Child abuse scandal: new probe on the way
£180k inquiry ordered into latest allegations in 20-year-old saga
22 September, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Town Hall leader Cllr Richard Watts:’The council will stop at nothing for all of the allegations to be investigated.’ Right: Dr Liz Davies, who blew the whistle on the abuse, has welcomed the new probe
TOWN Hall chiefs will order a judge-led inquiry into the conduct of an ex-councillor who chaired Islington’s social services committee when a child abuse scandal erupted in the 1990s.
The independent inquiry, which will last for six weeks and is to cost £180,000, will look into whether the White Report, a 1995 investigation into serious failings at the borough’s children’s homes, was partly compromised by the fact that investigators were not aware of allegations surrounding Sandy Marks, who served as a councillor in the 1980s and 90s.
Claims she had links to pro-paedophile group Fallen Angels during the 70s were published in the Islington Gazette in May and the paper subsequently supplied Islington Council with documentary evidence, sparking an investigation.
But this week friends of Ms Marks – who denies the allegations – came to her defence, suggesting she is being made a scapegoat for the shocking failings at the authority in the 70s and 80s.
Keith Veness, who served as an Islington councillor and recruited her to the Labour Party, having first met her in 1975, questioned the veracity of some of the claims against Ms Marks.
“I do not believe that Sandy Marks is guilty of anything, except a woeful ignorance shared with most politicians and senior officials many years ago,” he said in a statement.
“She has devoted many years of her life to campaigning and has supported many good causes. Her current treatment is shoddy and plain unfair.”
A friend, who did not wish to be named, said: “Sandy is being made the fall guy.”
This week, a report by lawyers James Goudie QC and Holly Stout said that the claims could call into question the integrity of the White Report in “certain limited respects”.
“First, while there is clearly dispute about Sandy Marks’ involvement in Fallen Angels collective and other pro-paedophile groups, the evidence of her name as a contact for the group in the 1980 International Gay Association conference papers suggests that she had some (not insignificant) involvement with the Fallen Angels,” their report said.
It added that if the White inquiry team had been in possession of the new information about Ms Marks, it would have questioned her more carefully about:
• her own alleged involvement in Fallen Angels, and possibly other pro-paedophile groups;
• what, if any, impact that involvement had on the way she carried out her duties on the social services committee;
• what Ms Marks knew about the “state of management” of Islington’s social services department, including whether she had been aware of any abuse allegations prior to an Evening Standard article in 1992; and
• whether in her dealings with Fallen Angels, and possibly other pro-paedophile groups, Ms Marks had become aware of anything relevant to the allegations of “organised abuse” that were the subject of the White Report.
However, the lawyers added that the issues would only have had a “limited” impact on the integrity of the White Report because as a “mere” member of the social services committee between 1983 and 1991, Ms Marks is unlikely to have been in a position to have had any “significant impact” on the council’s handling of the abuse allegations.
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, welcomed the new probe.
“I’m really pleased there is this initiative,” she said. “Maybe they will say there should be a new police investigation. [Town Hall leader] Richard Watts has given a commitment to this and I respect him for that.”
Margaret Hodge, the mother-in-law of current children’s services chief Councillor Joe Caluori, has been dogged by her dismissal of warnings by whistleblowers who tried to expose the scale of abuse when she was council leader.
The Barking MP said: “I have apologised a number of times for our failure to understand about child abuse and take children’s voices seriously in the 80s. I am sorry.”
Disability rights campaigner Ms Marks, a 63-year-old mother of four who suffers from MS and uses a wheelchair, lost her £27,000 annual income in July after she resigned as director of the Islington Personal Budgets Network Community Interest Company.
The Tribune understands she also has been suspended by the Labour Party.
Cllr Watts told a meeting of the full council last night: “The council will stop at nothing for all of the allegations to be investigated.”
Ex-councillor defends Marks against claims
KEITH Veness, a former Islington councillor, and a political colleague of Sandy Marks, has penned a statement in support of her, countering allegations that she had links to pro-paedophile groups in the 1970s.
In a 1,439-word piece, Mr Veness, who in 2010 was awarded the Hackney Council Employee of the Year award for his investigative work and seven years earlier the Borough Commander’s Annual Award for his work in closing crackhouses in the borough, writes:
• “Sandy Marks avers, and I believe her, that she has never been to Barcelona [where she allegedly attended conference of the International Gay Association in 1980, and where workshops on paedophilia were held] in her life;
• “The woman in the photo [taken at the conference, uncovered in an archive], whilst bearing certain similarities to Sandy, is NOT Sandy Marks. Her hairstyle is totally different … her clothing is also much more upmarket than anything Sandy could afford. Her facial features are sharper … I’m sure any forensic examination will uphold the fact that this is a different woman;
• “The use of the ICH address by the alleged ‘Fallen Angels’ organisation is in no way any proof of involvement by Sandy. ICH was a very worthy organisation but was infiltrated by many groups of leftist organisations and even had a severe problem over a number of years from the ‘orange people’ – followers of the Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh, a rather unpleasant religious cult. Eventually ICH and its associated housing co-op became much more professional and careful in who it accepted into membership and eventually re-housed but during the late 1970s and early 1980s it had an open and trusting style that rendered it vulnerable to abuse and malfeasance.”
• “As for allegations of child abuse, Sandy was instructed to leave the formal investigation in the hands of the then council leader.”
How the scandal unfolded
THE Islington child abuse scandal exploded in a series of exposés by the Evening Standard in the early 1990s.
The paper described a care system infiltrated by paedophiles that had abysmally failed to care for scores of children, with youngsters being seduced into taking drugs, forced into prostitution, gang raped and knifed. It raised fears of an organised sex ring operating in Islington.
It has been established that there was widespread abuse at children’s homes in the borough in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. One conviction was secured against a staff member at a residential school. But many files went missing.
The White report, a 1995 inquiry into the revelations and the quality of Islington’s children services, identified 32 allegations against named staff including sexual assaults on other staff, encouraging boys to be rent boys, sexual misconduct with residents, sale of drugs, poor child care, staff involvement in paedophile rings and child pornography.
Police investigations have dismissed claims of a paedophile ring operating in Islington, but Dr Liz Davies, the former Islington Council social worker who blew the whistle on the abuse, insists there was.
Survivors of the abuse, many of whom still live in Islington, have found support and are seeking justice through the Islington Survivors Network, which was launched by Dr Davies.