Paedophile jailed for ten years may have abused hundreds (12.04.01)

The Times, 12th April 2001

by Ian Cobain

A swimming instructor jailed for ten years for abusing boys may have preyed on hundreds of children, police said.

William Hook, 63, was the first person to be prosecuted after a police and local authority investigation into care homes in London and the South East.

He was jailed at Kingston Crown Court yesterday after admitting 26 charges of serious sexual assault and indecency against six boys, four of whom have since attempted suicide. Detective Superintendent Andy Kay, who has been overseeing the investigation, said after the case that Hook came into contact with hundreds of young boys in care. “We are quite certain there are other victims out there.”

Judge Kenneth MacRae told Hook: “This is a sordid tale of depravity, self-gratification and corruption. You robbed children of their innocence, embarking upon classic grooming techniques. You bought their affection or made them reliant or submissive to you.”

Hook hung his head as the judge added: “One can only hope your victims can now begin to repair their shattered lives.”

Detectives are investigating the sexual abuse of up to 200 children at care homes in South London between 1974 and 1994. Officials from Lambeth Council in South London are helping.

Hook was arrested after the sister of one of his victims contacted police after reading about the inquiry, and detectives eventually found several boys who had been abused in the 1970s by a tattooed hunchback whom they knew as “Mr Mark”. This man was identified as Mark Peter Merchell, who had worked as a swimming instructor at Shirley Oaks Children’s Home, Shirley, Surrey, where Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark accommodated boys in council care.

Merchell’s real name was found to be Anthony Wenzel Petermichl. Police tracked him down through the Swimming Teachers Association, which had issued certificates to some of the boys, and by the time he was arrested in December 1999 he had moved to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and changed his name again, to William Alfred Hook.

Detectives found a cupboard in his home that had been converted into a “shrine” to children, with an altar and photographs of boys and girls.

Helen Kenward, consultant social worker with the investigation team, said: “All his victims were extremely intelligent. That was the profile he chose. They have been left with terrible after-effects. Some have turned to drugs, some have resorted to alcoholism and some have had difficulties in forming relationships.”

Miss Sally O’Neill, for the prosecution, told the court that Hook showered his victims with gifts, including bicycles, diving watches and cassette players, before abusing them.

The boys said that Hook insisted that the young swimmers he coached took their lessons without wearing swimming trunks. Miss O’Neill said that Hook selected favourites, offering them “special coaching” after other boys had left the pool, which was next to the children’s home.

Superintendent Kay said that Hook would have been in contact with children as young as two in the nurseries of the care homes. He said that the investigation into abuse of children in London care homes was continuing, and that there are inquiries into children’s homes in Southwark and in Tower Hamlets in East London.

In all 13 full-time detectives are working on the team, and 11 people – nine men and two women – have been arrested. Two men are on police bail, and further arrests are expected. The director of social services for Lambeth said yesterday that the same horrors could happen again.

Speaking after Mr Hook was jailed, Lisa Christenson said: “I cannot promise this will never happen again. But children in care must be a primary focus of any council. The council let down those children very badly but we are talking about events 23 years ago. My job is to make sure this never happens again.”

  1. Troyhand said:
    Local Government Chronicle – 6 July, 1999

    The former manager of care homes in Lambeth and Merseyside has admitted 35 charges of sexually abusing boys of a period of 20 years, reports The Daily Telegraph (p10).

    Michael John Carroll, of Oswestry, Shropshire, admitted at Liverpool crown court carrying out sex assaults on children while working in residential care between 1966 and 1986.

    He admitted 24 charges of indecent assault and indecency against 12 boys aged between eight and 15 years.

    He had a previous conviction before Wirral magistrates in 1966 for an offence of indecent assault when he was 18 against a 12-year-old boy in his care.

    Carroll failed to disclose the offence when he took his job with Lambeth. He denied a further 41 charges involving the 12 boys and two further complainants, a boy and a girl. The court ruled these charges be laid on file. He was remanded in custody for reports and sentence on 30 July.

    Carroll’s arrest followed an allegation of sexual assault received in June 1997 by Operation Care, a Merseyside police investigation begun four years ago into institutionalised child abuse in residential homes in the north-west.

    Meanwhile, The Daily Mail (p17) carries an investigation which claims to reveal ‘the scandal of how executives at Lambeth Council … knew Carroll was a convicted child abuser but still allowed him to manage homes’.

    The report says that despite Lambeth’s learning of Carroll’s conviction, ‘Lambeth officials went out of their way to to cover up his criminal record’.

    One police source said: ‘No one is saying Carroll’s abuse would have been stopped if Lambeth had taken action earlier. But the fact that they allowed a convicted abuser to work with children for the best part of 13 years raises a lot of questions.’

    Judith Brodie of Lambeth social services and health directorate, said the council regretted the abuse children suffered. ‘We are now both sadder and wiser about paedohpile activities. Whatever it takes, the council and police will pursue this investigation to the end.’

    Constant vigilance is needed to ensure that child abusers are prevented from working with children in care, Lambeth LBC chief executive Heather Rabbatts told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning.

    Commenting on the case of former social worker Michael Carroll, currently on trial at Liverpool crown court, who was allowed to head a Lambeth LBC children’s home in the 1980s even though the council was aware of his convictions for child abuse, Ms Rabbatts said: ‘Although he was disciplined for failing to disclose that he had an offence, he was still allowed to stay in post. That is not something that would happen today’.

    She told the programme: ‘We would obviously seek to ensure that children in our care are safe. What is tragic and appalling is that we have to be ever vigilant. These people find ways into the system and we have to go through our procedures all the time. You can never be complacent’.

  2. Troyhand said:
    Local Government Chronicle – 18 November, 1998

    Lambeth LBC is to launch an immediate public inquiry into claims that a child who was raped while in the authority’s care was not told that his attacker was HIV-positive for two and a half years.

    The Express (p22) reports that the victim, now 16, only learned the truth two weeks ago, when social workers alerted to him to the fact that he may have contracted the disease from his attacker, Steven Forrest, and advised him to take a blood test.

    A spokewoman for the council said that in the light of the revelations, an inquiry would be held by an independent investigator.

    The council is now trying to trace hundreds of former residents of the home who may have come into contact with Forrest between 1981 and his death in 1992.

    The council will also be working with Scotland Yard, which has launched its own investigation into allegations of paedophile activity at Lambeth-run children’s homes over a 20-year period.

    The authority estimates it could take two to three years to track down all the former occupants of their homes.

    The council’s vice-chairman of social services, Michael Cruickshanks, said: ‘I give an absolutely clear commitment that we will get at the truth of these matters, no matter how deep we have to dig.’

  3. Troyhand said:
    Your local Guardian – 8th February 2010
    Council report reveals incidents of child abuse in Lambeth

    Dozens of allegations of child abuse carried out by people working for Lambeth Council were investigated in the last financial year.

    Some 30 allegations of sexual abuse, 82 involving physical abuse, 16 involving neglect, and eight involving emotional abuse were investigated by the council and police, according to a council report.

    Seven employees were fired, and 23 disciplined as a result.

    Details are contained in the Biannual Safeguarding Report, due to be discussed by Lambeth’s Children and Young People’s scrutiny committee on Tuesday.

    The allegations resulted in some 21 criminal investigations, and four people being handed a police caution.

    The majority of allegations, 54, were made in schools and other educational establishments.

    Some 18 involved foster carers, five residential care homes, and 11 the borough’s health services.

    The report states “robust processes are in place in respect of safer recruitment”.

  4. Troyhand said:
    Independent – 07 February 1999
    Hunt for abused children

    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 pounds 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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