The Evening Standard, 1st August 1997
YESTERDAY the Evening Standard revealed that a London council failed to act on warnings about sex abuse at one of its boys’ boarding schools. Today Local Government Correspondent Paul Waugh asks who was in charge and why they ignored pleas from police and social services to sack a suspected paedophile.
AFTER Islington, Hackney and Clywd, now comes Camden. The Labour-run council is the latest name added to the notorious list of boroughs where warnings on sexual abuse of children in their care went un-heeded.
An 18-month independent inquiry has found that children at Stockgrove Park School in Buckinghamshire were put at risk of abuse by a care worker after Camden failed to dismiss him. Most damning of all, the authority was offered by Thames Valley police and local social services evidence of abuse allegations concerning pupils at the school.
Surrounded by ancient woodland, Stockgrove Park School appeared to offer the perfect country retreat for young boys sent from abusive and impoverished homes.
The boarding school, which was founded by ILEA in 1970 to cater for “maladjusted children”, flourished largely unnoticed by locals in the nearby picturesque village of Heath and Reach.
Camden took over the school in 1989, and in 1992, following the insistence of Camden education director Peter Mitchell, a new headteacher was appointed.
Ken Rabone, a man with no experience in dealing with emotionally disturbed pupils, was given the job. He failed to tell his interviewers that he had a criminal conviction for assault with an offensive weapon.
According to an independent report by child protection experts Dr Barbara Kahan and Bodil Mlynarska, the climate at Stockgrove Park changed soon after Mr Rabone was appointed. He was said by staff to dress eccentrically, be unwilling to share issues with other teachers and developed a regime in which he frequently and irregularly expelled boys.
The situation deteriorated dramatically in November 1992, when an anonymous letter was sent to the education director alleging that Mr Rabone and his wife had engaged in unacceptable practices on a canal boat activity trip.
Education director Mr Mitchell, who had worked with Mr Rabone before, intervened and orders came from the education department that any criticism of the head was to be dealt with by disciplinary action.
Police and local social services first became involved when a pupil alleged that a black care worker at the school had been sexually and physically abusing children “for some time and quite frequently”.
The man was suspended but Camden managers completely botched the disciplinary proceedings against him. Crucially, they failed to use video and audio tapes of police interviews with the boy pupil. A disciplinary hearing found the man guilty of “misconduct” but decided to issue him only with a final warning. This was later downgraded to a written warning. The care worker returned to work several months later but he was suspended within six weeks following more allegations of abuse. He was suspended a second time and finally dismissed in February 1994.
The deputy head Terry Skillings, a man with 22 years’ experience at the school, was disciplined for alerting managers to allegations of abuse. He was found guilty by Camden of “vilification” of the head and told to leave in 1993.
Mr Rabone himself then began making allegations that some of the boys had been abused. He claimed that boys were regularly beaten, stripped and made to stand wet and naked in front of open windows. He also said that they were given the “cold hands treatment”, where staff would wake up boys by placing their hands on their bodies. Mr Rabone was told by Mr Mitchell to go on sick leave in January 1994 and the school was finally closed in June that year.
THE REPORT by Dr Kahan is extremely critical of Camden’s handling of Stockgrove Park and the suspen-sion of the care worker. What it fails to mention is that, since 1994, two former pupils have died of drug overdoses.
One of them claimed to have been abused by the man.
Judith Barnes, leader of Camden’s Tory opposition, said today: “The then director of education and senior Camden staff responsible for this nightmare must be made to answer for their extraordinary behaviour.”
The care worker is thought to be working for another local authority outside London, though not with chil-dren. Neither police nor Camden know of his whereabouts.
THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE
CAMDEN’s Director of Education throughout the Stockgrove Park affair was Peter Mitchell.
The first appeal hearing into allegations of sex abuse by the care worker was overseen by Dick Beedon, assistant director of education.
On the crucial question of which Camden officer decided to ignore a letter from police offering evidence of abuse, the inquiry is vague. A council investigator, referred to only as “E”, was one of those directly involved.
“E” admitted he had no experience in child protection, had never worked with the police before and was answerable to at least three superior officers.
Other senior figures at the time were head of special needs Denise Fenn and schools inspector Neil Smith.
Mr Mitchell, Mr Beedon and Ms Fenn no longer work for Camden.