Islington kids’ homes scandal: Why did police pull plug on new child abuse probe?
- Credit: Archant
There are more than two dozen names that could hold the key to prosecutions, and boxes of papers that may contain vital evidence. In the second of our special series on the Islington kids’ home scandal of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, EMMA YOULE asks why police are not bringing the perpetrators to justice
It can only be described as a perplexing sequence of events that has left survivors of the Islington kids’ homes abuse let down – again.
From the 1970s to the 1990s an unknown number of children were abused sexually, physically, emotionally, or through neglect, in Islington children’s homes. It is a scandal that leaves a stain on the borough to this day.
The number harmed stretches to at least 40 current members of the Islington Survivors Network (ISN) but they are feared to be substantially higher.
Yet only a handful of abusers were ever exposed, much less brought to justice.
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Today, in significant new developments on the historic scandal, the Gazette can report:
• Islington Police began a new investigation in October to work towards criminal prosecutions, offering hope that after decades perpetrators of abuse might be tried in court;
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• Two officers met Dr Liz Davies, an original whistleblower and key source of information on the scandal, to begin work;
• Together they created a secret list of 26 names of alleged abusers who may have committed grave crimes against children;
• But shortly afterwards the Islington police investigation closed without warning, again dashing the hopes of survivors.
The Gazette understands the probe was shut down after involvement from Operation Winter Key – the Metropolitan Police team linked to the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
But police did not answer our questions or confirm if IICSA is investigating.
The position of survivors is far less opaque. They have called for the Met to re-open the Islington Police-led probe and bring the perpetrators of child abuse, rape and torture in Islington’s kids’ homes to justice.
Social worker Dr Davies, founder of ISN, said: “We need a proactive police-led investigation to achieve convictions and also disciplinary action against those who colluded with the abuse and facilitated it.”
She said new evidence that has come to light in recent years has left her shocked.
“I thought I knew a lot from the ’90s, but now hearing account after account I know it was far worse and more extensive abuse than I ever imagined in my worst dreams,” said Dr Davies.
“These children were in effect handed over to predatory child abusers who passed them around to other abusers through holiday schemes, boat trips, work placements, swimming events and night hikes in forests. It was well planned and orchestrated.”
One survivor said: “ISN has statements from over 40 adult survivors who lived through years of cruelty, abuse and neglect.
“Not one person has told us that Islington Council contacted them and asked about his or her time in ‘care’ and the effect it had on their lives. As ISN survivors we know there has been no justice.”
Despite the passage of time there is a realistic chance of prosecutions, as shown by the case of one ISN survivor who was repeatedly raped from the age of 12 in the 1980s while under the care of Islington social services.
The man who terrorised her and left her pregnant at 13 was jailed for 13 years in 2016.
It has also come to light that Islington Council has boxes of files in its archives relating to 13 inquiries into the abuse scandal carried out in the 1990s – which could contain key information.
Another survivor told the Gazette: “We are waiting for someone to examine the contents. The council acknowledges that it’s really important to do this.”
ISN has asked for an amnesty for all current and former council staff who witnessed child abuse and did not report it at the time, in the hope new witnesses will come forward who can corroborate survivors’ evidence.
The council vowed it would offer full co-operation.
A spokesman said: “We support police investigations into any new allegations relating to historical abuse of Islington children.
“We will offer all assistance to police and access to files to any police-led investigations.”
Scotland Yard gave this short statement in response to our questions: “Anyone who wishes to speak to police should do so directly through their local station, or by calling 101.
“To remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers.”
PAST POLICE INQUIRIES AND CONVICTIONS
Dr Liz Davies went to Scotland Yard with her concerns about the abuse of Islington children in 1992 and worked with detectives on two investigations.
Neither led to prosecutions.
The only person jailed over the scandal was volunteer canoe instructor Roy Caterer.
He worked at a boarding school used by Islington and was jailed for seven and a half years in 1991 for sexually abusing children.
Two other ex-Islington children’s home bosses, now dead, fled to the resort of Pattaya in Thailand.
Nicholas Rabet, deputy manager of Grosvenor Avenue children’s home until 1989, was investigated by Sussex Police in 1992 but never prosecuted.
Thai police brought charges for the alleged abuse of 30 boys, but he killed himself in 2006 before trial.
Bernie Bain, superintendent of Elwood Street children’s home in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fled Britain in 1996 just before he could be arrested for the alleged rape of seven young boys in care.
He was briefly imprisoned in Morocco for child pornography but killed himself in May 2000.
VIEWS ON POLICE PROBE
Labour stalwart and long-serving MP Emily Thornberry has said her “heart goes out to those who suffered abuse in Islington’s children’s homes” as she responded to calls for a new police inquiry this week.
The Labour parliamentary candidate for Islington South and Finsbury said the Metropolitan Police must be free to take its own decision on whether to open a new inquiry free from political interference.
“However, I would hope and expect that the police will consider carefully and appropriately the case that has been made to them by the Islington Survivors’ Network to re-open their inquiries, and provide a full response in due course,” she said.
Ms Thornberry said she fully supports efforts to uncover the truth.
“If that leads to the prosecution of guilty parties – whether responsible for abuse or for negligence – then I will be delighted to see justice done,” she said.
The Gazette also contacted Labour leader and Islington North parliamentary candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who was MP for Islington North when the scandal broke, for comment.
He did not respond.
NEXT WEEK: The survivors’ stories of stolen childhoods and lives haunted by abuse
* Did you suffer or witness sexual or physical assaults or emotional neglect at Islington children’s homes? If so, you can contact the Islington Survivors’ Network via islingtonsurvivors.co.uk, or Dr Liz Davies in confidence on firstname.lastname@example.org