The council officer told her friend: Don’t use Trotter as your babysitter. But the public was never warned (21.01.98)

Evening Standard, 21st January 1998

by Stewart Payne & Eileen Fairweather

A senior Hackney council officer was so concerned about social worker Mark Trotter that she warned a friend not to use him as a babysitter. However, her department failed to stop Trotter from working with vulnerable children in the deprived borough.

 Dinah Morley, assistant social services director, was able to warn her friend and fellow Labour activist as long ago as 1988 about her fears, yet Trotter continued his job until 1993, when his Aids-related illness forced him to give up. He died two years later as police were on the verge of arresting him over serious allegations of child sex abuse.

 Alarmingly, Hackney’s politically correct, trade union-dominated employment practices made Ms Morley and other officers impotent to protect the community at large.

 The independent Barratt report into the Trotter scandal found: “Everything was in favour of the employee.”

 The Barratt report confirmed that Trotter should have been suspended on at least two occasions in the Eighties after complaints by Hackney children of sexual abuse, but officers decided he could not be removed from childcare work because of “prevailing personnel policies and practices of the council”.

 Following the report’s publication two weeks ago, rumours have circulated about the unnamed “friend” who received the warning.

 At an emergency meeting of the council to discuss the report, Liberal Democrat leader Kevin Daws, said: “If the friend … is a Labour councillor or ex-councillor then they should identify themselves and explain to the council why they did not insist on Mark Trotter being removed from working with children.

 “What justification can there be for them to protect their own children while, by implication, putting Hackney’s children at risk? It is a disgrace.”

 Today the Evening Standard can reveal that the friend was Denise Robson, who was a Hackney Labour councillor from 1981 to 1986, and again from 1991 to 1994. Last year she tried, unsuccessfully, to gain election as Labour MP for Maidenhead at the general election.

 She is married to Labour councillor Simon Matthews, who did not respond to Mr Daws’s question at the emergency meeting.

 The woman who warned her, Dinah Morley, was not only assistant social services director at Hackney but had formerly been a Hackney Labour councillor and, on

 three occasions, had stood for selection as parliamentary candidate for Hackney South. She has since left Hackney Council.

 Mr Barratt said that if Trotter had been suspended or redeployed, “as should have happened”, the “covert” warning would not have been needed.

 Hackney people might well be wondering why they were not told of the risks Trotter posed – until they read of them in the Evening Standard – or why steps to remove Trotter were not taken. After all, both Ms Robson and Ms Morley were experienced in council matters.

 The Evening Standard asked the question on their behalf. Answers were not forthcoming.

 We spoke to Ms Robson outside her home. She said: “I gather this matter has been raised at the emergency meeting but until I know what was said I have nothing to say”. That was four days ago and she has offered no further comment.9

 Ms Morley lives with Hackney Labour activist Mike Davis. As he explained that Ms Morley was not at home she arrived at her door and pushed past the Evening Standard reporter without comment. She has offered no comment since.

 SILENCE OF THE MP

 Speak to my lawyer, says Labour’s Sedgemore

 WHY has Hackney South Labour MP Brian Sedge-more remained silent over the Trotter affair? When the Evening Standard tried to contact him for his views on the paedophile social worker in Mr Sedgemore’s constituency party, he failed to return calls and finally put his solicitor onto us, demanding to know why we wanted to speak to his client.

 It should have been obvious. The Trotter scandal, exposed by the Standard in 1996, was centred in his constituency.

 Mark Trotter, a leading figure in the local Labour Party, was agent for Wick Ward, within Mr Sedgemore’s constituency, and was education officer for his constituency party – an important post with influence over the selection of school governors.

 Trotter was active in constituency and trade union affairs and his name had been put forward as a prospective Hackney councillor.

 During this time, as an NSPCC investigation has since confirmed, Trotter was abusing Hackney children, just as he had Liverpool child renduring a previous employment. Yet, as the Standard discovered, Trotter had come under suspicion several times during his 12 years at Hackney, but had continued to work with children.

 Finally Hackney Council launched a woefully inadequate and worthless search for his potential victims, managing to trace only a handful.

 All of this would surely be of concern to Mr Sedgemore’s constituents.

 Reason enough for the local MP to have something to say and certainly justification for the Evening Standard to ask for his opinions.

 However, Mr Sedgemore did not talk to us in 1996 and has not done so since, despite renewed efforts to talk to him following publication of the Barratt report. The Standard visited his mews home in Hackney and left a message. Still no comment. His attitude is in marked contrast to Hackney’s other Labour MP, Diane Abbott, who responded swiftly to Evening Standard inquiries and gave its reporters an interview in her home.

 And as Standard articles revealed the extent of the Trotter scandal, she wrote to her national party urging it to step in and insist on Hackney holding an independent inquiry into the Trotter affair, which she described as “potentially the most serious scandal of all”.

 The Barratt report, despite criticising Hackney over its politics and mismanagement, did not find any evidence of cover-up. But it confirmed that Trotter was an active member of Mr Sedgemore’s constituency party.

 Only after the Standard was contacted by Mr Sedgemore’s lawyer were we assured that he, too, had backed calls for an inquiry.

 Ms Abbott gave evidence to the inquiry but, according to the inquiry secretary, Mr Sedgemore did not appear to have done so.

 Although Mr Sedgemore has refused to talk to the Standard, he has written to Hackney Liberal Democrat leader Kevin Daws to say: “Thank you for your letter in which you combine factual inaccuracies with stupidity.”

 Mr Sedgemore then goes on to misspell Barratt, the name of the man who conducted the 14-month inquiry. He states that most of the councillors who inspired “false allegations” had now joined the

 Lib-Dems.

 He also wrote an article in the Labour Leftwing publication Tribune last month, before the Barratt report confirmed much of what the Standard had revealed over the Trotter affair and commented on the “dominant” role of the newspaper and the “careful research” and accuracy of its articles.

 He wrote: “Lazy and ignorant journalists may continue to criticise the 24 official and loyal Labour councillors, but in doing so they debase and demean themselves as well as their trade.”

 SILENCE OF THE COUNCILLORS

 Officials make no apologies for ‘so- called’ scandal

 THE Barratt inquiry report into the Trotter affair stated: “The way Hackney organised its politics during the period under review has been a major cause of organisational incompetence.” But none of the key councillors in control at the time has even said sorry, let alone resigned. No councillors are named in the report but these are the key figures:

 JOHN McCAFFERTY was leader or deputy leader of Hackney Council for almost all of the past 10 years. The inquiry found impropriety, incompetence and mismanagement and the NSPCC confirmed Trotter had abused at least six Hackney children with the suspicion that there may have been more.

 Mr McCafferty, a school teacher, told the Evening Standard he saw no reason to resign.

 He said he took “no responsibility” for the “vicious, poisonous and personality-based” Hackney regime highlighted in the report which, he added, was a “complete vindication not only of the Labour group but of every individual Labour member”.

 At an emergency meeting of the council to discuss the Barratt report he could only describe the scandal as “the so-called Trotter affair”. The best he could manage at the meeting was a very conditional quote: “If there was anything which we could have done and didn’t do, or did do and shouldn’t have done, individually

 or collectively, then we do unreservedly take responsibility and apologise.”

 Since then, like many of his fellow Labour councillors, he has relied upon Julie Grimble, councillor and press officer for their group, to answer awkward questions.

 “Mr Barratt does not call for any resignations and we do not see this as a resigning issue,” she said.

 This is Labour’s stock defence.

 The 150-page Barratt report did not find evidence of corruption, nor does it recommend that anyone stand down. This much is true, although Mr Barratt did state that those responsible for the “overshadowing politics ought not be able to walk away” from its consequences.

 It is, nevertheless, a damning indictment of Hackney’s former ruling Labour regime and the officers it employed. It highlights poor service, mismanagement and the “immense political influence” of the trade unions, as well as the vindictive nature of its politics.

 SHARON PATRICK was Labour deputy to Mr McCafferty as well as chair of social services for the first five years of this decade. She refused to talk to the Standard but referred us to Ms Grimble who said: “The allegations in the Eighties were before her time and before the time of many current Labour councillors. We must take responsibility for what was done then but there is no reason for Sharon or anyone else to resign.”

 JEREMY KILLINGRAY became acting head of social services at the time the scandal emerged. He did not return calls made by the Evening Standard.

 But from earlier conversations with the Standard, as well as from the Barratt report, it is clear that he feared the allegations against Trotter could have been inspired by homophobia.

 NICK TALLENTIRE was, briefly, Labour leader at the time of the scandal.

 When originally contacted then by the Standard he challenged us to prove that Trotter had died of an Aids-related illness – a fact not in any doubt, said Barratt – and told councillors that the articles were “sensational”. Both he and Mr Killingray initially rejected holding an emergency meeting, although Mr Barratt stated that councillors were not being properly briefed by officers.

 And they were reluctant to call for an independent inquiry.

 Mr Barratt said: “There was clearly a matter of public interest raised by the Evening Standard, yet the relevant administration councillors (and notably the leader and acting chair) were still, at the time undecided about whether there should be an inquiry.”

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