I worked on the London Evening Standard investigation that first exposed the Islington scandal. Along with a colleague, Stewart Payne, I spent three months in 1992 secretly interviewing terrified whistleblowing staff, parents and children before the newspaper published a damning investigation. It was promptly attacked by then-council leader Margaret Hodge as a “sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”. We were falsely accused of bribing children to make up their heartbreaking stories. Mrs Hodge has since apologised and explained that her officials lied to her.
But the Standard’s then editor, the late Stewart Steven, proved indomitable. He funded us to keep digging – for three long years.
The Standard’s dossiers of evidence generated 13 independent inquiries and won two British Press awards. The final, damning Ian White Report in 1995 responded to the newspaper’s 112-page dossier of evidence. Parents, children and staff reiterated to White the paper’s allegations – including that violent pimps openly collected children from the home, and were even allowed by staff to stay overnight in children’s rooms.
White, then director of Oxfordshire social services, confirmed that Islington allowed at least 26 workers facing “extremely serious allegations” to leave its employ without investigation. Staff accused of everything from rape to child prostitution had been allowed to resign, often with good references. He described Islington as a “classic study” in how paedophiles target children, aided by the council’s naive interpretation of gay rights. “Equal opportunities… became a positive disincentive for challenge to bad practice… and a great danger”.
He called for the 26 staff to be barred from childcare and investigated further, naming them in a confidential annexe. But almost none were. As the scandal raged, Islington destroyed records. Ian White confirmed that “this happened at assistant-director level”. He “found no evidence of collusion”. But he was not allowed to question Islington’s assistant director Lyn Cusack, or her staff.
Mrs Cusack was married to a local senior police officer, Detective Superintendent Don McKay. She resigned in November 1993, citing personal reasons. Days earlier, the Standard had alerted the Social Services Inspectorate to Islington losing evidence requested by three different police forces investigating child sex rings, and the linked Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
Islington was deeply influenced by and had many connection to the Paedophile Information Exchange. In the fatally naïve 1970s to mid 80s, PIE openly campaigned for sex to be legalised with children from age four, and for incest and child pornography to be legalised. The National Council for Civil Liberties – now Liberty – allowed it to affiliate and its then legal officer Harriet Harman wrote a paper effectively backing some PIE demands. The assumption in those “progressive” days was that paedophiles simply loved children and wanted to “liberate” their sexuality.
Mrs Harman, whose role has been exposed in recent media stories, has described Margaret Hodge as her best friend in Parliament. Mrs Hodge’s late husband, Henry Hodge, also an Islington Labour councillor, earlier chaired the National Council for Civil Liberties. It is unknown if they ever discussed PIE.
In 1985, Mrs Hodge announced that Islington Council would positively discriminate in favour of gay staff. It exempted self-declared gay men from background checks, and paedophiles pretending to be decent gay men cynically exploited this. It emerged that Islington deputy superintendent Michael Taylor was in PIE after he received a four-year prison sentence in July 2000 for abusing two boys at Islington’s Gisburne House in the Seventies.
PIE founding member, Peter Righton, then Britain’s top “expert” on children’s homes, had even founded a training course for residential workers. Paedophilia, he declared in one essay, was “no more bizarre than a penchant for redheads”.
At least one Islington abuse victim was placed – by a key member of the Islington abuse ring, Nick Rabet – at a special boarding school outside London with which Righton was closely involved. The victim haltingly disclosed his abuse to his Islington social worker, who was deeply concerned. But in 1989, the social worker vanished, supposedly carrying the victim’s files under his arm. When the Standard asked questions about the school, Islington denied ever sending any child there. It also lied about this to police.
The White Report said that the social worker’s disappearance should be investigated by police. But it never was. This recommendation was redacted from the censored version of the report that Islington published last year. But I still have the original and live in hope of one day tracing that social worker. My understanding is that he was “heavied” and fled abroad.
Police and social services inquiries into PIE were also abruptly shut down. This led to the senior child protection manager bravely blowing the whistle in 2012 to Tom Watson, whose PMQ about an establishment paedophile ring leading to No 10 silenced the Commons. PIE supplied children from homes to wealthy establishment figures. It was the ultimate cross-party crime, which many wanted buried.
Sue Akers was a detective inspector and head of Islington police’s Child Protection Team at the scandal’s height. I begged her to study the paper’s evidence and place a believed child brothel under surveillance. But she refused to meet me. The failure of Islington police to act on intelligence provided by a terrified 13-year-old who admitted recruiting dozens of named children for three pimps was criticised by a secret 1993 inquiry into “Boy A”. But it was suppressed. Akers became a deputy assistant commander, responsible for all Metropolitan Police child-abuse investigations.
Hodge’s successor, Derek Sawyer, ran the council between 1992 and 1994, when the abuse inquiries were set up, and became head of police and probation bodies, and chairman of the London Courts Board. In 2010, Sawyer’s partner in an international education business, Derek Slade, was imprisoned for 21 years for brutally abusing 12 boys at St George’s boarding school in Suffolk. There is no suggestion that Mr Sawyer knew his friend was a paedophile.
As the Islington scandal dragged on, many of the alleged offenders simply moved abroad to prey on even poorer children. Like Jimmy Savile – and the Joker, as I have come to think of the hospital volunteer I mentioned earlier – some accessed children through charity work.
For legal reasons we are unable to name the Joker and have concealed identifying details. The allegations against him were never examined, and it is possible that they are false or result from the confused memories of young children. The Standard was similarly unable at first to name any of the alleged child abusers on Islington’s payroll. But that changed when key ringleaders were arrested abroad. Astonishingly, so-called Third World police managed what Britain’s finest could not.
Nicholas John Rabet, former deputy superintendent of Islington’s home at 114 Grosvenor Avenue, was charged in Thailand in 2006 with abusing 30 local boys – the youngest was six – and killed himself. I was finally able to describe his role in a nationwide child pornography ring serving wealthy British paedophiles; while ex-Cambridgeshire DC Peter Cook went on the record about how police inquiries here were mysteriously closed down.
The arrest and death of fellow ringleader Bernie Bain, former superintendent of Islington’s home at 1 Elwood Street, made it possible to name him. Bain abused numerous boys in his care, including Demetrious Panton, whom Margaret Hodge secretly branded “extremely disturbed” to BBC bosses in an attempt to halt a documentary on what she knew of the scandal. Mr Panton – now a lawyer – forced her to apologise for this cruel slur in the High Court.
Bain left Islington’s employ after Mr Panton, aged 11, revealed his abuse, which the council – influenced by PIE-type thinking – decided was “consensual”. The young victim spent the Eighties writing to Hodge’s councillors protesting otherwise. But Bain was left free to become a millionaire through a mysterious travel company. After the Standard started publishing, he fled to Morocco and was imprisoned there in 1996 for abusing children. He killed himself in 2000.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Sweeney, who took over Islington police’s child protection team after the scandal was exposed, traced long-ignored victims. He told me: “When I first learnt about the homes, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But it was worse.”
In the years since the White Report of 1995, more victims and abusers have come to light. However, Islington’s wholesale destruction of key files has enabled the council to avoid responsibility. I was asked in 2009 to help a solicitor representing one of Bain’s victims, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Islington denied that this person was in their care as a child, and even that they ever employed Bain. The basis of their denial? They had no records for either.
Mr Panton revealed last week: “Just yesterday, I made a witness statement on behalf of someone who was also horribly abused by Bain. I knew him as a kid and his life and health have been destroyed by what happened to him. But Islington has denied any responsibility. So Islington is still covering up.”
I tracked down the Joker last autumn after I was given his details by someone who helped expose the scandal. I have known Shelley, as I shall call her, for many years and trust her forensic mind. She is concerned with protecting his three alleged victims as they remain traumatised. She knew nothing about the girls’ sufferings until Karen, the eldest, broke down and blurted out their story.
They were not yet ready, she said, to talk to the press or police. Many abuse survivors can only reveal what they suffered bit by bit – some suffer a self-protective partial amnesia. One was buggered at just five years old. I asked Shelley if it was possible she was being spun a fantasy. But she remembered the girl from care, and other details about what had occurred there.
Today Shelley has a good job, as does Karen. “Karen is very smart and sophisticated. But when she told me what happened, she fell apart. It was like she’d ripped off a scab. Afterwards she spent the day in bed, just crying.”
It is understood that, as adults in the early Noughties, two of the Joker’s alleged victims contacted the council, hoping for justice; that the council awarded them a smallish sum in compensation; and informed them the man had moved abroad and police could not find him.
Did Islington even alert police? It took me just two days to find him. I wept when I realised that he was accessing terminally ill children in an impoverished country. I discovered from his messages that the expat seemed lonely and kind. He wore funny hats to cheer up the children.
As a volunteer, he now visited them in hospital and at their homes. One unsuspecting mother said he was like a caring older relative in their time of need, and even invited him to stay. I found a photo of him at one hospital. I showed it to Shelley. She wasn’t taken in by his friendly grin: “That’s him. God, he’s ugly.”
When I learnt about the Joker, I spoke to Liz Davies, the former Islington senior social worker who blew the whistle on perverts targeting the council’s homes. Dr Davies is now Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University. I asked her how anyone could abuse a dying child. “Dead children can’t give evidence,” said Dr Davies. “There’s a training DVD about it. Some paedophiles target them.”
A reporter anonymously admitted last year that he had found Jimmy Savile on a mattress at the BBC with a little girl. She was bald, a cancer victim at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Savile “volunteered”. Savile hissed that if the reporter told anyone, his career was over. The reporter stayed silent.
Karen told Shelley: “None of us talked much as kids about what was being done to us… we felt ashamed. But the other girls mentioned being required to travel in Jimmy Savile’s taxis.”
Savile’s charity projects included ferrying disadvantaged children in taxis to places like Blackpool Pleasure Beach. At least one Islington survivor recalls being taken there by his abuser.
Child protection investigators have long been aware that corrupt taxi drivers are commissioned by paedophiles to transport children: “kids on wheels”, it has been called. One taxi driver was imprisoned in 1990 for prostituting boys. The same year, the Islington Gazette proudly recorded Jimmy Savile’s visit to open the council’s new housing complex for disabled people. The story focused on the likes of a three-year-old with cerebral palsy and a paralysed woman who had been at Stoke Mandeville.
Once this story is published, Shelley and I will give police the information we have. But she and the victims do not feel able to confide in police without the protection of media coverage.
What is certain is that neither these victims nor any others have much trust in Islington Council coming clean with the name of the home where abuse took place, as requested by Mr Gove. This is because the current Islington cabinet member with responsibility for children and family services is Joe Caluori – the son-in-law of Margaret Hodge.
Mr Panton said: “Do I think it is right that Margaret Hodge’s son-in-law now has this key position? Of course not. He may be a fine councillor, but I would think it is better that he is not in this position, given the association. While the politicians of the Eighties have moved on, their influence is still highly visible. It cannot be appropriate for any inquiry into this matter to be overseen by this MP’s relative.”
Mr Panton believes that “an independent police investigation into Islington is crucial. I know many abuse survivors who have not yet contacted Islington or the police. There is a real lack of trust – it is hard to tell your story when you risk being disbelieved or attacked.”
The whistleblower Dr Davies adds: “I think there could be more than one home with Savile connections. Children from Islington’s home at 114 Grosvenor Avenue were taken to Jersey by Rabet, and Savile visited Jersey’s Haut de la Garenne home. Survivors of abuse there have described being taken to an Islington children’s home.”