The physical and sexual abuse of children in the care of Lambeth council took place on an industrial scale for decades, a survivors group told an independent inquiry into abuse.
Raymond Stevenson, who heads the Shirley Oaks survivors group made up of victims of child sexual abuse in the care of the council in south London, said that what had taken place – and the alleged cover-ups afterwards – cast a shadow over the country.
Stevenson, who was in the Shirley Oaks home as a child, said since setting up his group more than 600 survivors had come forward. He spoke of the scale and nature of the abuse suffered at the home, which was run by Lambeth council, and at other children’s homes in the borough, including Angell Road, Ivy House and Southvale, at a preliminary hearing in the Goddard inquiry into child sexual abuse.
The inquiry counsel Ben Emmerson QC, said it would be examining whether the abuse within the Lambeth homes was carried out by an organised network of paedophiles. Emmerson said the investigation would attempt to piece together all the reports, evidence and allegations over more than four decades.
He said allegations that the former government minister Paul Boateng had connections to the paedophile Michael Carroll, who ran the Angell Road home, would be examined. But the inquiry had so far seen nothing to corroborate any allegations of impropriety by Boateng, he said.
Stevenson told the hearing his organisation had amassed 400 pages of evidence from victims at Shirley Oaks and other homes that they were submitting to the inquiry.
He said: “For those doubters who have questioned our accounts, the only way to reach the truth is to willingly suspend your disbelief. It required an extraordinary evil and in Lambeth’s case, an institutionalised evil.”
He said the many inquiries into Lambeth which had taken place over decades would be seen as white washes. “The consequences mean many vulnerable children continued to suffer at the hands of paedophiles who had infiltrated Lambeth council, because they knew they could peddle their evil.”
The public investigation into Lambeth is one of 13 being undertaken by the Goddard inquiry into how institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales over decades.
Emmerson said the scale of the investigation into Lambeth was complex and broad. It would examine whether there was an organised network of paedophiles operating in the borough.
He said it would also examine how Lambeth came to employ at least three paedophiles at the same time. “The fact that Lambeth permitted a man [Carroll] convicted of the indecent assault of a child to run a children’s home is but one aspect of this investigation,” he said.
“We will consider what evidence there is that there was organised sexual abuse in Lambeth children’s homes.”
Allegations made on BBC’s Newsnight that Boateng was associated with Carroll, that he signed the visitors’ book at Angell Road and went on a caravan holiday with an organisation of which Carroll was a member, will also be examined by the inquiry, along with claims that DI Clive Driscoll was taken off a Metropolitan police inquiry into child abuse in Lambeth because he wanted to interview Boateng.
Justice Lowell Goddard, who is heading the inquiry, said she wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Lambeth as one of her priorities.