Lambeth Council officials previously dismissed reports of child abuse as “fantasy” and described the children who spoke up as “sexual deviants”, an inquiry into historical abuse cases heard.  

Over the course of several decades, from the 1930s to the 1990s, hundreds of children in Lambeth’s care were subjected to prolonged sexual, racial, and physical abuse. 

An inquiry into the “horrifying national scandal” heard that already vulnerable children were targeted by paedophiles working at children’s homes controlled by the council.  

It heard that prominent politicians, police officers and businessmen are alleged to have been involved in the filming of sexual abuse against children.

Some of the abuse is alleged to have been filmed in council buildings, including the town hall.

Despite the widespread abuse, the authorities failed to look into allegations at the time.  

The inquiry heard that convicted sex offender Michael John Carroll was allowed to continue working with children even after his record was brought to light. He was dismissed years later for “financial irregularities”.  

The four-week public hearing, which began on Monday (June 29), is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

It will investigate the scale and nature of sexual abuse experienced by children in Lambeth over many decades, and examine the extent of any institutional failures to protect children.

It will look at five of Lambeth’s children’s homes, including the notorious Shirley Oaks, the council’s oldest and largest residential care home, with up to 350 children aged two to 17 living there until its closure in 1983. 

The inquiry heard from victims’ counsels on Tuesday (June 30), who laid bare the “appalling and degrading” abuse the survivors suffered and how it “blighted” the rest of their lives.  

It heard that Lambeth officials would dismiss children’s telling of abuse as “pure fantasy”.  

Sam Jacobs, representing one complainant, said: “Evidently, as far as management at Lambeth Council were concerned, it was children who were the sexual deviants.” 

Stephen Simblet, representing one of the victims, said there were allegations that politicians were involved in the filming of abuse.

“There are allegations that council contractors had corrupt relationships with council officers, of secret societies, secret paedophile rings, the production and distribution of filmed sexual assaults on Lambeth children in care, with some of them being filmed in council buildings, even, it being said, the town hall.

“These were said to involve prominent politicians, councillors, businessmen and police officers, sometimes trafficking children from Lambeth care homes, and they also were used in blackmail to secure contracts and influence,” he said. 

Barrister Susannah Johnson, representing 27 victims, said they were relieved the council was taking “responsibility for its failings”, and appreciated the efforts of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association. 

But she said they worried that the individual wrongs they have suffered, which were repeated across decades, “might not be put right”.  

“Wrongs that include social workers who must or ought to have seen that something was very wrong with some of the children and yet failed to act.  

“The perpetration of appalling abuse by identified and as yet unidentified abusers,” she said.  

Ms Johnson said some, such as Leslie Paul, were doing so “not only for their own gratification, but for commercial gain” .  

She told the story of one victim who was at Shirley Oaks in the early 1970s when she was under five years old.  

“She recalls as a very young child, she was repeatedly hit by adults around her on the head and legs, repeatedly told by the house mother that she was nothing, wanted by nobody, was bad and a bastard child, unloved and unwanted,” Ms Johnson said, adding that this treatment was common among victims and the “ideal environment for paedophiles”.  

She said children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were racially and sexually abused.  

“One core participant was told that most children of mixed parentage ended up in care and that races were not supposed to mix,” she said. 

The inquiry heard that complaints from children were ignored or they were dismissed as liars.  

It heard one survivor, abused by Leslie Hall, agreed to be interviewed by Lambeth about what had happened much later.  

“She told them what had happened and believed she was being listened to.  

“But weeks later she received a warning in writing that she would be taken to court for slander if she ever repeated the allegations again,” Ms Johnson said.  

She said the conditions under which children suffered “appalling and degrading abuse” caused them long-term harm.  

“They want to know why were these paedophiles were able to continue as they did and flourish,” Ms Johnson said, and why those meant to protect them failed to do so.  

“What happened to these children has parallels in the 18th and 19th centuries, when we had slavery and child labour. 

“These children in Lambeth were penned or contained rather than properly homed, they were kept in ignorance rather than being properly educated, abused and neglected rather than being nurtured and cared for, ignored rather than listened to, treated as less than human.  

“It’s a scandal and source of shame that this could have happened,” she said, adding that to prevent this from happening again, a different approach is required.  

Iain O’Donnell, representing seven complainants, said the inquiry will hear evidence of how a paedophile ring “effectively infiltrated” Lambeth’s children’s homes from the 1960s, “if not earlier”, where they preyed upon children for decades.  

He said: “You will hear equally serious evidence suggesting those in positions of power in Lambeth Borough Council were aware of the horrific sexual assaults being inflicted on the children in its care. 

“They either turned a blind eye or took back-handed payments to bury documentary evidence and ship many of those children off to far flung locations across the country so Lambeth could forget what it had done to them.” 

Mr O’Donnell said Lambeth was “corrupt to its core”, with many employees aware of how the abuse had continued.

The inquiry heard that an assistant director at the council continuously overruled an investigation into a foster carer who was abusing very young children, including a baby.

Imran Khan QC, representing some complainants, held a moment of silence for the victims.  

He said “no place was safe” for the children in Lambeth’s care at the time, who described where they lived as a “hell house”, and that the authorities’ failure to act was “not the result of incompetence or individual neglect, but it was more likely than not corruption”. 

Mr Khan said racism “was woven into Lambeth Council”. 

“It matters not a jot whether Lambeth Council or indeed any other institution now publicly announces that it stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter or that it is now no longer institutionally racist, because the test of whether you are or not, or whether you support the Black Lives Matter movement comes not from what is said, vague platitudes in public relations announcements, but in your action and conduct, for example properly compensating all black victims and survivors in Lambeth for the abuse and racism they suffered as children,” he said.  

Mr Khan continued: “We must not lose sight of the fact that we have lost a generation of highly intelligent, hardworking, and resilient individuals because of the abuse they suffered.  

“We have heard accounts from our children as to how they wanted to be pilots, nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers, but because of the abuse they suffered, those dreams were shattered. 

“The state institutions were collectively responsible for that.” 

Lambeth has paid out over £46 million in compensation to more 1,300 victims through its ‘Redress Scheme’. 

The council said: “We are truly sorry for what happened to children in our care in the past and the consequences for their adult lives.” 

David Enright, speaking on behalf of former leader of the council Steven Whaley, told the inquiry: “He has been troubled by the events that took place in Lambeth in the 80s and 90s for many years.” 

He added: “Mr Whaley hopes this inquiry will ensure councils learn the lessons from the past to improve the lives of children now and in the future.” 

Gerry Boyle QC, speaking on behalf of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), said: “The IOPC will continue to carefully regard the incredibly important work of this Inquiry as it progresses over the next month.” 

 The inquiry continues.