FORMER ISLINGTON SOCIAL WORKER
Islington Survivors Network
This week Liz gave an interview to Camden Community Radio and I have transcribed it here for your information. Liz was also joined by two survivors – Jane – who spent her childhood in the care of Islington – and Jo, who was also in Islington care homes for four years.
TRIGGER WARNING: Please note that some of the information within the accounts given may cause distress.
Please see below this interview for contact details.
- J: Jo
- LD: Liz Davies
- J: Jane
- F: Freddy
Jo: My name’s Jo, and this is Camden Community Radio (CCR). I’m here today with Dr Liz Davies, Jane, and Freddy from CCR.
In the early nineties, Liz was a social worker who blew the whistle on Islington’s children’s homes scandal. She now runs the Islington Survivors Network (ISN) for victims of the abuse and people who can provide more information in to the investigation.
F: And Jane is here because you were in the care of Islington child care during the eighties as well.
J: Yes. I was bought up in care from when I was born until I was 18 years old.
Jo: We’ll get on to the Islington Survivors Network and what you do, but first let me ask you a bit about how you found yourself blowing the whistle on the scandal back in the nineties?
LD: OK, thanks for asking me Jo. I worked in Islington as a social worker between 1986 and 1992 and I’ve worked in a number of small offices but I was in one office on the Hornsey Road and there was so many young people coming in and I thought, this is very unusual, and especially really early in the morning when I’d get there, there would be a queue at the door about 9am in the morning and it took me time to realise that they’d been sleeping in the park, that they were hungry, that were all very neglected children, some were missing from care, some were running away from home, and so on.
I slowly just said to my team: “We’ll make them an absolute priority. When a young person comes in we’ll see them straight away – we mustn’t wait to get to know them and find out what’s happening here.” They all had loads of problems. They were in to all types of petty crime, mental health problems, drug misuse – all kinds of things. I said: “Don’t focus on that, just try and find out what’s happening here“, and that’s what we did and very, very slowly, piece by piece, we found out about the big network of abuse that was going on within the Islington children’s homes. But at that time some of those children I put in to those homes and I have to live with that because I didn’t know the homes were abusive, and so it was following their cases through in those homes that I realised what was happening, and the networks of sexual abuse within the community was connected with the networks within the children’s homes.
I raised this at a neighbourhood forum, which was like a little political meeting locally and I said I was very worrried about rings of child sex abusers in the area and I was absolutely told off at the time for raising it, and told I shouldn’t have done that. That begun a… I started investigating with the local police, who supported me very well, the police at that time, and we interviewed lots and lots of the young people and we began to find out a great deal more and I left in ’92 when I was asked by a senior manager to place a child in a home where I had alleged that they were part of the abuse network and I thought: ‘no no, I can’t do that. Absolutely can’t do that’. That’s when I left the authority.
Jo: Wow! That’s really brave, what you tried to do. The Islington Gazette has recently been reporting on historic abuse of children in Islington Council’s care and I got a letter back in the early nineties… It would have been around the time, Liz, when you were gonna… was leaving the council social services and, yeah, the letter was from Islington Police and it was about a man who had been abused while he was in care and they wanted me to…. it seemed that they thought that I was, like, a witness but I wasn’t so I rang them up and told them that I couldn’t help them with the case – that, you know, I hadn’t seen anything – but I had, myself, been in care for approximately four years… three and a half/four years, and I had been abused on different levels but they didn’t seem at all interested, so last year – 2016, March – I read a story on the front page and inside the Gazette about a man, he was standing behind… sorry, in front of a children’s home on… that’s now shut down and, yeah, he was all shadowed out and he was telling about his experience about being in care in Islington and how he’d been abused and I thought that he was very courageous maybe, and I thought I would keep the paper so that I could tell my story later on maybe. So I did ring up and I spoke to a journalist called James and he said that I could do a story and I said I didn’t want to do that and he said: “Well, I can put you in touch with somebody that you could talk to who’s been running a network for Islington survivors of child abuse“, so that’s what I did and that’s how I got to know… I got to meet Liz and tell her my story about being in Islington Council care from 1978-1983/4.
LD: Yes Jo, and we met and we’ve had a lot of people come forward now – survivors from… we’ve now got 22 homes that we know Islington ran, we thought it was only 12 but it’s up to 22 and we’ve had about 50 survivors come forward and like with you, the first thing we do is get a little idea how long the person was in care and how many homes they were in, which homes and so on, and any main issues that took place. Then we try and get hold of the care file.
A lot of people don’t realise that the file belongs to you and it’s your right to have a copy of it and so we’ve got good links with the council now and they help us to find people’s files and that’s the first step really, it’s a very big step because once we’ve got the file, I then sit with the survivor and we go through it very slowly – if that’s what they want to do – some just want to take it away, some leave it in my office and not look at it – everyone has a different reaction. It’s quite frightening to suddenly see a file. After we’ve got the file, we talk through it and we’ve got some idea we think would you like to take these issues forward and try and get some redress for what you’ve been through and then we try and arrange an interview with an appropriate lawyer and see if we can go further with it. Also, if they want to speak to the police, we support them in doing so, if we think there’s a possible prosecution but, of course, a lot of abusers have died now or we don’t know where they are. Quite a lot have vanished and quite a lot went abroad, but the police are willing to look at any cases that we bring to them and initially we do that with the police anonymously – we give every survivor a code – either A, B, C, D – and we speak to the police and say: “We’ve got three survivors who have got something to say about a particular person”. That’s how we take it forward.
F: Yeah, we’d like to ask more about that and how the Islington Survivor’s Network… what you do and what you’ve been doing recently. But Jane, you’re here and I don’t know if what Jo said is similar to you?
J: Yes, absolutely. I, like Jo, was under the care of Islington Social Services and, like Jo, I was in my late forties before I even acknowledged that in my head really, and, like Jo, it’s only been a couple of years, or year – not even a couple of years – since I met Liz and realised that there was even an organisation or anyone out there that would even want to listen to our stories or support us. I was totally unaware of any networks or support groups that were there for people that had been bought up in care. But since meeting Liz and many other survivors that have come forward to ISN, I’ve realised that it’s important to talk. It’s important to have our story out there regardless of how long you were in care and what your situation was when you were in care. Islington Social Services are working with us and listening to us now but they have to address the issues that, for many years, you know, there was a duty of care that they didn’t acknowledge.
F: Maybe we should talk a bit about the Islington Gazette and the stories that they’ve been running recently which you, Liz, and the Islington Survivors Network have been involved with. I mean, helping them. Did you come to them with that story? How did that come about?
LD: Yes, we approached the Gazette because we want the stories to get out there so more people would come forward and know about what we’re doing, and also to call to account those who were responsible for the horrors that happened and that’s really important. I should just briefly say that in the nineties when I left Islington, I went to Scotland Yard with a suitcase full of evidence and, you know, some things were investigated at that stage but there was still a lot that was never investigated and it was at that time that The Evening Standard took on the story and there was a massive exposure. There has been over 300 media articles of what happened at Islington. There’s never been a documentary but there has been quite a bit of news coverage, so the Gazette were like… is like the most recent example of brilliant investigative journalists who really, really, I think, have done a brilliant job in these four articles.
F: Other than voicing the story, is there anything else direct in your objectives to get from the council? So, are you… apart from making the story better known about and documented, what are the objectives for the Islington Survivor’s Network?
LD: We’ve got a number of objectives. The very first thing we want is a police-led investigation because so many of the abusers are still out there. Children could still be at risk and it’s very important that all the accounts of abuse within the homes are analysed properly and collated with what the police know about any of these people, as of now, and then to bring them to justice. That’s the first thing. We call it ‘police-led’ because we want Islington Council to work very closely with the police in providing all the documentation and so on, and they pledged they will do that. So that’s the first thing – is to achieve prosecutions and to achieve some justice and to protect current children.
The second thing is redress for all the adults who were in care to get some redress for all the terrible things they experienced whilst they should have been being cared for as children, and that didn’t happen. So, that would be a civil legal case. We’re very keen to get that established. People may have heard about the Lambeth Survivors who now have got blanket payments and their compensation with the Lambeth Council… have accepted full liability for what happened to the children in Lambeth’s care and we want to achieve that with Islington Council. The leader has responded to the Gazette and given a full apology. An apology is not an acceptance of full liability.
Jo: So I go to talk about the first day that I went in to a second Islington council home. My social worker did say that it wasn’t appropriate for girls to go there, but because I’d never felt wanted, loved, I just did what I was told some of the time… most of the time… so when I did get there one morning and I was on a telephone – using a pay phone to speak to a friend – and I was attacked from behind. The handle… the phone at my face that I was talking to was pulled away and my hair and my head was… it was like I was in a choke hold and thrust back, and then my feet were then on the ground and I was being pulled around and slung through a swing door whilst being shouted and sworn at. At no time did I see this man’s face but he was strong and he was telling me what rubbish I was and I think I may have sworn but I wasn’t, like, shouting and swearing every other word, and he was telling me that I was quite acceptable if I wanted to leave, that he would make me cheese sandwiches to take with me on my journey back to wherever… London… they didn’t care. They did not care. And what I took for care was not care, it was, you know, I was unhappy, having sex and don’t want to and a doctor came that used to come in and they put me on the pill – me and a few other young girls and I’d just turned 14. I just went along with it because there was nobody….
F: Does anyone want to…
J: Yeah, I’d like to come in and say that, you know… exactly what Jo was saying is what she’s saying is, we didn’t have a voice and so part of doing this today is addressing that we didn’t have a voice and now it might have took us half of our lives to get to that point, but we have to find our voices and that’s part of what I’m seeing us doing – it’s supporting and enabling us to have a voice and that is amazing.
F: Can I ask Liz, maybe, how… hearing about these stories… first of all they’re kind of just truly horrible. How did this, from your understanding, how did people get away with this? Was this organised or was it just people… was it a complete lack of oversight… how do you end up with such terrible care?
LD: We’ve been doing quite a bit of research in to this and most of the Islington homes used to be outside London and there was a decision made in the seventies to bring all the children within the borough and at the same time that’s when the Paedophile Information Exchange had become quite influential, infiltrating the systems of care. So it has to be really thoroughly examined – what there role was at the time.
We have a national inquiry that’s only looking at child sexual abuse. A lot of the accounts we’ve had, like what you’ve heard today, of horrific torture and some of the practices that went on, you know. We’ve had so many accounts now of children being taken on miles and miles and miles of hikes in the woods at night and being abandoned there and having to try and find their own way back. I mean, it’s cruelty in the extreme. And then we’ve heard stories of many, many holidays. Now these were the most neglected, emotionally abused, physically abused, sexually abused children that you could find and yet they were being taken to exotic holidays – Rimini, Riga, Pyreneese – so many different parts of Europe and you have to ask the question why? What was this about? And some of the stories indicate that it was a kind of trafficking. All this needs very, very thorough investigations. That’s why we’re asking for a police-led investigation. The best we can do at the moment is take all these accounts very thoroughly and then collate all the evidence.
F: Is there anything… sorry, can I ask you Jo, is there anything that could make things… what would make things better for you, or that you want now that would redress something in any way?
Jo: Well, I’d like Islington Council or… what’s his name – Watts…
LD: Richard Watts…
Jo: Yeah, Richard Watts…
F: Who’s Richard Watts?
Jo: The leader of Islington Council… to be, like, cooperative and help fully with the investigation because there are some of these men still alive that worked there that were abusing, not just myself but other girls, young women and young men, but at the moment I’ve had… I’ve been ill for 25 years with Type 1 Diabetes and it’s very challenging, especially now, you know, I’m in my early fifties and I’ve got, you know… I’ve tried to get help with my housing but I just am getting nowhere and I’ve been going round and round and I’d really appreciate it if the council would help me and…
LD: But we also want recognition of the impact of the trauma – however many years it is – that trauma is there and, you know, a lot of survivors they work and they do all kinds of things but underneath there’s that trauma and it can hit them at any time and it can be triggered… just reading the articles in the Gazette triggers some of them into remembering things they hadn’t remembered for, you know, makes them relive their experiences in the most frightening way. So we want that understood.
Also the benefits system which is declaring quite a few of them, you know, as fit for work… well, you know, they might work for a week but the next week they’re in deep trauma again, so that’s not being understood. What it means being a survivor of this level of horrendous child abuse is not being understood by the benefits system so that’s something we’re asking the council to help negotiate. To be quite clear, the council are being very helpful to us at the moment, and they are giving some of the survivors extra points because they’ve been in their care. That’s really important to recognise.
I also just wanted to comment that there were 14 inquiries in the nineties – all that what happened after the expose in the media, but now we have to really look at who commissioned those inquiries and what their role was and whether they were actually sincere at all. I’ve always said they were all a cover up completely. I gave evidence to some of them and I’ve only very recently got copies of those inquiries through Freedom of Information and nothing that I said, in hours of evidence, features in these reports at all. So I’ve only just found that out. But the final report in 1995 made a categoric statement that a social worker said that 61 in her office were victims of a network of abuse and they said there was no proof of that whatsoever. Well that was me. I had plenty of evidence. I was trained to evidence my work, you know. We need some justice for all those children that were not believed at the time that they were victims of an orchestrated abuse network.
And just to say, the other thing, if a child spoke out, some of them were threatened with being sent to a secure unit and some of them were put in secure units. One survivor’s told us she was in solitary confinement for weeks, you know, and that she was trying to speak out. And another one said that he was taken to visit a boy in secure and was told if he spoke out… like, his abuser took him and said: “If you speak out you’ll end up in here like this child that you were in care with“. So these were the threats that were going on as well behind the scenes.
Jo: So, ok, I’d like to say thank you to Liz, Jane and Freddy for letting us do this interview, podcast today. Thank you.
LD: Thank you for asking us.
J: Thank you.
If you were within the care of Islington Social Services and either witnessed abuse, or suffered it, or you have information about perpetrators involved, maybe you worked within the council, or within one of the homes, or simply have a story to relay that can be researched, you can contact Liz at the Islington Survivor’s Network here.
Alternatively, if you’d find it more comfortable to contact me in the first instance, you can do so via email, or leave a comment on this blog post and I will respond. I am in contact with Liz and ISN and will pass on any information or act as an initial point of contact until such time as you feel more comfortable.