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Press Statement from Councillor Scott Ainslie: Lambeth Council is failing Shirley Oaks Survivors

TW: Child Abuse

Lambeth Labour leader needs to talk to abuse survivors.

On 6th April, 2023, survivors of Shirley Oaks children’s homes held a protest outside the town hall asking for justice and accountability for ALL of the people placed in Lambeth’s care (sic) over decades.

The protest notice [1] lists some of the issues survivors continue to have despite the Council’s full acceptance, apology and redress scheme which sought to try to repair the damage caused to many survivors. But, rather than continuing to atone, listen and help survivors, the leaders of the Council erected a wall of police and security staff, continuing to let survivors down.

This is no way to treat the survivors, the friends, families and loved ones of all of those who suffered under Lambeth council’s decades of abuse followed by cover up.

Lambeth Council  tried to do the right thing in July 2015, when the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) addressed the full council. I was a newly elected councillor and was shocked and horrified by what I heard that evening. To her credit the leader of the council at the time, Lib Peck, apologised on behalf of the council and the council agreed to look at a way to attempt to repair the damage done to the many children that had passed through their children’s homes and who were systematically subjected to abuse.

Two years later, Lambeth came up with their Redress Scheme. However, Lambeth stumbled at the first fence by not allowing the survivors an independent panel of experts to assess each survivor’s case. This is what the survivors wanted. Why Lambeth pulled back from this baffled many of us at the time and still does to this day.

Lambeth borrowed £130m from the Public Works Loan Board and central government allowed them to capitalise this sum to pay it back over a longer period. Survivors have had their files looked over by teams of Lambeth’s lawyers, psychologists, social workers and payments have been made to many of those abused or put in harm’s way.

The scheme closed in January 2022 and SOSA worked tirelessly to ensure that as many survivors as possible had their cases submitted within the deadline.

In the beginning, Lambeth provided funding for campaign videos and for five members of SOSA staff, while Lambeth employed a team of over forty. SOSA tracked down survivors, many of whom had spread to the far corners of the world. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to not only find the survivors but to painstakingly uncover the industrial scale of the abuse suffered by children in the care of Lambeth, after countless internal and external investigations failed to get to the truth. SOSA staff deserve proper recognition, appreciation, and respect for what they have done and continue to do. They certainly should not have had their funding cut, nor should they be shut out and ignored.

No amount could ever ease the suffering of those survivors whose lives were ruined by Lambeth’s systemic abuse and cover up, and I am sure the Council believed they were doing the right thing with the Redress Scheme.

However, stories have broken over the years since the scheme was opened in 2018 - that there was no consistency in the processing and handling of individual cases. At several council meetings since the launch of the scheme, I have highlighted this, but I have been stonewalled, as have all of those acting on behalf of the survivors.

For example, why would two siblings that had endured the same degree of abuse and trauma be treated so completely differently? Newspaper and tv reports have highlighted over the years how black children, who were placed in a property in Lambeth called the Melting Pot, who endured intolerable racial, physical, sexual, and mental abuse, were excluded from the scheme. This is an unforgivable travesty of justice, and no acceptable excuse has been given.

Lambeth have asked central government for more money to complete the claims in their system, which (I believe) has been approved.

The leaders of Lambeth council still have serious questions to address. It is a continuation of wrongdoing to shut the door on survivors. I strongly suggest that the Labour leader and cabinet, along with the chief executive, meet with SOSA as soon as possible, otherwise these protests will continue, causing more disruption to council staff, the police, councillors and the wider community.

Cllr Scott Ainslie