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Islington child abuse scandal that haunts Margaret Hodge, politician poised to run for Mayor of London

Margaret Hodge

Margaret Hodge: ‘I can’t change what happened’

Published: 19 September, 2014

THE former leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, has revealed she is considering running for Mayor of London – but admits that the child abuse scandal which she failed to take seriously 20 years ago may hamper her chances.

Mrs Hodge, who lives in Barnsbury and is the mother-in-law of current children’s services chief Councillor Joe Caluori, has been dogged by her dismissal of warnings by whistleblowers in the 1980s and 1990s who tried to expose the scale of abuse in Islington children’s homes when she was council leader.

It has since been established that there was widespread abuse in all 11 homes in the borough. No one has ever been convicted, and all the records have been destroyed.

In an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine at the weekend, Mrs Hodge, who is now MP for Barking and heads the Commons Public Acc­ounts Committee, said of the idea of running to be mayor: “I would be mad not to take it seriously. When I look at my CV, I think, well, obviously I can deliver, but I haven’t definitely made my mind up.”

She added, referring to the child abuse scandal: “I’m realistic – I know if I stand as mayor, people will crawl over it again. I can’t change what happened. In a lifetime of public service, that was my biggest mistake.

“It was the biggest mistake of my life. The professionals said these allegations were false but we didn’t listen to the voices of children and obviously we should have done.”

It is the second time this year that Mrs Hodge, leader between 1982 and 1992, has admitted to making a mistake.

In April, she told the Sunday Telegraph: “I have apologised a number of times over the last 10 years for our failure to understand about child abuse and take children’s voices seriously in the Eighties. I am sorry. Our naivety was shameful and I’m really glad we’ve learned since then the importance of listening to the voices of children who have been abused.”

However, her apologies have only come recently. As late as 2003 – nine years after an Evening Standard investigation finally laid open the scale of the abuse – Mrs Hodge called abuse victim Dem­etrious Panton “an extremely disturbed person”. She subsequently had to pay him £30,000 and make an apology in the High Court.

Then, she was under pressure over the scandal after being appointed Children’s Minister in Tony Blair’s government.

Mr Panton had first written to the council and complained in 1985, saying he was abused at an Islington children’s home. He heard nothing for four years, and only then to be given the brush-off. 

In 1990, Mrs Hodge refused an inquiry when two social workers raised concerns. And then, in 1992, when the Evening Standard published details of widespread abuse that led to a series of inquiries, Mrs Hodge, who is worth £18m thanks to her holdings in her family’s steel company, described it as “a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”.

Dr Liz Davies, a reader in child protection at London Metropolitan University in Holloway, and a former social worker in Islington who blew the whistle on abuse, said she had told Mrs Hodge personally of the allegations.

“She says that the professionals misled her,” Dr Davies said. “That they didn’t inform her. I did tell her what was happening – categorically. I told her in person and reported to her. Some professionals at a higher level than I was may have said it was all made up. But I have written an open letter to her and said, if this is the case, who were they? Where are they working? Were they reported to the police? Because they should not be working with children now.”

• A Town Hall spokesman said that an inquiry into allegations that Jimmy Savile had been connected to one of the children’s homes has been completed and is with the Department for Education. It is thought, however, that the DfE was mistaken in linking Savile to the borough.

Remembered: Flowers laid in tribute to killed teenagers

LIZ Davies (see above) was speaking at a vigil on Monday outside Elm Guest House in Barnes, where it is alleged senior members of the establishment, including former Lib Dem Rochdale MP Cyril Smith, would attend parties with children. The allegations are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police. 

Campaigners released balloons and left white flowers for the victims of child abuse. Dr Davies laid flowers for two children killed in Islington in the 1980s who were connected to the notorious Conewood Street Assessment Centre, in Highbury.

Tony McGrane, 13, was found with 31 stab wounds in a lock-up garage near his home in Cyprus Street, Finsbury. Police said at the time that he had “put up an extremely brave fight”. A family friend, Gary Whelan, then 19, was subsequently jailed for six years for manslaughter for the killing.

Another boy, Jason Swift, 14, killed in 1985 by the notorious sex offender Sidney Cooke and three others, also attended the centre in the months leading up to his death, according to reports. All four accused were found guilty of manslaughter after Swift was found strangled in a “squalid council flat” in Hackney.

Eileen Fairweather, the award-winning journalist who exposed the scandal in 1992, said in 2008 that she had been told that Swift attended the centre, but as all the documents had disappeared this was impossible to prove.

The death of a third teenager is also possibly linked with the centre, but because documents are again missing it is impossible to verify this. Vivienne Loki, 17, vanished just before Christmas in 1987. A decorator for Islington Council, her body was found in March the following year locked in a meter cupboard at Goldie House, in Hazellville Road, Archway. She had choked during a sex act.

Aldolphous Farrell was later jailed for seven years for manslaughter and unlawfully disposing of her body. 

The home was the subject of a “sex romp scandal” in 1990 when two 15-year-old boys were accused of raping a 13-year-old girl with the “apparent acquiescence of staff”. A jury subsequently found them not guilty of rape, but guilty of intercourse with a girl under the age of 16. An investigation by Islington Council found no wrong-doing by staff.



Islington children's homes

Liz Davies, who was an Islington professional, seems to believe that what she told Margaret Hodge was not misleading -

Will Margaret Hodge be replying soon to Liz Davies's open letter to her of 3 August 2014 - ?

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