Islington kids’ homes scandal: Shame of ex-mayor Sandy Marks’ pro-paedophile past
- Credit: Ken Mears and LSE Archives
Survivors of the horrific child abuse scandal that rocked Islington Council in the 1990s have called for police to lead a fresh inquiry as the Gazette today publishes explosive new revelations.
An ex-mayor of Islington and top councillor at the time when children were being raped in kids’ homes has sensationally admitted her links to a pro-paedophile group that supported child sex in early 1980.
The council said it was “shocked and concerned” by the Gazette’s information and has promised an inquiry led by a top lawyer.
When approached, the former social services committee chair at first said she had “no memory of the period”.
But she later came clean about her pro-paedophile past after being shown evidence – saying she was “a complete bloody idiot” who had been manipulated by those around her.
However, just before the Gazette went to press, she changed her story again to say the allegations were “untrue and unfounded”.
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Survivors of the abuse say someone who had apparently held such repellent views should never have been given political responsibility for young people.
Today, after a major investigation, the Gazette can reveal that documents show:
• Former councillor Sandy Marks, who chaired the social services committee during the children’s homes scandal of the 1990s, attended a conference with a radical pro-paedophile activist group called Fallen Angels in 1980;
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• The Fallen Angels campaigned to abolish age of consent laws and condemned child protection as “a racket”;
• Ms Marks attended a meeting of a group campaigning for criminal charges against the vile Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) to be dropped. Also in the room was PIE chairman Tom O’Carroll;
• Documents identify Ms Marks as the planned co-author of a book with a radical paedophile activist who signed a letter “paedophile love & kisses”.
Yet by 1983, only three years later, Sandy Marks was sitting on the social services committee at Islington Council, which had oversight of kids in care.
She chaired the committee from 1991 to 1995 during the height of paedophile sex ring allegations concerning children’s homes in the borough.
When confronted by the Gazette, Ms Marks – who sits on a watchdog panel for the Crown Prosecution Service – said she has “huge gaps” in her memory for health reasons caused by the illness ME.
But she admitted her past after being shown a key piece of photo evidence.
The 63-year-old said she had been manipulated at the time by those around her, and had not properly understood the views of the Fallen Angels – which included campaigning to legalise sex with children.
She insisted: “I’m not a paedophile.”
Ms Marks said: “I don’t really understand how I could have been so stupid. I don’t understand how I could have got myself into it. Maybe I didn’t read the stuff – I don’t know. I can’t see me having stood up and said: ‘These are my views.’”
She added: “There’s no defence for thinking that it’s OK, but there were reasons why at the time.
“And I guess with growing up – becoming more my own person – I was able to say: ‘This is what I think, not what somebody else tells me is what I think’.”
The care home scandal was made public when the Evening Standard revealed in October 1992 that teenagers were being abused, beaten and raped in kids’ homes across the borough.
Setting out a fresh demand for a new police-led inquiry, Richard, co-ordinator of the Islington Survivors Network (ISN), said this week he felt that: “Any person campaigning for or on behalf of paedophile groups has no place working with or making decisions for vulnerable children and social services.
“She should be questioned and called to account for her involvement at that time and at any time since.”
Another ISN survivor said that in her opinion: “This involvement makes any decision she was involved in unsafe. Questions have to be answered regarding any child protection or children’s services recommendations made by her and the people working with her.”
Labour stalwart Ms Marks, a familiar face at constituency events, was in a key position to advise former council leader Margaret Hodge after the abuse scandal was exposed.
But Ms Marks repeatedly denied playing any part in the 14 subsequent inquiries that were held during her tenure as chair of social services, saying she did not have “a hands-on role”.
“If children were being abused while I was chair of social services and I didn’t stop it, that’s shameful,” she said. “But I didn’t know. It’s my fault that I didn’t know.”
She added: “At the time I thought we had done what we could. If I had known something I would have stopped it.
“I would never want to do harm. That wasn’t why I became a councillor.”
But Ms Marks admitted with hindsight abusers may have slipped the net, saying she sympathised with calls for a police-led probe.
“If the investigation had been done properly then people should have been charged,” she said, adding: “If I was in their shoes, I would want something done, even this long after.”
The final White inquiry in 1995, ordered by the Department of Health, examined serious allegations against 32 named Islington staff involving “sexual assaults, encouraging children to be rent boys, staff involvement in paedophile rings and child pornography”.
The report was heavily critical of the council’s response.
“It is clear that Islington did not initiate the type of investigation they should have and as a consequence the possibility remains that staff engaged in abusive behaviour are now working elsewhere in the field with potentially serious consequences,” it said.
“Islington should have known and acted; they clearly did not.”
But the inquiry found no evidence of organised abuse.
Social worker Dr Liz Davies, the original whistleblower on the scandal, tried to alert senior Islington officers and councillors – including then leader Mrs Hodge – to fears a paedophile sex ring was operating in the borough.
“Sandy Marks was at the centre of the council throughout this time,” said Dr Davies.
“This new information about her and our research about PIE and its widespread connections in Islington emphasise the importance of a police-led investigation, because many of those who held pro-paedophile views remain within professional systems and still have influence.”
No senior Islington councillors or officers were ever held accountable for the decades of abuse that went on in the council’s kids’ homes.
After 1995, Ms Marks’ career went from strength to strength.
She took up a role at the National Children’s Bureau and became mayor of Islington in 1996.
Today, she is a noted disabilities campaigner within the borough.
ISLINGTON COUNCIL: ‘WE’LL SET UP AN INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE’
Islington Council has promised to set up an inquiry led by a top lawyer to examine the Gazette’s evidence – and has condemned support for paedophilia as “abhorrent”.
Council leader Cllr Richard Watts said: “I’m shocked and concerned at the information as presented by the Gazette. This raises new questions about the council’s response to the allegations in the 1990s. I have instructed that we will appoint an independent QC to examine the evidence, and provide advice on the best action to take.
“They will be free to pursue any line of inquiry, and we will be bound by their recommendations.”
The report will be passed to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
“On behalf of Islington Council, I’m extremely sorry for the council’s past failure to protect vulnerable children,” he added. “I know those who were abused continue to suffer.”
He said new evidence would be treated “extremely seriously” and encouraged survivors to talk to police so “those responsible can be brought to justice”.
He stressed the council today is a “very different organisation” and said child protection is a top priority.
The Gazette understands a grant to Islington Personal Budgets Network Community Interest Company to establish a “centre for inclusive living” will be reviewed – including a £27,457 salary for Ms Marks, a director of the company.
JOURNALISTS: ‘WE TOLD SANDY ABOUT CHILD ABUSE’
The Evening Standard journalists who exposed the Islington kids’ home abuse scandal in October 1992 met Sandy Marks a month before the story was published, and say they were “shocked” by her response.
Eileen Fairweather and Stewart Payne – who went on to win awards for their articles – wanted to inform the then chair of the social services committee of the horrors they were uncovering.
In the meeting, they laid out damning evidence of abuse gathered from whistleblowers.
“We spoke to Sandy Marks to ask for her to help protect the whistleblowers, and to tell her that their claims were true,” said Ms Fairweather.
“But she didn’t seem to want to engage at all with notions of abuse.
“I can’t now remember her exact wording, but she indicated that she was indifferent to what the kids got up to sexually – she had a very libertarian view, and spoke as if they were free agents.
“She said she saw the role of the councillors when they inspected the homes as being to check things like: were the washing machines working?
“I have never forgotten it. It was very shocking.”
She says Ms Marks asked to see the evidence but would not agree to protect sources’ confidentiality.
But Ms Marks says she was presented with no evidence of current abuse and only fully understood the seriousness when she saw the articles.
“The first evidence, if it was evidence, I read in the Evening Standard,” she said.
“So that was the first time I’d seen anything in writing.”
At that time Sussex Police was already investigating links between alleged paedophile Nicholas Rabet, now dead, a former deputy superintendent of an Islington children’s home, and a boy in Islington’s care who the Standard would later give the name Shane in its reporting.
EX-COUNCIL LEADER MARGARET HODGE: ‘OUR NAIVETY WAS SHAMEFUL’
The Gazette asked former council leader Margaret Hodge to respond to the new revelations.
The Labour MP said: “If Sandy Marks did hold those views, I was not aware of them.
“Furthermore I signed a petition calling for the banning of the PIE in 1983.
“I have apologised a number of times for our failure to understand about child abuse and take children’s voices seriously in the Eighties. I am sorry.
“Our naivety was shameful and I’m really glad we’ve learned since then the importance of listening to the voices of children who have been abused.”
* NEXT WEEK: In the second of our special series of reports into the Islington kids’ home scandal – the secret list of 26 names never investigated by police
* If you suffered or witnessed abuse at Islington children’s homes, you can contact the Islington Survivors’ Network via islingtonsurvivors.co.uk, or Dr Liz Davies in confidence on email@example.com