending “about 15 reports to senior managers and the area child protection committee”. The committee decided there was no cause for concern.
February 1992: Liz Davies resigned from her job after being ordered to place a seven-year-old boy in a care home run by someone she had raised concerns about. She took her information to Scotland Yard.
1992: Mr Panton raised his case again with Stephen Twigg, then an Islington councillor, and now minister for schools and a colleague of Ms Hodge at the Department for Education and Skills. In 1996 Mr Twigg, who has also worked as Ms Hodge’s parliamentary assistant, told the press he wished he had “taken it up in a more active way at the time” and admitted his failure to raise the case with Ms Hodge “may be a criticism of me”.
October 6th 1992: The Evening Standard began a series of reports alleging that dozens of children at two Islington council homes were abused. Ms Hodge accuses the Standard of “gutter journalism” and rejected its dossier on paedophile activity in the homes.
October 23rd 1992: Margaret Hodge stepped down as council leader to take a post with consultants PriceWaterhouse.
May 23rd 1995: An independent inquiry led by the director of Oxford social services, Ian White, found that the council failed to properly investigate the sexual abuse allegations. The inquiry report said it was possible many of the allegations were true and that abusers “are still working in the field elsewhere”. Of 32 named staff alleged to be involved in abuse, only four were disciplined. Two remained in post, including one working in childcare. The White report described the way the council was run at the time of the allegations as “disastrous”.
June 13th 2003: Ms Hodge was appointed children’s minister. Her appointment sparked a renewed campaign against her by the Standard, which had been vindicated in its 1992 reports by the 1995 White inquiry. Liz Davies, previously an unnamed whistleblower, went public in her anger at the appointment.
June 30th 2003: Ms Hodge rejected calls for her resignation as children’s minister. She acknowledged making one “terrible error of judgement” in 1992. But she added: “I think in the context of those times, people will understand why I made that [error of] judgement. I hope they understand that I’ve learned the lessons from that.”
November 11th 2003: Ms Hodge tried to block a BBR Radio Four Today programme investigation into the abuse in Islington children’s homes. She wrote to the BBC chairman, Gavin Davies, to condemn the programme, accusing it of “deplorable sensationalism” and called Mr Panton, who spoke to the BBC, an “extremely disturbed person”. Mr Panton, now a government consultant, said Islington council had repeatedly ignored claims that he had been abused as a child by Bernie Bain, who was head of the children’s home where he lived, in 1978. Bain, described by police as a “brutal sexual abuser”, has since committed suicide.
November 15th 2003: Mr Panton rejected the minister’s written apology for her remarks and said they were not genuine. He demanded a public apology, a donation to a children’s charity of his choice and payment of his legal costs.
November 19th 2003: Margaret Hodge issued a public apology to Mr Panton, read in the high court. Her statement said she was genuinely sorry for labelling him disturbed and accepted the allegation “ought never to have been written”.