How Louise, aged 15, was sent back to a life of shame (16.10.92)

Evening Standard, 16th October 1992

by Stewart Payne & Eileen Fairweather

SINCE the Evening Standard’s disclosures about how Islington Council failed to protect children in care from sexual abuse, we have received numerous calls from people saying they too had suffered at the hands of the borough’s social services.

The Standard’s investigation, published last week, revealed how young people in children’s homes or under the supervision of a social worker were preyed upon by pimps, paedophiles and drug pushers. Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley described our findings as ‘serious and worrying’ and has told Islington Council to provide a report to the Social Services Inspectorate.

All the calls received by the Standard are being evaluated for inclusion with the material we will submit to the Inspectorate. Social workers who assisted the Standard, and whose concerns we highlighted, will also send a file to the Inspectorate.

One of the most disturbing cases in our investigation was that of Louise. Since the original report, infor-mation passed to the Standard shows her story is more horrifying than we thought. Eileen Fairweather and Stewart Payne report.

LOUISE is the girl we revealed was working as a prostitute at the age of 15 at her Islington children’s home. She disappeared and has been seen working the streets of Soho and King’s Cross. Our inquiry showed how lax or negligent management meant that pimps had access to homes to procure children.

Now we have discovered that a worried residential social worker, with the help of police, made one last desperate attempt to rescue Louise from a life of degradation and exploitation.

They snatched her from a pimp’s house and took her to safety – only for Islington social services bosses to order she be sent back to the home where the pimps had found her.

She has now disappeared and it is feared she has been taken to Amsterdam’s notorious red light district.

No one could deny that Louise was a difficult child. Her mother was a suspected prostitute and she came into care after she was raped by a relative. She was a persistent absconder from her children’s home, defied authority and was frequently in trouble with the police. She would be a challenge for any social services department.

When confronted with a case like this you recognise the task they faced. But her background and behav-iour made it all the more important that she was given attentive and thoughtful care – if only to save her from herself. Certainly not everyone had given up on Louise.

Former Islington residential worker Billy O’Neill, 38, read our investigation last week and recognised the girl we called Louise. He was angered by council leader Margaret Hodge’s dismissive attitude to our reports.

Mr O’Neill was closely involved in the fate of Louise because he was working at another Islington home where her younger brother and sisters were in care. His story challenges Islington’s claim that it works harmoniously with police to protect children.

Louise was taken into council care after a relative was imprisoned for raping her. But care was not a safe haven: for she was then gang-raped by boys from another Islington children’s home. This led to an internal inquiry and pledges that steps would be taken to ensure it could never happen again.

Louise felt threatened by her attackers, but the council did not move her. According to Mr O’Neill: ‘Louise went on the run. She had no one to knew she was working by day at a Soho strip joint, and being made by the pimps to sell sex at night in a flat where they kept her. She was 15.’

One night Mr O’Neill, now working for a charity, came on duty to find that Louise’s pimps had earlier taken away her brother and sisters and police had been called.

The pimps returned the brother and sisters at midnight. ‘But they would not allow Louise to get out of the car. They said that they had let Louise say goodbye to her brother and sisters because they were taking her to Amsterdam.’ Mr O’Neill and a colleague were so worried they again rang Highbury police. ‘They were fantastic,’ he says. Together the social workers and police worked out a plan. The social workers persuaded Louise’s brother to lead them to the house where Louise was kept. Armed with a warrant they would burst in and snatch her to safety.

‘At five in the morning the boy and I walked down this street in Haringey, with a police van crawling behind us. He pointed out the house and a sergeant and two constables went in and got Louise out.

‘We were all really pleased at an operation that went so well. The social services Emergency Duty Team had promised me and the police that Louise would not be sent back to 80 Highbury New Park. The police could keep her at the station until the morning and a ‘place of safety’ arranged.

The following morning the police arrived to see Mr O’Neill. ‘They were furious. They had been rung first thing in the morning by the Neighbourhood Office, were told off for keeping Louise in a cell – they had no-where else for her to sleep – and ordered to return her immediately to 80 Highbury New Park. Social services had reneged on our plan.

‘The police officers were family men themselves. One was near tears and the other so angry he was beating his fists against the police van. I was so choked I had to go away for a few minutes myself.

‘The police told me that, needless to say, within two hours Louise went on the run again. No one to my knowledge has seen her since.’

Mr O’Neill was so angry that he rang the Neighbourhood Office, demanding to speak to the manager who had made the decision. He was stonewalled.

Mr O’Neill, who resigned last year, also told of the case of a worker at his home who resigned after it emerged he was having a relationship with an under-age girl in his care. It took four months for management to investigate complaints about the worker by colleagues, says Mr O’Neill.

Mr O’Neill supports the need for an independent inquiry into Islington’s handling of child care. ‘I went into social work because I care about the dignity of people and the protection of children. Islington has betrayed so many children so badly.’

We asked Islington to comment on the case of Louise and on other matters raised in the many calls received by the Standard. It declined.

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