London

Shirley Oaks: 'Hundreds of children racially and sexually abused'

Archive picture of the site
Image caption An archive picture of Shirley Oaks children's home - located in Croydon but run by Lambeth Council

Hundreds of children in the care of Lambeth Council were subjected to prolonged sexual, physical and racial abuse, an inquiry has heard.

For decades victims were targeted by paedophiles working at the council-run Shirley Oaks campus in Croydon.

The inquiry heard that despite widespread mistreatment of children, the authority failed to investigate any allegations at the time.

The Shirley Oaks abuse scandal is seen as one of the worst in British history.

This hearing is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and is being held virtually.

Until 1980, hundreds of children there lived in "isolation, fear and vulnerability", inquiry barrister Rachel Langdale QC said.

Ms Langdale said evidence over the next four weeks would include examples of severe sexual abuse.

Children were systematically abused by paedophiles who targeted jobs in the care system to give them access to young people, the inquiry heard.

Image caption The former Shirley Oaks site in Croydon

One, John Carroll, was revealed by another council to have a conviction for abuse, and to have concealed it from his employer.

Yet he was not sacked for years - and was not dismissed for child abuse - the inquiry heard.

Ms Langdale added: "Lambeth officials decided that Carroll should not be dismissed on account of his previous conviction, nor on account of his concealment of it."

Carroll was sacked in 1991 because of "financial irregularities", Ms Langdale said.

He was jailed for 10 years at Liverpool Crown Court in 1999 after admitting a string of sexual assaults against children while working in residential care between 1966 and 1986.

'Screams throughout the building'

Another paedophile, William Hook, managed to keep a job as a house father, despite being described as a "Walter Mitty character" working for his food and lodging.

The inquiry heard one former resident described how Hook openly sexually abused a care home child at a swimming pool.

Children were beaten, and locked up while one was held down in a bath of cold water resulting in "screams throughout the building".

Another was threatened with being "cut into little pieces" by an adult wielding garden shears, the inquiry heard.

Ms Langdale told the inquiry one child complained to Lambeth Council in the 1990s, saying that while she was in care her aim had been to keep her head down and get out of the system.

"If the height of a child in care's aspiration is simply to grow up so to escape it, then that is a damning indictment of the care system," Ms Langdale said.

'Social aunts and uncles'

The inquiry also heard allegations of physical and sexual assault that took place at other Lambeth Council children's homes, including the South Vale Assessment Centre and Ivy House.

Ms Langdale explained that Shirley Oaks was the oldest and largest residential care home for children, aged between two and 17, that was under the control of the council.

The home allowed for members of the public, known as "social aunts and uncles", to volunteer to spend time with children by taking them away on day trips or on holiday, the inquiry heard.

Ms Langdale said Lambeth Council "accepts" that during the operational period of Shirley Oaks, which could house up to 350 children, there were no requirements for staff to hold social work qualifications or to be police checked.

"It appears the doors to Shirley Oaks, in essence, may have been open to any adult professing an interest in taking children out," she said.

In 2016 the council started a £100m redress scheme offering a payment and apology to any child at Shirley Oaks, regardless of whether they had been abused.

The inquiry continues.