Protect is dismayed by the report, ‘Children in the care of Lambeth Council’, published by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The report makes damning findings against the council that it allowed serious abuse against children to take place between the 1960s and 1990s. The report finds that the council operated a “culture of cover-up”, and that it knowingly retained staff who posed a risk to children and failed to investigate its employees suspected of child sexual abuse.
Of particular relevance to our work at Protect is the concerning findings about whistleblowers Robert Morton (Principal Manager of Children’s Homes) and Josie Durrant (Assistant Director of Children and Young Persons’ Division). Mr Morton raised numerous concerns to Lambeth Council’s Children’s Home Sub-Committee on four different occasions about the “very dangerous” conditions at the council, including that children were being taken into residential care when they should not have been and once in care were exposed to risks of abuse. Despite being in a position to act on the concerns raised, the report finds that “frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse”. The report describes the response of councilors and senior officers to Mr Morton’s concerns as “grossly inadequate” and “amounted to negligence”.
This report serves to remind local authorities, indeed all organisations, that whistleblowers are an employer’s first line of defence to tackle wrongdoing. The serious abuse of children in this case could have been addressed if Lambeth Council took seriously staff’s concerns.
The report further finds that a culture of “bullying, intimidation, racism and sexism thrived within Lambeth Council, all of which was set within a context of corruption and financial mismanagement”. It is perhaps unsurprising that against this background Mr Morton was a “lone voice” in raising concerns and more workers did not come forward. This underlines the importance that culture has to speaking up in the workplace; employers should strive for an open, transparent and supportive culture.
The report makes recommendations which includes training elected members, reviewing recruitment and vetting procedures, and whether the Metropolitan Police should consider if there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth Council. It is Protect’s view that whistleblowing should also form a central part of the council’s future action. Lambeth Council should review its whistleblowing arrangements to ensure that concerns raised today will be properly handled and acted upon. All staff should be trained on whistleblowing, particularly its senior managers responsible for handling whistleblowers. As elected councilors also failed to act, we recommend whistleblowing training be offered to Lambeth Council.
Protect’s legal reform campaign, Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law, calls for minimum legal standards on employers so that, moving forward, whistleblower concerns are not ignored and service-users, such as the children in this case, are protected and kept safe.
By Kyran Kanda (Parliamentary Officer) & Rhiannon Plimmer-Craig (Senior Legal Adviser)