Gazette was correct about ex-mayor’s pro-paedophile past, top lawyer concludes
- Credit: contributed
A top barrister has confirmed former Islington councillor Sandy Marks’ past links to a pro-paedophile campaign group.
An independent review by Sarah Morgan QC, published on Wednesday, vindicates the Gazette’s revelations about Sandy Marks’ past links to radical campaign group Fallen Angels – whose publication 18 months ago triggered the lawyer’s probe.
It also confirms Ms Marks and then-colleagues at Islington would have been aware of allegations about the abuse of children in the care system before the horrific scandal emerged in 1992.
But it stops short of suggesting an inquiry into the abuse be re-opened, and asserts that Ms Marks’ involvement with campaign group Fallen Angels had “no impact” on her later oversight of children’s services.
Ms Morgan’s 127-page paper comes at the end of a review spanning eight months and involving thousands of pages of documents, as well as interviews with victims and survivors, with Ms Marks herself, and with the Gazette staff who originally worked on the story in May 2017.
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It will make disappointing reading for the Islington Survivors Network (ISN), which is led by social worker Dr Liz Davies – the original whistleblower into physical and sexual abuse taking place across Islington’s children’s homes in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The group hoped it would recommend the 1995 White Report into the scandal be reopened, as they believe it failed to uncover evidence of organised abuse rather than simply the poor management and negligence it did find.
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In the report, Ms Morgan says Ms Marks’ work as chair of the social services committee, which covered children’s services, was likely not affected by her past involvement with Fallen Angels, a radical pro-paedophile activist group.
But she admits it doesn’t “sit easily” that “someone could be associated with an organisation so malign and yet, in the years following that association, it had no detectable impact on her conduct of a role in a public office which included the oversight of the welfare of children in care”.
Fallen Angels, a small, clandestine organisation centred on N19, had campaigned for the release of five men on trial for involvement with the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
Ms Morgan wrote: “Fallen Angels, the organisation, and those who spoke for it, of whom I am satisfied Sandy Marks was one, expressed support for [...] an abolition of age of consent laws, and for what was described as the right to sexual self-determination for all, irrespective of gender and age.”
The report concluded that despite her previous claims to the contrary, Ms Marks had been associated with the Fallen Angels at the time of a conference hosted by the International Gay Association (IGA) in Spain in April 1980.
At the conference the Angels had distributed two papers. In her appraisal of them, Ms Morgan said: “I find it impossible to understand how the warped and distorted thinking evidenced by the writing had ever found a place in mainstream debate.”
It also found Ms Marks had “more likely than not” been present at a meeting of another group, Conspiracy Against Public Morals (CAPM), in September 1979, in which campaign tactics on behalf of the PIE defendants were discussed.
In deciding whether Ms Marks’ involvement with the Fallen Angels influenced her role on Islington Council between 1982 and 2001, Ms Morgan noted: “I did not find evidence that Ms Marks appeared to be exercising control and direction in relation to children and their placement in care.”
As both chair and member of the social services committee, Ms Marks was at meetings where decisions were taken to send certain children to different homes.
But Ms Morgan “did not see any meeting at which those making the decision amended or overrode the care plan to substitute a different or other home.”
She added that Ms Marks’ involvement in two staffing committees didn’t extend to direct recruitment; she had no sole decision-making power or ability to dispense cash as chair of the capital-wide London Borough Children’s Regional Planning Committee; and that she found in two decades’ worth of meeting minutes “a good deal about Sandy Marks’ conduct that was positive and demonstrated what appeared to me to be a legitimate concern for child welfare”.
In conclusion, she says: “I did not find anything which suggested to me that Ms Marks was carrying out duties on any committee or sub-committee or any combination in a way which was affected by [her] involvement in Fallen Angels.”
Ms Morgan also considered whether Ms Marks’ past could have affected the White Report, or the 13 internal investigations that preceded it.
After interviewing one of its two authors, Kate Hart, she finds it “unlikely” Ms Marks was involved in commissioning the White Report or identifying its terms of reference.
She notes, though, that the other author, Ian White, has since died, and that, astonishingly, “it had not been possible to find the papers from Ian White and Kate Hart’s working in on the White Inquiry and so they were not available to me”.
Regarding the investigations into organised abuse that took place prior to the White Report, “from the extensive documents [Ms Morgan saw], Sandy Marks had no involvement with or connection to any of the investigatory meetings held, nor was she included on any circulation list of any to the minutes of those meetings, nor was she included in any of the correspondence”.
Ms Hart told Ms Morgan that knowledge of Ms Marks’ past “would have had an impact on their inquiry and some of their recommendations”, particularly around the personnel processes that allowed Ms Marks to become a councillor so soon after her involvement with Fallen Angels.
And, she added, “she and Ian White would have raised the question of whether someone with that past association was a fit and proper person to hold a position as an elected member of the council”.
But the possible differences in the White Report’s methodology weren’t sufficient to recommend reopening it, Ms Morgan concluded.
Islington Council’s response
“We accept all the report’s conclusions and expectations,” said council leader Richard Watts, “and have sent a copy of the report to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), and will continue our enduring commitment to help survivors with specialist psychological support and housing.
“We have apologised before for the council’s failure to protect vulnerable children in its care in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and today we repeat that apology. Today’s report again sets out starkly the failings in Islington’s children’s homes up to the early 1990s, which were utterly horrifying. As acknowledged in today’s report, the council today is a very different organisation. Protecting children from harm is our top priority.
“We are also committed to supporting survivors of child abuse and have put in place a package of support for survivors, which includes access to psychological support and counselling, personal advice on issues such as housing, access to benefits and individual support.”
Survivors of abuse in Islington who would like to access help and support could contact firstname.lastname@example.org, he added.
How Sandy Marks responded to the allegations
Sandy Marks was confronted by the Gazette with allegations about her past links to pro-paedophile groups in May 2017.
Initially she said she did not remember the period in question. But when shown a key piece of evidence, a grainy black-and-white photograph unearthed in minutes from the IGA conference in 1980, she accepted it showed her as a young woman.
She said: “I could pretend it’s not me – terrible haircut. But that’s a picture of me.”
The next day she said the Fallen Angels were “something stupid” she had been involved in, and she had not understood their message at the time.
On the eve of publication she changed her story again, denying the allegations, saying the photo wasn’t her, and that the ‘Sandy Marks’ listed as a contact for the Angels at the conference could be someone else.
When interviewed by Sarah Morgan QC in March 2018, she said she could not recall involvement with Fallen Angels.
But Ms Morgan pointed out the contact details listed against Ms Marks’ name include her own work address with Islington Community Housing in Hornsey Rise.
The photograph later proved a crucial area of dispute; a lengthy character reference submitted for Ms Marks asserted the woman in the photo had had professional styling, “which would have been beyond her means”.
These claims were dismissed by Ms Morgan, who concluded “on the balance of probabilities” Ms Marks had indeed been at the conference with the Angels.
Before the report was published a final submission from Ms Marks, dated September 25, was received, in which she said she had suffered “enormous distress and personal loss at these baseless accusations.”
When contacted by the Gazette for this article, she declined to comment.