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Evening Standard, 30th June 2003

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IMMEDIATELY after Tony Blair appointed Margaret Hodge as the new Minister for Children in his recent reshuffle, phones started ringing among former social workers who had once worked under her. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chickens,” one commented in disgust. “A sick joke,” remarked another.

These social workers couldn’t help recalling the inside story of an appalling child sex abuse scandal many of us have forgotten. In 1990, when Mrs Hodge – then Mr Blair’s neighbour in Richmond Crescent, Islington – was the leader of Islington council, these senior social workers had reported to her that a paedophile ring was operating in the borough and that children were being sexually abused in Islington care homes.
Mrs Hodge’s response was revealing: she chose not to back a thorough investigation. Instead, she dismissed their concerns and accused these social workers of being ” obsessional”.

When the story was exposed in the Evening Standard two-andahalf years later, in October 1992, her re-sponse was equally aggressive. She accused the newspaper of “a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”. It would be a further two-and-a-half years and five independent reports later before she would half-heartedly admit that she was wrong. Yet she would have known as early as 1991 that paedophiles were preying on children in Islington’s care.

In 1991, Roy Caterer, a sports instructor at a boarding school used by Islington, was arrested and sent to prison for seven-anda-half years for abusing seven boys and two girls, some of them in Islington’s care. Caterer admitted to police that he had abused countless Islington children over many years.

In 1995, an independent report prepared by Ian White, Oxfordshire’s director of social services, utterly vindicated the Evening Standard. It lambasted the council and confirmed that the social workers and the Stand-ard, whose reporters went on to win prestigious press awards, were right. It said, in part: “The inquiry has charted an organisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was chaotic. Such a chaotic organisation breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent professional practices in relation to child care.”

Mrs Hodge led Islington council from 1982 to 1992.
What the Standard uncovered – after taping hours of interviews with staff, parents, children and police over a three-month period – was a horrendous dereliction of duty by the council that routinely exposed the most vulnerable children in its care to paedophiles, pimps, prostitutes and pornographers.

What the Standard and the White report found inexcusable was the council’s refusal – led by Margaret Hodge – to listen and act when experienced staff and terrified children tried to articulate what was going on. Their testimonies lifted the lid on horrific events that were taking place in Islington: teenagers selling sex from their council homes, a girl knifed by a sexual abuser inside a children’s unit, a girl and a boy who shared a bed with a known paedophile, a 15-year-old boy fostered with a suspected paedophile – overriding the vociferous protests of social workers – who later sexually abused the boy as predicted. We could go on and on.
The tragedy was that from the moment these children came to live in the seemingly safe children’s homes under the care of Islington council, they became fair game.

Some of the very people who were supposed to protect them were involved in their sexual abuse. On top of all this, the social workers who tried to protect them were pilloried by Margaret Hodge and her social services directors. The damage done to such children is beyond comprehension.

But the story of the Islington child sex abuse scandal would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the brave actions of a single secret whistleblower. Until today, the identity of this whistleblower has remained a secret. Nobody outside a tiny coterie of key players knew who he – or she – was. And so it would have remained. But in the wake of Mrs Hodge’s appointment as Minister for Children, the whistleblower has decided to blow her cover. She doesn’t come to this decision lightly.

But so indignant is she at this ” cynical appointment” that she has decided to tell – for the first time – the full story of what really happened.

She wants us to know the truth about our new Minister for Children. For Mrs Hodge and her management team were never made properly accountable for what happened to the children whom they failed. Instead, the whistleblower and her supporters were marginalised, whereas Mrs Hodge is now a rising star in government.
The whistleblower’s identity, we can reveal, is Liz Davies, 55. She is now a successful senior lecturer in so-cial work at London Metropolitan University.

But back in 1990, Liz Davies was the senior social worker heading up a team of six in the Irene Watson Neighbourhood Office, one of 24 similarly decentralised council offices in Islington. In speaking out, she is joined by another insider who has also hitherto remained silent – her former ally and manager, David Cofie, 63. Other social workers from that time in Islington are prepared to support the position taken by Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie.

“Margaret Hodge definitely knew everything right from the start, and by ‘start’ I mean more than two years before it was exposed in your newspaper,” begins Mrs Davies, talking to the Standard in north London. “She knew as early as April 1990 that we had uncovered serious evidence of sexual abuse among children in our care and yet she chose not to pursue our investigation.”

Her story starts at the beginning of the Nineties. “I noticed that there was a sudden unexpected increase in vulnerable teenagers coming to our office to see social workers,” recalls Mrs Davies. “They’d be crying and depressed and they didn’t want to talk. I didn’t understand it. We spent a lot of time engaging with these children and began to closely investigate their lives.”

Soon Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie began to realise that sexual abuse was part of the picture.
“The children were displaying classic symptoms of sexual abuse and we started to hear disturbing stories of a paedophile ring. At this point, we had no idea as to the scale of the network, or that the children’s homes – under our control – were involved. We began working closely with the Islington Child Protection officers and following local and national child protection procedures to the letter.”

Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies collated the information in a series of reports that were presented to the directors of social services. They responsibly asked for additional funds for two youth workers to be seconded to their team to help with investigations, which were snowballing and threatening to overwhelm them. But their request drew an icy rebuke from their council leader. In a memo to the head of Isington’s social services, John Rea Price (a copy of which is in the possession of the Standard), dated April 1990 – written on “Islington council leader’s office” stationery and from “Margaret Hodge, Leader” – Mrs Hodge wrote the following: “Sexual Abuse in Irene Watson Area: David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight- to 16-year-old children at the Neighbourhood Forum. He is clearly concerned about the matter. However, simply requesting more resources is not, in my view, responsible for a manager given the well known concern of members at the state of the Social Services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in Social Services. The obvious option for your management to consider in relation to this emerging problem in the area is to reduce the fieldwork staffing to release resources for a detached youth worker in the area. I await your response.”

“We couldn’t believe it,” recalls Mrs Davies. “We were grappling with this enormous problem and all she was concerned about was balancing her budget. It boggles the mind. It was as if we were talking about park benches, not children.”

Because this critical memo was not made available to Standard reporters at the time of the investiga-tion-only coming to light years later, in May 1995, Mrs Hodge was never made to explain how it was she knew about the allegations of abuse for over two years without fully pursuing them.

David Cofie, in a separate interview, says that the standard procedure would have been for the matter to be referred to the child protection committee for a full investigation, but that this did not happen. Mr Cofie says that Mrs Hodge resisted his requests that the matter be properly investigated on three separate occasions. “The first occasion was when I decided the only responsible thing was to alert the community to the fact that paedophiles were operating in the area,” he recalls. “I wrote a short, subtly-worded report that was to be dis-tributed to the Neighbourhood Forum, which is open to members of the public. Well, Margaret Hodge went apeshit. She started screaming and shouting at me and refused to discuss it. I later heard that she had rub-bished me to colleagues behind my back, saying that I was exaggerating the sexual abuse claims and trying to make a name for myself.

But my colleagues told her, ‘David would never do that. If anything, he’s one of the most overcautious managers we have.’ ” In May 1990, Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies were summoned to a meeting convened by Islington’s assistant director of social services, Lyn Cusack. “By now,” says Mrs Davies, “we knew that the picture was far worse than initially imagined. I had learned that children in our care were being taken to homes in the country on weekends. It was highly suspicious, and I would later discover that they were being used to make child pornography and that people who ran our homes were getting paid in hard cash. But we were criticised as ‘hysterical’ and told in no uncertain terms to stop interviewing children and to cease child protection conferences forthwith.”

Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie continued to investigate regardless. They wrote and submitted 15 detailed reports but maintain their superiors still did not believe them. When the paedophile Roy Caterer, whose name Mrs Davies passed to the police, went to prison, Mr Cofie said to Mrs Davies: “Now they’ve got to believe us.” But Mrs Hodge and Lyn Cusack and their acolytes – inexplicably – still weren’t interested. The crunch for Mrs Davies came when she was ordered to place a “looked-after” seven-year-old boy in a home that was run by someone she had raised concerns about and considered unsafe. Her position had become untenable.

At the same time, she had started having a recurring nightmare. In the dream, Mrs Davies would be drinking a lovely glass of cold white wine that would suddenly turn into jagged pieces of glass that cut her throat to bloody ribbons. A friend told her: “It’s obvious, Liz, it’s all too much for you to swallow.”

In February 1992, Mrs Davies resigned in despair and took her information to Mike Hames, then head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit. He commenced an investigation, subsequently exposed in the Standard by Eileen Fairweather and Stewart Payne. More than 50 reports were published in the paper – which Mrs Hodge scornfully condemned – leading eventually to five independent inquiries.

It was another two-and-a-half years before the damning White report would be published – singling out and naming 22 people who worked for Islington and whose names were never published. Mrs Hodge went on the record to say that she was led astray, that her only fault was in believing her senior officers like Lyn Cusack. Those on the inside – like Mrs Davies – have always believed this was a fudge.

The critical April 1990 memo, which we reprint above, shows that Mrs Hodge’s claim is, at the very least, an oversimplification. It shows that when Mrs Hodge was directly presented with details of the sexual abuse allegations uncovered by Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies, she was apparently more concerned with allocating re-sources than addressing the substance of the allegations.

By the time the White report was published, Mrs Hodge had moved on. She would take up a top job in the City, then become MP for Barking, and later Minister for Higher Education. And now she is Minister for Children. David Cofie, on the other hand, stayed on at Islington until he retired in 1998.

So did Mrs Hodge ever thank Mr Cofie for the role he played in bringing to light this appalling scandal?
” Hodge never thanked me,” Mr Cofie says. “Nor did she apologise. Even though she had wrecked my ca-reer, frozen me out, made me persona non grata.

She was never a big enough person to say to me, ‘I am sorry for how I treated you. I was wrong. Thank you for what you did to save those children.’ ” Mrs Davies is even more scathing.

“It beggars belief to think that Tony Blair has awarded Hodge the highest job in the land for protecting the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.

Blair was her neighbour at the time. He must remember her appalling record.
What in heaven’s name was he thinking?”

How scandal unfolded
1982: Margaret Hodge becomes leader of Islington council
February 1990: Liz Davies and David Cofie, senior Islington social workers, uncover evidence of sexual abuse of children, and report it to a Neighbourhood Forum which council leader Margaret Hodge attends as ward councillor.

April 1990: Hodge memos Cofie’s boss, John Rea Price, the director of social services: “David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight-to 16-year-old children. He is clearly concerned. However, simply requesting more resources is not responsible for a manager given the concern of members at the state of the social services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in social services”.

May 1990: At a key meeting chaired by Lyn Cusack, assistant director of social services, Cofie and Davies are told to cease interviewing children and to stop convening child protection conferences

1991: Roy Caterer, who worked at a school used by Islington council for its children in care, is arrested for sexually abusing seven boys and two girls, and is jailed for seven-and-a-half years. Cofie and Davies ask social services for resources to help the victims, but receive no reply

February 1992: Davies resigns and takes her information to Scotland Yard
6 October 1992: A Standard investigation reveals that a 15-year-old girl worked as a prostitute from a coun-cil home; a 16-year-old was made pregnant at a teenage unit by a man suspected of involvement in a child sex ring; a girl was knifed by a pimp at an Islington home; and a boy was abused for years by a volunteer instructor
14 October 1992: Hodge says of the Standard’s investigation: “The way they chose to report this was gutter journalism … The story misled the public on the quality of childcare services in the borough”
23 October 1992: Hodge steps down as council leader to take up a post as a senior consultant with ac-countancy firm Price Waterhouse
3 March 1993: The Press Complaints Commission rejects all Islington’s complaints against the Standard
11 February 1994: Hodge admits to the Standard: “You were right that there was abuse in the children’s homes,” and blames her initial response on “misleading” information from senior officers and colleagues
23 May 1995: Report by Ian White, Oxfordshire director of social services, backs the Standard and says care-home workers were able to corrupt children in part because Islington’s ideological policies prevented complaints being investigated. Hodge responds: “I have had no involvement with Islington council for three years. It would be inappropriate for me to comment”
26 May 1995: Hodge tells Radio 4: “Of course I accept responsibility. I was leader of the council at the time”
13 June 2003: Hodge becomes Minister for Children
27 June 2003: Hodge tells Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4: “I don’t think that any of us recognised the danger of child abuse in children’s homes to the extent that we’re aware of it now. I’ve learned from my fail-ure to understand at that time”

Mail on Sunday, 27 January 2007

By Eileen Fairweather

When the Archbishop of Canterbury supported the Catholic Church in the gay adoption row last week, many were surprised.

Dr Rowan Williams, usually considered a moderniser, was criticised by liberals for asking Tony Blair to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from Government regulations – being introduced in April – which will force all agencies to offer children for adoption to gays.

The Guardian newspaper, in a comment piece, even suggested that the church’s moral authority was ‘fatally compromised’.

Now it has emerged that Dr Williams may have been influenced by his close involvement with a remarkable couple who rescued a boy brutalised by a notorious social services paedophile ring.

Horrified by the inference that the Archbishop is homophobic, the couple have spoken for the first time of their friend’s ‘immeasurable’ help as they struggled to save a child driven to despair by abuse while in the care of the London borough of Islington.

And they described how Dr Williams even devoted an entire week’s prayers for Liam, the terribly damaged boy they went on to foster.

Liam Lucas was just one of the children abused by predatory paedophiles who took advantage of far-Left Islington Council’s childcare policies in the Eighties and Nineties, when it pro-actively recruited gay social workers.

Paedophiles exploited its well-intentioned commitment to equal opportunities and soon most of Islington’s 12 children’s homes had child molesters on the staff who cynically pretended to be ordinary homosexuals. Numerous children and other staff made allegations of abuse, but were branded homophobes and ignored.

Liam – now 29, in a permanent relationship and the proud father of year-old Isabella – was even falsely classified as gay by Islington social services, which decided he should be fostered only by single men.

Quaker couple Brian Cairns, 57, and his wife Kate, 56 – who became friends with the future Archbishop when they were students together – fought to foster him instead. The horrors Liam later disclosed eventually helped end a 20-year regime of appalling abuse.

A lengthy investigation by The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper, the London Evening Standard, resulted in government-ordered inquiries, but at least 26 members of Islington social services staff, despite being accused of grave offences, were simply allowed to resign, often with glowing references.

Mr and Mrs Cairns and their foster son Liam were so concerned by the ‘rigidity’ of the current debate about adoption and equal opportunities for gays, and the invisibility of children’s needs, that they have decided to go public.

The Church of England’s own adoption agency already allows gay adoptions, and it is thought the Archbishop’s support for the Catholic Church’s exemption plea mainly reflects the importance he places on freedom of conscience and thought.

Mrs Cairns is herself a leading socialwork academic, author and trainer. “I am not anti gay, any more than is Rowan Williams,’ she said.

“I have a close relative who is gay, and I am emphatically not opposed to gay adoption. I am, however, deeply concerned by the bullying, intolerant nature of the present attacks on people with religious or other concerns about it.

“It feels horribly familiar and I fear that rigid thinking about equal opportunities may again blind people to paedophiles who claim to be gay, when all they really want is access to vulnerable children.

“On radio and TV this week I have repeatedly heard politicians insist that every adoption agency, whatever its religious beliefs about the best home for children, must offer gay people “equality of access to all goods and services”.

“My blood has run cold every time I have heard that. Children in care are not goods or services, chattels to be claimed or shared. They have, however, often been treated like that, as Liam’s appalling experiences show.

“Rowan Williams is a deeply spiritual and humble man, he would never dream of telling anyone how he helped us. But he did – immeasurably.”

Liam himself said: “There’s a lot about my childhood I can’t remember. There’s a lot I can remember and wish I couldn’t. The best I can say about it is that it’s over, and that I learned a lot, that will probably make me a better person in the end.”

He was in and out of Islington’s care from the age of two, and witnessed his birth mother suffer domestic violence and descend into drug addiction. When he was nine she died of a heroin overdose.

The distraught, vulnerable boy was initially fostered by a motherly woman who asked to keep him. But the council instead sent him, from age five to 11, to a ‘therapeutic’ boarding school, New Barns in Gloucestershire. This was later closed following a child abuse and pornography scandal.

During school holidays he was fostered by a man later imprisoned for abusing another child in his care. When Liam was nine, Islington placed him in its children’s home in Grosvenor Avenue, run by two single males. Both were eventually accused of abuse but escaped investigation by moving to Thailand.

Last year, Thai police charged the deputy head, Nick Rabet, 57, with serious sexual offences against 30 Thai boys, the youngest six years old. He escaped trial by killing himself.

Liam initially liked Rabet, a ‘big kid’ who pretended he was a sheriff and even wore a sheriff’s badge. The unqualified social worker owned a Sussex manor house, which he had turned into a children’s activity centre, with quad bikes, pinball machines and horses. He took Liam there at weekends.

Liam was abused by a friend of Rabet’s, a senior social services colleague. It is believed he backed the council’s decision to find the boy a gay foster father.

Mr and Mrs Cairns spotted Islington’s advertisement in 1990 in a fostering magazine.

Mrs Cairns was haunted by the then 13-year-old boy’s photo, and the council’s claim that he was ‘suitable for a single man’.

She said: “I instinctively felt that the ad was aimed at paedophiles.”

Mrs Cairns and her husband, also a senior figure in social services, already had three children but immediately applied to foster Liam.

“Islington insisted Liam wouldn’t settle in a family because they had decided he was gay,’ she said. “I said, “So what? Don’t gay people have families?” Besides, he was still a child – how could they be sure?’

Mrs Cairns believes children in care who genuinely identify as gay can particularly benefit from gay carers, but she mistrusts adults deciding children’s sexuality for them. Former Islington senior social worker Liz Davies, who blew the whistle on the abuse scandal, said: “Other Islington children were also falsely classed as gay at a very young age.”

A rebel Islington social worker defied his bosses and supported Mr and Mrs Cairns’ fostering bid after Liam begged him: “I just want a family, I just want to be normal.”

Mrs Cairns said: “He arrived and looked around and said, “Please, please don’t send me back.”‘

She recalls that when he first joined the family at their Gloucestershire home, ‘he had this shy, placatory smile. But it was belied by his eyes – it hurt me to look at him.

“You thought, My God, who left you with terrors like this? He had nightmares every night. He would wake screaming then pretend to me that he was just woken by a cough. He was so ashamed of his fear and trying so hard to be brave and pretend he was fine. It was heartbreaking. I’d sit up til he slept again. This went on for months.”

Eventually, he disclosed abuse at both the home and at boarding school. But his sympathetic social worker, and Liam’s files, simply vanished and nothing was done.

Mrs Cairns found the vice-chairman of the school governors, Peter Righton, former Director of Education at the National Institute for Social Work, had for years openly advocated sex with boys in care.

“Righton and I had sat together on the body which regulated social work training. I researched everything he had published and I felt sick. I was devastated by the betrayal of trust, and social work’s naivety.

“He got away with this, and influenced social workers to this day, because they feared seeming “homophobic” by challenging him.”

It prompted Mrs Cairns to begin confiding secretly with Scotland Yard.

The impasse ended in 1991, when police discovered Rabet’s Sussex children’s centre was partly financed by convicted child pornographers and that he was part of a ring of wealthy, well-connected paedophiles.

Police also discovered that Righton was a founder member of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange, which campaigned for the age of consent to be reduced to four.

In 1992, Righton was convicted of importing child pornography from Holland. Later, two teachers at New Barns were convicted of sexual abuse, five others tried, and the school was abruptly closed.

Islington admitted 32 ‘gross errors’ in its treatment of Liam, and paid him £5,000 compensation.

His principal abuser quit Britain for a Third World country and is believed to have adopted a boy there.

Liam had a breakdown in 1994 after the ordeal of giving evidence at the trial of New Barns staff.

He became angry, took to drugs and drink, was violent and smashed things. “My descent into crime was sudden and violent and frightened me as much as everybody else,’ he admitted.

Liam tried to hang himself and even attempted to strangle Mrs Cairns. She said: “He was wild-eyed and kept saying, “What do you mean, you love me? What does that mean?”

“He couldn’t trust anyone, he was a child broken by grief and betrayal. It broke my heart but I had to report him to the police for our own safety.”

Liam was sectioned to a mental hospital and later ended up for nine months, at just 17, in a secure jail. Mr and Mrs Cairns, feeling desperate, exhausted and lost, confided in their friend Rowan Williams, whose help they described as ‘solid and generous’.

“He was deeply moved by Liam’s sufferings and he didn’t just calm us and provide advice, he offered to make Liam’s recovery the focus of his prayers on his annual retreat.

“He is a deeply spiritual man but humble and reticent. He would never, ever volunteer this, but in 1995 he went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, fasted and devoted his week’s prayers to Liam’s healing.”

Liam, who had no idea he was being prayed for so intensely, blamed Mr and Mrs Cairns for his incarceration and no longer kept touch. “But on the last day of Rowan’s pilgrimage, at 5am, Liam woke suddenly and, he says, “just knew he had to write to Mum and Dad”. He started to get better then,’ said Mrs Cairns.

Liam remembers: “I didn’t appreciate my foster family. I was too eaten up with bad memories of being a child and of being in care to appreciate what I had, but when I lost them I learned how much they mattered to me. I never thought before that I could trust anyone, or learn to love or be loved. But I did.”

Although it was a long journey back to health, and the adult stability he has today, he took responsibility for his own behaviour.

Liam has never re-offended and today teaches social workers about the needs of children. Next month he will contribute to a TV programme for teachers on the same theme.

He considers thorough checks on carers essential. Islington dispensed with all but the most basic checks on self-declared gay staff in order to help them counter ‘discrimination’. It meant they were not obliged to provide evidence of childcare experience, qualifications or professional references.

Many now fear such minimal checks will also be made on gay would-be adopters, for fear of prosecution for discrimination.

Mrs Cairns said: “Gay adoptions can work extremely well, but we need sensitively to match the right child to the right carer.

“Liam, for example, was genuinely terrified of men, and he wanted a mum. An abused girl might feel safest with a single woman, or a lesbian.

“We must be utterly rigorous in assessing everyone who wants to care for children, whether heterosexual or gay, male or female – remember Rose West.

“We cannot be less vigilant because an adult says they are from an oppressed group and their feelings should be protected. Child protection matters far more.”

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