Liz Davies’ Open Letter to Margaret Hodge
Posted: August 3, 2014
Last Friday (August 1st, 2014), Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, issued a statement on the poor treatment of whistleblowers, and how they are often victimised by managers (see Rayeev Syal, ‘Public service whistleblowers ‘treated shockingly’, report finds’, The Guardian, August 1st, 2014). Hodge was earlier Leader of Islington Council from 1982 to 1992, during which time the council was beset by a terrible child abuse scandal affecting most of the children’s homes in the borough. Liz Davies was a social worker for Islington Council who acted as the principal whistleblower about this scandal; she is now Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University. Below I reproduce, with permission from Dr Davies, an open letter from her to Margaret Hodge in response to Hodge’s recent comments.
See also Liz Davies’ website, in particular this page featuring videos of various TV reports about the Islington child abuse scandal, as well as this account of Davies’ work with journalist Eileen Fairweather, who broke the news of the scandal. A wide range of articles about abuse in Islington can be read at the Spotlight blog here and here.
Open letter to Margaret Hodge MP
Dear Margaret Hodge,
You rightly say that, whistleblowing is ‘crucial’ and has to matter ‘right to the top of an organisation’. Your perspective has certainly changed since the time when, as leader of Islington Council, you so seriously hindered my investigation of crimes against children. As the main ‘whistleblower’ I have been struggling since the 90s to put the record straight about the murders, sexual exploitation, neglect and physical torture of children both within the care of Islington social services and in the local community. I have also tried to expose the connections between Islington networks and those in other parts of the country.
We have all learnt a lot in the last 20 years and I am continually discovering more about what actually happened during those years when, as a social worker, I was working to protect vulnerable Islington children. It would seem now, in the context of your statements on whistleblowing and your support of the National Inquiry into Organised Abuse of Children, that it is certainly appropriate to move forward in order to increase all our understanding about what led to the cover up of organised child abuse in the Borough.
A few years ago, as more information came to light, you apologised for your mistakes and provided the explanation for your actions that you were misled by senior officers. However, I now question why you did not give evidence to this effect to the final Islington Inquiry in 1995. Also, you have not said if you referred these managers to the police and to the appropriate regulatory body in order to prevent them working with children. So many of them, whose names I remember clearly, have progressed in their social work careers without ever having been accountable for their actions or inactions.
Most puzzling is my discovery of how much was previously known about child abuse in Islington since the early 80s and I, of course, realise that you were council leader from 1982. Am I to believe that you really did not know that there had been a long established pattern of sexual exploitation and even the alleged murders of children within Islington’s care? These events were well covered in the local and national media and, in this context, I cannot understand why my disclosures just a few years later were met with such disbelief. Geoffrey Dickens MP, for instance, exposed the sexual exploitation of Islington children. This was just four years before I raised similar concerns about children’s safety in the neighbourhood of Islington where I worked and for which you were the local councillor. This area was just a few streets away from the location that he was including in one of his now famous dossiers. I have to question why I was not informed at the time about these very serious cases. All this prior intelligence would have validated some of my enquiries and greatly assisted my investigations. If I had received support and understanding from you, I would have been far better able to protect the children who were so severely harmed. Instead, every obstacle was put in my way. My only professionally ethical option at the time was to work covertly with police. When our work achieved a major conviction I thought I would be believed but instead I was further silenced by managers. I now question if you were informed about this conviction and the circumstances in which young people were disclosing? I wonder if you were also informed about all the professionals working alongside me in the investigations and how many were told by their agency representatives on the Area Child Protection Committee that there was no evidence.
What exactly did influence your decision-making at the time? What led you to take a stand, for instance, in publicly blaming a brave whistleblowing residential worker? After raising the alarm about child sex abusers accessing children as young as 9 years old in a children’s home, he was dismissed and prevented from working with children for many years. What led you to dismiss my substantial report about a local network of sexual exploitation? Your support from ‘the top’ of the organisation might have been able to reverse the path of history and protect so many children. I am now being contacted by survivors who feel more able to come forward in the current climate. It is deeply worrying that so many of their files are missing. When I attended the Inquiries not a single one of my records was to be found. What is your understanding now of such negligence?
There are so many questions I would like to ask you. Did you know that after presenting 4 hours of evidence to one Islington Inquiry none of my information was included in the report? Did you know that one of the people who was the subject of one of the 14 Islington Inquiry reports returned to Children’s services in recent years and had not been barred from work with children? I do not know the 32 names listed by Ian White, in the Appendix to his final report, of professionals deemed unsuitable to work with children. I do know two social workers who should never have been named on the list as they were whistleblowers. In the light of your recent comment that some whistleblowers are treated badly I would expect that you would agree that the list of 32 needs to be urgently reviewed.
The White Report in 1995 (Report of the Inquiry into the Management of Child Care in the London Borough of Islington) made reference to 61 children I had identified as possible victims of an organised abuse network. It went on to conclude that, ‘while some individual children were at risk of abuse, the Police found no evidence of connections between these such as would support the assertion that there was organised abuse’ (p. 42). I would like to know in the light of current knowledge, and with hindsight, what your opinion is of this finding.
You say that there should be sanctions for those who victimise whistleblowers. The Islington Inquiries were not a legal process and no-one was required to give evidence. Do you think, therefore, that it is too late to call to account those who obstructed my investigations and those who misled you? Other authorities are now interviewing former whistleblowers and considering what action can be taken to right the wrongs of the past. I have not been asked by Islington authorities to assist in identifying perpetrators or to help survivors in understanding what happened to them. As one example, I recently learnt from the media about the unnamed Islington children’s home supposedly related to Savile – no-one has asked me if I know which home it might be. I remain a registered social worker and am therefore appropriately qualified to professionally assist with child protection investigations and I would readily contribute my knowledge about networks of abuse in the area.
I am pleased that you are now supporting whistleblowers. I am one of them and I now ask for your full support in helping to unravel what really did happen in Islington about which you must surely know so much. It is a story which includes your story which has never been told. Many politicians are now bravely coming forward to speak out about organised child abuse – it is surely your time to contribute your account of what really happened.
Dr Liz Davies
Reader in Child Protection
London Metropolitan University
3rd August 2014
Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council
Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children and Families
Andrew Johnson, Islington Tribune