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Shirley Oaks ex-residents to get 'abuse' payouts

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  • Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse
media captionFormer resident: "Teacher said it was our little secret"

Every resident of a former network of children's homes in south London is to receive compensation for being at risk of abuse dating back decades.

Lambeth Council is set to pay tens of millions of pounds to people whether or not they were abused at Shirley Oaks.

A report from ex-residents outlining abuse on an "industrial scale" has named 27 men as alleged abusers.

The investigation says at least 60 abusers were active, and accuses some police officers of corruption.

The publication of the report by the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) covers a period from the 1950s to the closure of the homes in 1983.

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BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds says details of the compensation scheme have yet to be finalised, but the council says a key principle would be that there would be a blanket payment to any resident in the Shirley Oaks homes because all were judged to be at risk.

The payments will not be large in many cases but there will be higher payments to those who were abused, our correspondent added.

Shirley Oaks was an 80-acre site near Croydon in south London that included cottages where children in care were looked after by house mothers and fathers. The site also included a school, swimming pool, sick bay and playing fields.

At the scene

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image captionThe report was co-authored by SOSA founder Raymond Stevenson

Daniel De Simone, BBC News

SOSA launched its 129-page report at a packed press conference in central London.

Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton, the report's authors, have spent two years gathering documents and speaking to hundreds of people.

A room packed with journalists heard former residents and the relatives of some who later died - many of them emotional, some in tears - describe years of official indifference.

But no longer.

The leader and chief executive of Lambeth Council both spoke, offering apologies and reparations.

Local MP Chuka Umunna said institutions beyond the council - including the Home Office and the police - were also "culpable."

The group, which conducted its own investigation, said it had illuminated abuse on an "industrial scale" and therefore succeeded where multiple official inquiries had failed.

The SOSA, which spent two years investigating claims of abuse at the home and spoke to more than 400 people, says it was "shocked" by what it had found.

The group said both boys and girls had been abused, including young infants.

The report accuses one named police officer of "providing misleading information to victims" and of "informing one victim their abuser was dead when in fact he was alive".

It links 20 deaths to Shirley Oaks. Some of those named died while residents at the home, others years later, but none are classed as homicides. However, the report states "at the time of their deaths no-one considered whether their lives had been blighted by the extenuating circumstances of being brought up in a Lambeth children's home".

Another claim says Shirley Oaks generated a culture in which children sexually abused one another.

The report, co-authored by SOSA founder Raymond Stevenson, also criticises a series of police inquiries and official reports relating to Lambeth children's homes.

"Some of the omissions and failing of past inquiries contradict our findings and suggest that these prior inquiries were economical with the truth and aimed at concealing the extent of the abuse of children," it adds.

Liability admitted

Two of the people named in the report - William Hook and Philip Temple - have been convicted of child sexual abuse relating to Shirley Oaks.

The SOSA has had unprecedented co-operation from Lambeth Council, which has disclosed some of its files, apologised for the abuse and admitted liability.

But the group alleges the council destroyed 140 care records in the mid-2000s despite being required by law to keep them for a further 70 years.

Chief executive of Lambeth council Sean Harriss said: "All the children that were in Shirley Oaks during periods of time when paedophiles were operating were at risk. We've acknowledged that the council has put all of those children at risk."

Council leader Lib Peck said the authority had previously publicly apologised to those who were "so badly let down".

She added: "The investigation by the Shirley Oaks Survivor's Association has shone further light on the suffering of those entrusted into the council's care. Lambeth Council is preparing a new, far reaching redress scheme for survivors of historical abuse in the borough. It will allow them to secure compensation quickly whilst minimising legal fees."

Last month the survivors association pulled out of the independent inquiry into historical child sexual abuse in England and Wales because of concerns over its leadership.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee and whose Streatham constituency falls within Lambeth, said it was a "sad indictment" the SOSA did not have confidence in the inquiry and "felt their only choice was to withdraw from that investigation and publish their own report".

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