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Monday, 01 October 2018

Inquiry into child sexual abuse moves its attention to failings across Nottinghamshire

Written by Tess de la Mare

The Nottinghamshire strand of the ongoing child sexual abuse inquiry has opened with a list of failings by both the city council and the county council over the protection of children in care.

Complaints of systemic sexual and physical abuse of vulnerable children in council-run homes stretch back to the 1960s, but only a handful of perpetrators were ever prosecuted, the inquiry heard.

The Independent Child Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard how hundreds of complaints had been made by residents of care homes across the county - both at the time and as adults - but that little was done to safeguard children.

Since 2010 there have been more than 900 allegations of sexual abuse of children under the care of the two councils.

A large part of Monday morning was focused on the conditions at the notorious Beechwood Care Home that acted over the years as a residential home and a secure unit for youths on remand awaiting trial.

Both male and female former residents described being routinely sexually abused by members of staff and being too afraid to report it.

One witness said to investigators: "I had a history of previous convictions and no-one would have believed me."

Another said: "When a grown man turns around and says: 'I'm going to kill you' - what does a child say to that?"

Staff allegedly refused to act when they heard reports of girls in the home being sucked into prostitution, telling inspectors: "Often girls sent to us come with a history of being involved in prostitution."

A visiting psychologist in the 1980s described the home as "appalling and squalid", while another said: "I have never seen such appalling physical conditions."

One former female resident said: "Staff knew we had no family and that nobody cares about you and you have no-one - that's why you're there in the first place."

The inquiry heard that the culture that normalised sexual abuse stretched into the 2000s despite repeated investigations into allegations of abuse in the home that rarely resulted in prosecutions.

A 2001 report complained of a "macho environment" where there was a "culture of banter relating to sexual harassment" and exchanges of "obscene text messages".

It said that "young people were likely suffering significant harm" and that there was an "unacceptable level of risk, neglect and vulnerability".

Despite recommendations that the home should close, council staff said they would do everything to ensure the safety and welfare of people living there.

In 2017, a report by the NSPCC said that the "culture of the unit was that violence was expected".

Three weeks of hearings are due to be devoted to abuse in Nottinghamshire to determine how much of this is down to failings by Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council.

It will look at the nature of the abuse of children in council-run care homes, as well as those in foster homes and with adoptive families.

The hearings will also look at the institutional response to allegations of sexual abuse of children in care and the failure of the councils to protect children from sexual abuse.

Other matters to be considered are the response of the two councils, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and other public authorities to reports of child sexual abuse of youngsters in council care.

It will look at allegations of child sexual abuse by individuals who were employed or contracted by the councils and the extent to which the council tried to tackle the issue and provide support to victims.

The IICSA was set up in 2015 to examine the extent to which institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse, the extent to which those failings have been addressed and to make recommendations to protect children from abuse and exploitation in the future.

Reports into each of its 13 strands will continue to be published after the public hearings, including a final report.

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