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Dr Liz Davies

Desiring Progress

Last Friday (August 1st, 2014), Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, issued a statement on the poor treatment of whistleblowers, and how they are often victimised by managers (see Rayeev Syal, ‘Public service whistleblowers ‘treated shockingly’, report finds’, The Guardian, August 1st, 2014). Hodge was earlier Leader of Islington Council from 1982 to 1992, during which time the council was beset by a terrible child abuse scandal affecting most of the children’s homes in the borough. Liz Davies was a social worker for Islington Council who acted as the principal whistleblower about this scandal; she is now Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University. Below I reproduce, with permission from Dr Davies, an open letter from her to Margaret Hodge in response to Hodge’s recent comments.

See also Liz Davies’ website, in particular this page featuring videos of various…

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Following his presentation to the Home Office of two dossiers about sexual crimes against children, Geoffrey Dickens raised concerns about ‘child brothels’ being run on an Islington Council Estate. In 1986, he spoke of tenants providing him with tape recordings of children screaming during ‘sex sessions’ and mentioned 40 child victims some as young as 6. He also identified three premises and reported matters to Scotland Yard and Douglas Hurd the Home Secretary. These allegations were denied at the time by the Director of Social Services. Yet, in the very area where Dickens was highlighting his concerns, the decomposed body of a girl of 17 was found in a cupboard in a block of council flats. She was said to have been strangled during oral sex after being at a ‘sex party’. This was in 1988 when, as a social work manager in the area, I was hearing rumours of children in the care system being murdered. I remembered the girl’s name being whispered and made a note but have only recently acquired the press cuttings about her going missing and then being found murdered. I do not know if Vivian Loki was in the Islington care system because no-one is interested in finding out. I have reported this case repeatedly to various authorities since the early 90s.

Another whisper, also scribbled in my hand written notes at the time, was of a thirteen year old boy Anthony McGrane (I had recorded his name as McGrath and his age as 9 years – perhaps this was another child – I do not know). Anthony was found dead in a garage. This time the press cuttings said that he had been a resident in Conewood Street Assessment Centre. If this was true then this was the same children’s home where residential workers had told me that Jason Swift had lived shortly before he was murdered by Sidney Cooke and his gang. At the time of the Islington Inquiries in the 90s, Jason’s residence in an Islington home was also denied by the senior Islington manager. Anthony died of multiple stab wounds. My notes stated a different garage location from the one in the newspapers. Perhaps my information was flawed. Police at the time said that his death may have been linked to 16 other child killings. In both these cases men were convicted of manslaughter and each served 6 years imprisonment.

In the early 90s, when I exposed the extensive abuse of Islington children in the care system, I began to hear accounts of other child murders. Managers, who must have known of these previous cases, accused me of being obsessional and hysterical and tried to stop my investigations. I have recently learnt that orders came from a senior police officer to close the investigations down. I do not know if anyone has a current interest in knowing who that officer was and of course by now he may not even be alive. The social work manager who told me to forget my work with police at that time needs to be called to account with many others who continued to work within the profession and were never asked to explain their absolute disregard for the safety of children. At the time of the Islington Inquiries some staff left the country returning in later years to resume their careers.

In the absence of police investigation, I have continued to raise my concerns through the twenty-plus years but there has never been a national overview of the connections that went way beyond Islington borders. I have no doubt that children were marketed for sexual exploitation to children’s homes all over the country and I have long argued for a national police and social work investigation team. However, instead of improving child protection systems they have been steadily eroded. Joint police and social work child protection teams have long been closed down and in 2013, revised statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, completely eliminated the definition of organised abuse and the means of investigating it. I was horrified. Who exactly was responsible for this policy change?

This is why I want a National Inquiry into organised child abuse. I have struggled to get such cases investigated for many years and got nowhere. I want to know the reason for that. I want to know who was responsible for shredding my files on 61 child victims which were unavailable to the Inquiries. I want to know why so many of the Islington staff who supported the abusers and colluded in the cover ups went on to senior social work posts. I do not know who the 32 social services staff were that, following the Inquiry, were not allowed to work with children but I have certainly located two members of staff who tried to protect children, found their names on the list and were unable to continue their careers. I want to know how such an injustice could happen to good people and no-one be brought to task over it. Only recently I obtained a report of an Inquiry to which I had presented evidence. Nothing of my 4 hour contribution featured in it. The authors of that Inquiry need to be called to account.

Those MPs who have not signed up to the need for a National Inquiry are under scrutiny. Margaret Hodge, former labour lead in Islington who did not believe my reports of abuse networks has not so far stated her position. In her defence, she often said that she was misled by her senior officers. I want to know if, when she realised she had been misinformed, she reported these so called professionals to the relevant regulatory bodies and to police. I want answers. I have waited a long time. Now, through social media, adult survivors are coming forward adding to my knowledge of what happened in the Islington care homes. They also want answers . Most of them have waited far longer than me.

Dr Liz Davies

Reader in Child Protection
London Metropolitan University

l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk
02.07.2014

What Can I Do About It?

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

A fascinating discussion between Matthew Parris (columnist and former Conservative politician) and Liz Davies (front-line child protection social worker from London Metropolitan University) about the forthcoming national inquiry into child sexual abuse was broadcast yesterday on the Spectator blog (transcript below). It was fascinating partly because of Liz Davies’ recounting of how her investigations into child abuse and murders of children were stopped by unknown senior people, and partly because of Matthew Parris’ refusal to accept that what Liz Davies was saying might be true. Although as Matthew Parris had just published a Spectator article called ‘What kind of idiot tries to stand in the way of a national child abuse panic? I do’ and subtitled ‘I know the rumours. I think they’re mostly nonsense. I don’t expect a fair hearing’ (pay-walled) he perhaps found it impossible to allow himself to be convinced…

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Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met, on Tuesday 13th May at 11.30 am, with Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Minister of State at the Home Office, in the presence of Adrian Sanders MP for Torbay. Adrian Sanders had requested that the meeting take place and it was tabled for half an hour. The meeting began 15 minutes late.

Report of the meeting

The Minister advised that he would be available for ten minutes as he had another important appointment. He listed a number of items that he could not discuss as these were not the direct responsibility of the Home Office – such as any current police investigations and individual cases. He also stated that the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People had been set up as a national response to child sexual exploitation. PM assured him that as former child protection managers neither he nor LD would have expected to discuss anything related to current police investigations.

PM then outlined his reasons for requesting the meeting.

1. He had written to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Edward Miliband asking them to work together and to honour a commitment that David Cameron had made immediately after the Savile scandal. Cameron had said, ‘The Government will do all it can, other institutions must do what they can, to make sure that we learn the lesson of this and it can never happen again. Collusion should never happen again’.

PM explained that there was no evidence that the Government or Parliament to date were showing any sign of including themselves amongst those institutions who should be investigating their role in either child abuse or its cover-up.

2. PM referred to the replies to his letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and also a reply from ” L.Smart ” Home Office, in which all used exactly the same phrase, ‘Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes.’

PM asked who L. Smart was who had signed the letter to him from the Home Office but the Minister and his associate did not know. The Minister said that he had read PM’s email correspondence.
Again, PM stated that no evidence had emerged in the last 2 years that, when it came to the suggestion that a Member of Parliament might be the abuser or his colleagues might be involved in covering up such abuse, the public could take such promises seriously. The Minister suggested that attitudes and practice had changed in the post-Savile era. He believed that police forces would now charge anyone, no matter who they were, if the evidence was available.

LD stated that she and PM were just two of many professionals who had over many years built up a solid body of evidence which had never been investigated. She made particular reference to the extensive abuse carried out in Islington which LD attempted to expose with others in the 1990′s. She said that both had contributed to Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge and had much respect for the hard work of the few police officers working on those investigations since Tom Watson’s Prime Minister’s Question began the process in October 2012.

PM added that, putting aside the very positive changes in attitude inspired by Keir Starmer at CPS level towards witnesses, a great deal could have been achieved in the last 2 years, without prompting, by each political party to investigate their internal cover ups on such prominent politicians as Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison. The public view is that this would not happen of the Government/Parliament’s own volition.

PM wished to be reassured that action would be taken against all perpetrators and alleged perpetrators – including those in government. Norman Baker emphasised a number of times that anyone who has committed crimes against children or who is alleged to have committed such crimes must be subject to due legal processes whoever they are. PM stated that there was sufficient grounds to merit police investigation into at least 27 members of the Commons and Lords, some deceased and some alive. Norman Baker asked if any of the MPs were currently sitting in Parliament and PM confirmed that some of them were.

PM then referred to the role of the Home Office in relation to the Paedophile Information Exchange in the 70s and suggested that the role of MI5, MI6 and government in relation to the safety of children should be a matter for public disclosure because, although he acknowledged that some aspects of government needed to remain secret for reasons of national security, this criteria did not, in his view, apply to the protection of children which is of central importance to every concerned citizen in the country.

Norman Baker mentioned that a number of current investigations were in progress and LD commented that these were fragmented and that a national investigation was required to ensure co-ordination. She mentioned, as an example, Michael Gove’s recent request for 22 authorities to investigate children’s homes where Operation Yewtree, the investigation into crimes against children perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, had indicated a possible connection. The Minister said a national inquiry would demand major resources but LD clarified that she had spoken of a national police investigation not an inquiry. Norman Baker said that a national investigation would not always be helpful because, for example, where the issues are within the NHS then the NHS is best placed to be a focus of investigation. LD asked if he was open to considering the need for increased police and social work resources in view of the enormity of the national task. She explained that some survivors who contact her wait a considerable time to be interviewed by the police. He responded that what was needed was a change in attitude rather than increased resources.

There followed a brief discussion about the need for more support for survivors when they were considering speaking with or providing evidence to police or social workers and about how they can have better trust in the systems. The Minister commented that an increase in reporting of child abuse by victims was a positive development signifying a change in attitude. PM stated that, for all the known reasons, survivors were not coming forward and therefore the Police were limited in what they could achieve. PM suggested that much greater efforts were needed to convince survivors that they would be believed and supported even if their allegations were against powerful politicians or members of the Establishment.
The meeting was then brought to a sudden end when the Minister was informed of an urgent phone call and he left the room.
PM and LD thanked Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay, who had facilitated today’s meeting, but informed him that his efforts had been in vain because the brevity of the meeting had ensured that it had served no real purpose and had left both PM and LD feeling quite strongly that their views and opinions were never going to be taken seriously or answered. PM considered that his long held view that most politicians see themselves as our political masters rather than our elected representatives was definitely reinforced by the experience of this meeting

Comment on the meeting

Whilst we recognise that we were very privileged to have met with the Minister, overall the meeting was a disappointment It was certainly important to gain reassurance that everyone, of whatever status and background, would be subjected to the same due legal processes when suspected or known to have committed crimes against children. However, in our view, current police operations are poorly resourced and the officers are struggling to meet the increased level of reporting that the Minister referred to. It was therefore disconcerting to hear that an increase in police and social work resources for the proper investigation of crimes against children was not to be considered. It was also disappointing to learn that the Minister did not support the concept of a national police and social work investigation team. We know that senior police officers have been asking for such a team for over twenty years and that the proactive collation of intelligence and coordinated analysis of victims’ accounts and corroborative evidence is essential to the targeting of child sex offenders. The offenders themselves are of course well networked at a national and international level. They continue to evade justice and to offend against children because of a statutory response situated at local level.

Peter McKelvie

Liz Davies
l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk

15.05.2014

Further reading:

An Open Letter to David Cameron


An Open Letter to David Cameron: MPs’ Responses


A Visit to the Home Office

Tom Watson MP, on October 12th 2012, asked a Prime Minister’s Question to ensure that the police investigate claims of a powerful paedophile ring linked to a previous prime minister’s senior adviser and parliament. Watson said that an evidence file collected by the police to convict paedophile Peter Righton, in 1992, had contained clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring.

 

Following this question, and in response to many recent exposés, the government did initiate a range of reactive inquiries and police operations. It also set up the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People.  The title, though, is significantly flawed because, of course, children are people and also vulnerable.  This Home Office led group, established in April 2013 and chaired by Damian Green MP, has published a Progress Report and a report of national findings relating to a multi-agency project.  I haven’t yet noted a strong base in survivor and care-leaver groups, a consultation process or any invitation for the presentation or collation of evidence.

 

The Home Office would not have been my department of choice for this work. In the 80s, Geoffrey Dickens MP presented the Home Office with extensive dossiers about serious crimes against children. These were carelessly mislaid and it seems little action resulted from his investigations. Dickens was exposing the sexual abuse of children in the London Borough of Islington long before I whistleblew about it and just a street or two away from the events I exposed in the 90s.  I was a social worker in Islington at the time and it is my deep regret that I did not contact him. However, my investigations were without the advantage of the internet, social media and strong survivor networks currently proving so helpful to investigations.

 

I looked optimistically for the word ‘social worker’ in the Progress Report but social work as a profession is severely marginalised. There is a mention of the appointment of the Chief Social Worker and a one liner about social work practice.  This is no surprise as the Working Together 2013 statutory guidance, which the Progress Report pledges to implement in full, omits all reference to methods of joint police and social work investigation  and even removes the definition of organised abuse. As it isn’t included I expect that no-one will notice it – let alone investigate it. Social work is now all about assessment of needs and the police separately investigate crime. Unfortunately, the protection of children does not fit so neatly into such divides. The nuanced, skilful work of specialist police and social workers jointly investigating child abuse, in a child-centred way, has been steadily under attack since the mid 90s. Academics and politicians are among those rightly accused of assisting the demise of proactive child protection work which has consistently led to  tragic consequences for children.  Prevention, early intervention and family support  approaches were implemented as an alternative to policies and methods of protection –  as if the protection of children could be made redundant if these early years systems were in place. The changes also provided an opportunity for the easy privatisation of services. It was comparable with having fire alarms but no fire fighters. 

 

Serious case review findings, following the deaths of children from abuse, have in recent months highlighted that the focus of work was on the parents and adults rather than the child, there was a lack of investigation of perpetrators, poor evidence collation and little focus on direct communication with children. Specialist joint child protection teams have been discarded and police and social workers now rarely train together. The Progress Report promotes the Frontline social work fast track education scheme to bring Russell Group graduates into the work.  Some of us working in higher education cannot imagine how this can possibly work. We are anxious about the scheme competing with us for valuable student placements and fear for a profession in which newcomers will be unlikely to reflect the diverse class and ethnic backgrounds of those who use the services. In contrast to my own teaching, I doubt if the syllabus will include anything about organised sexual crime.

 

The child protection professional who informed Tom Watson’s prime minister’s question has written about his former team of social workers who, working jointly with police over 8 years during the 90s, took over 4000 referrals and achieved 37 convictions of child sex offenders. The team closed down 9 boarding schools associated with these investigations.  Such expert teams no longer exist. The joint investigation of child abuse has been air brushed out of policy, yet it is only when social workers and police work closely together, focusing both on the world of the children and that of the perpetrator, that effective investigation can take place. Those of us who worked in this way in the 90s know in depth what works and how it works. We do not need a National Group to tell us how to protect children and how to prosecute child sex offenders.  We also know that, with devastating impact on abused children, this proven methodology is not being implemented now. The systems and structures that supported it have long since been dismantled.  Working Together 2013 also removed guidance about child trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and honour-based crime as well as a focus on disabled children. It removed chapters on training and development and on how to manage those who pose a risk to children. The responsibility for detailed protocols covering such matters now falls to each locality. This takes me back to the early 80s and the mayhem of a free-for-all as each area had their own child protection procedures. The government thinks that  professionals  should rejoice at the reduction in pages of Working Together guidance from the 700 of the previous version to just over 70. However, knowing the tragedies that will undoubtedly follow, I can only mourn the reckless deregulation of protocols that did effectively protect children.

 

The source of Tom Watson’s question has written an open letter to David Cameron. He has suggested that all three party leaders come together to forget their political roles and act as fathers of young children and as decent citizens. They should show the moral courage to stop the cover-ups and allow all abusers to face justice regardless of their privileged position in society.  Responses from Cameron and Clegg to this letter refer to the National Group but this is not the answer.  What is needed is a national police and social work child protection team to work proactively, co-ordinate local investigations,  collate current and historic intelligence and achieve justice for child abuse survivors and care-leavers as well as protecting children currently being harmed.  Clichés and rhetoric are not required. We have heard it all before and we recognise an excuse for inaction when we see one.  

 

Tom Watson’s question pointed to investigations that were closed down when they got too close to people in power. This was also my experience in Islington when all police were removed from my investigations of child murder, abuse networks, abductions and sexual assault. It is only by the investigation of past crimes that current children will gain protection from abusers who have never been brought to justice.  The past must come under scrutiny but it is the safety of children right now that is my prime concern.

 

 

Dr Liz Davies

Reader in Child Protection

London Metropolitan University

l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk