Social Services Correspondent
A Labour council's politically correct equal opportunities policy led to children in care being left at risk from suspected child abusers and paedophiles according to a damning inquiry report published yesterday.
The London Borough of Islington is accused of operating a "proactive" anti-discrimination policy of recruiting staff without following up references or conducting checks on their background, thus failing to protect children in their care from unsuitable staff.
Then, after serious allegations of abuse, including paedophilia, were made against 32 named child care workers, some of whom were homosexuals or from ethnic minority groups, the council failed to investigate them.
Managers believed they would not be supported if they triggered investigations into staff from ethnic minorities or the gay community. They also feared a backlash from within those communities.
And even after suspicions were raised, council officials allowed suspects to leave by the "back door" before disciplinary action was triggered. Some were allowed to retire early or resign on medical grounds with enhanced benefits and a clean record. Consequently, the report says, "the possibility remains that staff engaged in abusive behaviour are now working elsewhere in the field with potentially serious consequences".
Allegations of horrendous abuse of children in council care were first made in the London Evening Standard in October 1992.
The reports claimed that children in care were working as prostitutes and using children's homes to entertain customers; that children were seduced into drugs, homosexuality and prostitution; that some children were sexually abused, gang-raped and knifed; and that fears of an organised sex ring were dismissed by management and not investigated properly.
But instead of ordering an immediate investigation, the then leader of the council, Margaret Hodge, now Labour MP for Barking, dismissed the reports as a "sensationalist piece of gutter journalism". Last night, she said: "If I regret anything I regret not having brought in an independent adviser when the allegations first surfaced in 1992. I have not read the report ... so I am not in a position to comment on the details. There is always a need to review equal opportunities policies constantly."
There have been 13 separate inquiries into the various allegations and the council's handling of them. Yesterday's report drew together their findings and made recommendations to ensure such a scandal could never occur again.
The inquiry by Ian White, director of social services in Oxfordshire and a past president of the Association of Social Services, and an assistant, Kate Hart, was set up by the Department of Health to investigate Islington's handling of allegations raised by staff. One of the 32 accused members of staff faced child abuse charges but he was acquitted at the Old Bailey.
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