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Islington kids’ homes abuse scandal: Council chief forced to admit ‘we were culpable’ as he apologises 25 years on

PUBLISHED: 23:54 28 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:53 03 October 2017

Cllr Richard Watts speaks at the meeting at Islington Town Hall on 28th September, 2017. Picture: Catherine Davison

Cllr Richard Watts speaks at the meeting at Islington Town Hall on 28th September, 2017. Picture: Catherine Davison

Catherine Davison

The leader of Islington Council was tonight forced to admit the town hall was “culpable” for the horrific kids’ homes abuse scandal that blights the borough’s past.

Members of Islington Survivors Network and supporters of the group outside Islington Town Hall before the meeting. Picture: Ramzy Alwakeel Members of Islington Survivors Network and supporters of the group outside Islington Town Hall before the meeting. Picture: Ramzy Alwakeel

It came as survivors confronted town hall bosses for the first time in the 25 years since allegations of rape, torture and neglect in children’s homes were first made public.

Almost a quarter of a century to the day since the Evening Standard published its shocking accounts of children being molested and abused in Islington care homes, survivors attended a cabinet meeting to demand action – and compensation.

During an angry 75 minutes, survivors told stories of “paralysing” abuse they suffered in care homes, as council leader Richard Watts and other senior councillors and officers listened ashen faced.

In one tense exchange, Cllr Watts was subjected to a cross examination from a survivor who repeatedly demanded: “Does the council admit culpability?” to which he eventually answered: “Yes. The council systemically failed people.”

Cllr Watts apologised over what he called “the darkest chapter in the council’s history” and said: “We are desperately sorry. The council clearly did not do its best. There was systematic failure all the way through the council through all of those years.

“That was on the part of individual members of staff and the system collectively. It’s time now to put right the mistakes of the past and that’s what we’re starting to do this evening.”

Cllr Richard Watts speaks at the meeting. Picture: Catherine Davison Cllr Richard Watts speaks at the meeting. Picture: Catherine Davison

He said children in Islington’s care were subjected to terrible physical and mental abuse from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Survivors, some of whom were meeting for the first time in decades, named men who had allegedly raped children in Islington’s care homes.

The council leader responded by saying police should investigate criminal wrongdoing and encouraged them to make reports.

One woman told how she was attacked by a care worker and sexually assaulted by a group of boys at Islington’s Gisburne House care home in Watford in the early ’80s.

“I told a member of female staff and she couldn’t care less,” she said. “Nobody cared. And it was violent and this was, like, every day.”

Another man described how he was placed into foster care in appalling conditions where he was beaten, and said his social worker had never once visited to check on him.

"It’s incredibly appropriate that we as councillors hear this because it’s important that we understand the full horror of what went on"

Cllr Richard Watts

And another survivor said he was sexually abused aged 12 within a month of being placed into a care home and was then “blamed as a little f***ing moron”.

“The point is: one home, after another home, after another home,” he said. “You’ve got to look at this and you’ve got to take a proper look.”

The man said abuse had been “brushed under the carpet” with a care home shut down quickly and one alleged abuser allowed to move on to a new job, saying the “system had failed”.

Cllr Watts told survivors: “I believe you,” saying he had come to know too much about the “appalling abuse suffered” to doubt systemic failures.

“It’s incredibly appropriate that we as councillors hear this because it’s important that we understand the full horror of what went on,” he said.

Accounts were also heard for the first time of paedophiles hand-picking boys, who were not in the care system, from Islington schools to go on holidays abroad where they were molested.

Dr Liz Davies, pictured last year with the then-new Islington Survivors Network website. Picture: Ken Mears Dr Liz Davies, pictured last year with the then-new Islington Survivors Network website. Picture: Ken Mears

One man described being taken out of school after being chosen to go on a week-long trip and repeatedly abused. He said another boy subjected to the same trauma had gone on to commit suicide.

The public meeting was held to order a new independent inquiry into allegations that a senior Islington councillor who oversaw social services at the time when the children’s home scandal came to light was once a member of a pro-paedophile organisation.

The Gazette reported earlier this year on ex-councillor Sandy Marks’ alleged links to a clandestine group called Fallen Angels, which was supportive of paedophilia and lobbied for paedophile rights.

She denies these allegations.

The proposed inquiry will explore whether this new evidence calls into question the validity of an earlier independent report into care home abuse, called the White Report.

The council leader and Islington’s executive unanimously agreed the new inquiry.

Demands were also made for full compensation and support packages for survivors, who continue to suffer the lasting effects of abuse.

Cllr Watts said work was underway to provide this support and stressed the local authority today had learned the mistakes of the past.

“Islington Council is a different organisation and protecting children from harm is our top priority,” he said.

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