Council apologises after failing to support families of children who died in care, inquiry hears

Lambeth Council failed to support the families of two children, including a baby, who had both died under its care after facing abuse by its staff, an inquiry has heard.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard the south London council is still not aware of how many children have died under its care between 1970 and 1990, with its own figures showing 15 while separate data showed as many as 48.

This section of the far-reaching inquiry is examining whether there were child protection failures by public authorities in the area, including the Metropolitan Police and Lambeth Council.

Giving evidence on Thursday, Annie Hudson (pictured), strategic director of children’s services at Lambeth Council, began by apologising to survivors of abuse and their families, stating she felt “an enormous sense of shame”.

“It’s clear to me that a very, very great number of children effectively had their childhood stolen as a consequence of the abuse… and general neglect during a long period of time,” she said.

Ms Hudson said Lambeth Council is aware of 15 incidents of child deaths under its care, which contrasted with another set of data presented at the inquiry which showed there could have been up to 48 deaths between 1970 and 1990.

Rachel Langdale QC, counsel to the inquiry, said the data showed there was at least one death per year, with as many as six in 1974, stating further evidence will be heard at a later date of where these figures have come from.

When asked about the disparity in the numbers, Ms Hudson said: “There was not, until relatively recently, a strong robust system for recording this information.”

Ms Langdale said it was also significant that Lambeth Council is not able to know for sure what the total number of deaths is, to which Ms Hudson agreed.

The inquiry heard a baby under the council’s care had died of asphyxiation after she slipped out of a safety harness while she slept on the top bunk of a bed.

Evidence was heard of a record which stated the baby’s sister told her mother on the phone that the council was force feeding the baby and tied her on the bed.

The inquiry heard the mother of the baby, at the time of the death, commented: “If I had done that, they would have put me in (HMP) Holloway.”

Evidence was also heard of a young boy who was found dead in the bathroom of a children’s home, after he was molested by the house father.

When the boy was 12 years old, the abuse was investigated by police but the case was thrown out.

In a statement made by his sister, which was read out at the inquiry, she said: “What failed my beloved brother more than anything was the total lack of support offered when the judge dismissed the charge.”

A letter sent to the coroner’s officer about the boy’s death said school staff and social workers said he appeared happy and that they were shocked by his untimely death.

Ms Hudson said: “It beggars belief really, it wasn’t a true picture of what had happened to him and his experience, I’m quite staggered by reading that.”

She continued: “What that family had been through was unimaginable, what happened to that young boy was really shocking but the fact that he wasn’t believed and wasn’t given any support… was very unacceptable.”

Ms Langdale pointed to a document on the recruitment of social workers at Lambeth Council, which she said highlighted nepotism in that “people could get jobs by virtue of who they knew” rather than being qualified for the role.

Ms Hudson agreed, stating: “You are opening up the potential for people who you absolutely shouldn’t be having working for children coming into work there.”

Ms Hudson said Lambeth Council failed to adhere to statutory requirements and its own policies in relation to visits in children’s homes.

Ms Langdale said the effect of this failure put children “at a greater risk of abuse”.

The inquiry continues.

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