Islington child abuse survivors’ network reacts angrily to claims of ‘no organised abuse’ in Sandy Marks report

Dr Liz Davies, who leads ISN, outside Islington Police Station. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Dr Liz Davies, who leads ISN, outside Islington Police Station. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

An organisation acting for victims and survivors of abuse in Islington children’s homes has responded bitterly to a barrister’s conclusion that there was no evidence “organised” wrongdoing had taken place.

Two workers and eight survivors from Islington Survivors Network (ISN) were interviewed as part of the eight-month independent review by Sarah Morgan QC.

The agreed remit of Ms Morgan’s investigation had been to establish if former mayor Sandy Marks was involved in pro-paedophile groups in 1979 and 1980, as the Gazette reported last year, and whether or not it had an impact on her role overseeing children’s services as chair of the social services committee years later. In the end, her conclusions vindicated the Gazette’s investigation, but said Ms Marks did not appear to have been swayed professionally by her earlier affiliations.

The barrister also considered whether, in light of her work, there should be a re-opening of the 1995 White Report into the horrific abuse suffered by children in the council’s “care” between the 1970s and 1990s – or a fresh inquiry into allegations of organised abuse during that time.

Finally Ms Morgan concluded that neither was necessary, stating: “I did not see evidence of organised abuse.”

Instead, she said, she had found children were left vulnerable to abuse because of inadequate care.

It comes as a blow to Dr Liz Davies, the co-ordinator of ISN and the original whistleblower who helped expose the scandal in 1992 – when Ms Marks had political oversight of children’s homes through her social services role.

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The social worker was incredulous after reading the report last week, saying she had supplied Ms Morgan with a 26-page dossier of evidence, including a substantial section on organised abuse.

She said: “Not a jot of my evidence is in the inquiry report. It’s so disrespectful and risks being professionally discrediting.”

Between May and November this year the number of people in touch with ISN, which is now two years old, leapt from 100 to 150, reporting abuse across 42 homes, foster placements and care facilities.

ISN, represented by solicitors’ firm Leigh Day, is working with Islington Council to establish a compensation scheme.

Dr Davies said there was greater urgency to the project now, as three people ISN was in touch with have died.

She said: “In the ’90s I saw the tip of the iceberg. Now, I have heard things from survivors and witnesses that not only validate what I’ve done but increase my knowledge of the extensiveness of the networks and the power of the perpetrators.

“If this report was limited, it should have been limited, without annihilating the work I have done over the last 27 years.”

Graduate research student Charlotte Russell, who also supports ISN and gave evidence to Ms Morgan, said: “The problem is this report is a floating island. The finding that Sandy Marks was a member of a pro-paedophile group is presented as completely dislocated from the fact that Islington was the centre of pro-paedophile groups and PIE [pro-paedophile group the Paedophile Information Exchange].

“Fragmented inquiries like this don’t get to the overarching questions of how PIE operated in Islington.”

In her report, Ms Morgan expressed misgivings about the parameters of her own review and who to interview for it.

A national government-sponsored review, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), is currently under way and Ms Morgan said those survivors who came forward to speak to her might have been better redirected to that resource.

She added that some did not appear to fully understand the purpose of the review, or its narrow scope. In response ISN has said it did explain the review’s terms of reference to survivors.

Islington Council and Sarah Morgan QC have been contacted for comment.

“Disappointed”: ISN survivors on the review

Eight people who endured horrific abuse as children under Islington’s care were interviewed in the town hall for Sarah Morgan’s report.

They did not have allegations to make about Sandy Marks, but wanted to explain their experiences to her as they believed it would help.

A survivor who took part said: “It was a traumatic interview. It was difficult even to come into the building and I was a wreck when I came out.

“I was standing in the street in the soaking wet, bawling my eyes out. I had to call ISN straight after for support.”

One survivor queried the lack of follow-up calls to those distressed by the interview process, and asked why survivors had not been given a chance to speak informally, unrecorded – an offer extended to two staff at the council.

Several more tried to reach Ms Morgan to give their views; one was turned away due to their experience falling outside of the time frame, while another could not reach her in time as there was no phone number for the public to call.

Another survivor, who was hesitant about being interviewed, had agreed to speak but at the appointed time never received a call.

He said: “I was nervous about talking because it would drag up stuff, but I was happy to poke at an ant’s nest if it would help.

“I made sure I got up in time. It was hard work waiting for the phone call, and I sat there looking at the phone for about two hours.

“The next day she said she was sorry, but it just seemed that if it was that unimportant I shouldn’t really be talking.”

A different individual who was interviewed said they were disillusioned with the report’s findings: “The bottom line is it [organised abuse] has been denied for all these years and they’re going to keep it down now, because culpability has been admitted.”

Another said: “It brought back a lot of memories that have affected me since. I really thought we would finally be given a chance to speak and be listened to.

“I’m disappointed.”

The process of speaking to Ms Morgan, one survivor reflected, had made them feel “like a child again, being questioned”.

She said: “It’s never over for us. We are still living it day in, day out. We are walking wounded.

“I’m just flabbergasted that she has come to this conclusion and not really looked at all the facts on the table. It’s really dispiriting. They used to call us liars as individuals; now they’re calling us liars as a group.”

“The service is broken”

On Wednesday evening last week, hours after Ms Morgan’s review was published, technical issues on Islington Council’s website meant scores of people – including survivors – struggled or failed to access it.

One ISN survivor wrote a poem about the ensuing frustration, reprinted here with their permission. It read:

The link Takes you to a notice Saying there is a problem With the service The service is broken