A damning report released today into historical child abuse in Nottinghamshire care homes has slammed local authorities and police for failing to act and take complaints seriously.
The report from the The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse concludes that both staff and elected members on Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council failed to act to reports of rape and sexual assault on young people in care over a 30-year period.
It also concludes that Nottinghamshire Police failed to investigate allegations robustly enough with its Operation Daybreak probe, first launched in 2011, not adequately staffed until 2015, and the force showed a "lack or urgency" regarding complaints.
The report found around 350 people reported being sexually abused whilst in the care of the councils from the 1960s onwards, although the true number is likely to be considerably higher.
It concluded that the sexual abuse of children was widespread in both residential and foster care during the 1970s, 80s and 90s - including repeated rapes, sexual assaults and physical abuse.
During 15 days of public hearings in 2018, the inquiry heard from those who had been sexually abused as children whilst in the care of both authorities - notably at Skegby Hall young offenders centre, near Mansfield, and the Beechwood care home on the outskirts of Nottingham.
At Beechwood, staff were threatening and violent, physical abuse was commonplace and children were frightened, the report concludes.
Sexualised behaviour by staff was tolerated or overlooked, allowing abusers to thrive, it states, despite the high numbers of allegations of child sexual abuse, only two disciplinary actions were taken and these were inadequate.
From the late 1970s to 2019, 16 residential staff were convicted of sexual abuse of children in residential care, 10 foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of their foster children and 12 further convictions relating to the harmful sexual behaviour of children against other children in care are recorded.
The report found that the extent of sexual abuse in foster care in the seventies and eighties was compounded by poor decison-making in cases where disclosure had been made - some known perpetrators were permitted to remain as foster carers and then went on to abuse children again.
Most alarmingly, it also concludes that neither of the councils have a satisfactory approach to addressing the issue of harmful sexual behaviour between children in care.
A case study details five separate reports in five county community homes were conducted between 1988 and 1995. In one home, all children resident over a 12-month period were found to have been exposed to harmful sexual behaviour.
The report states that to the present day, the councils do not have a process for the regular reporting of child sexual abuse allegations, or the action taken in response. As a result, understanding of the scale of allegations made over a period lasting over half a century, has been limited and inconsistent.
The investigation also concluded that neither of the councils learned from their mistakes despite over 30 years of evidence of failure to protect children in care.
The report states: "Neither of the councils learned from their mistakes despite decades of evidence of failure to protect children in care. Successive reviews, both internal and external, identified weaknesses in policy and practice relating to the protection of children in residential care, in foster care and in the area of harmful sexual behaviour. Many of these reviews included recommendations for change which were accepted but rarely acted upon.
"Over the last 30 years, the councils have produced policies and procedures on responding to allegations of sexual abuse of children in care. However, these policies were not generally made known to staff nor was there a checking process in place to verify implementation.
"The county acknowledged that there was a crisis in children’s social care in the early 1990s when the root cause of this crisis was the failure to recruit sufficient numbers of qualified social workers. This was not unusual at that time, but the Inquiry heard nothing of any strategies put in place to address the problem. The focus was on child protection on the misplaced assumption that children in care were sufficiently protected by the carers themselves. In the same period, there was a “deep rift” between children’s social care and
Regarding Nottinghamshire Police, the report states: "Nottinghamshire Police’s investigation into allegations of non-recent sexual abuse of children in residential care (Operation Daybreak) was not adequately resourced or supported from its formation in 2011 until 2015. Given the increasing number of allegations of abuse and the criticisms from internal and external reviews, senior police officers should have done more to support the operation.
"The police did not treat the allegations with sufficient seriousness. Since 2015, when Operation Daybreak was subsumed into Operation Equinox, there have been a number of prosecutions and there now appears to be greater confidence in the force’s commitment amongst complainants.
"However, Nottinghamshire Police has consistently shown a lack of urgency and failed to address the weaknesses identified and the recommendations made in recent inspections
and reviews concerning its approach to investigating child sexual abuse.
"Responsibility for this rests primarily with the force itself. These failings had consequences for the children involved. The most recent assessment report indicates some improvements."
Speaking following the publication of the report, Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said: “For decades, children who were in the care of the Nottinghamshire councils suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse, inflicted by those who should have nurtured and protected them.
“Those responsible for overseeing the care of children failed to question the extent of sexual abuse or what action was being taken. Despite decades of evidence and many reviews showing what needed to change, neither of the councils learnt from their mistakes, meaning that more children suffered unnecessarily.
“We hope this report and recommendations can help ensure it never happens again.”
Speaking after the report was published, Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: "
“As an organisation and as individuals, Nottinghamshire Police have been fully committed to supporting the Inquiry from the outset. I should reiterate that we will continue to work tirelessly to seek justice for all victims of sexual abuse, whenever the alleged offence took place."
“It’s fair to say that a lot has been learned around the complexity of investigating non-recent allegations of child sexual abuse - not least in the need for us to dedicate specialist resources to this type of investigation. A dedicated team, with specialist officers and staff, is now well-established and investigates all allegations of this nature."
Colin Pettigrew, corporate director for children’s services at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: "
“From the outset we welcomed this national inquiry into child sexual abuse along with the scrutiny this would bring to us in Nottinghamshire and we have cooperated fully throughout.
“This council has previously apologised both publicly and privately to individuals for the significant failures in the past to protect children in its care. We know that apologies cannot change the past or take away the abuse people have suffered. These terrible events took place, in some cases, many years ago and we know that the effects remain. We are committed to working with partners to ensure that appropriate support is available to all victims and survivors."
“We are determined to do our utmost to ensure that children in the care of this council are as safe as they can be. And swift and effective measures are now in place to deal with any allegations of abuse of children in the care of this council.
“We must now reflect carefully on this report and consider the findings and recommendations to determine what further changes to practice may be necessary."