Hunt for abused children (7.2.99)

Independent on Sunday, 7th February 1999
by Sophie Goodchild

MORE THAN 3,000 children are to be traced as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at a string of care homes.

The Metropolitan Police and social workers are already conducting an inquiry into claims that a paedophile ring was operating in Lambeth children’s homes over a 20-year period.

Now a special team of social workers has been drafted in to search council archives for details of children who could also have been victims of abuse at the homes between 1974 and 1994.

Sources close to the investigation, called Operation Middleton, say that it could uncover a paedophile network spanning the country. The officer leading the inquiry, which is expected to take several years to complete, is Detective Superintendent Richard Gargini. He is understood to be reporting directly to Sir Paul Condon, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The investigation was originally triggered by claims that a young boy was raped at the Angell Road children’s home in Brixton by a residential worker who later died of an Aids-related illness.

The abuser has been named as Steve Forrest, a residential social worker who died in 1992 after contracting HIV. He had contact with many other children, whom the council fears he may have also abused. Another man, John Carroll, the former head of the Angell Road home, has since been charged by Merseyside police in connection with 69 indecent assaults on boys in Lambeth and in the Wirral.

The Angell Road home has been closed down along with others in the area as part of a drive to place children in private and voluntary care homes as well as with foster parents.

The Metropolitan Police refuse to confirm the cost of the inquiry but it is estimated that the bill will eventually cost as much as £3m and lead to compensation claims by former residents of the homes.

Lambeth council and the Metropolitan Police have been criticised in the past for failing to investigate thoroughly previous allegations of child abuse. However, the Met says it is working closely with Merseyside Police to ensure that all those who may have been affected are contacted and that evidence is gathered to secure prosecutions of any offenders.

Databases have been set up to provide information on all children and staff who lived and worked in Lambeth homes, and files and other sources of material have been placed in secure storage. A special building has been designated for the investigation team, consisting of 20 people, to ensure that detectives and social workers are able to liaise with each other.

The Met has also announced that it will be offering a counselling and support service both to the victims of the alleged crimes, and to their families.

The report into the allegations of abuse in the homes is expected to be made public once it has been completed.

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