Laming’s legacy of failure

By Amy and Elaine

In August 2007, a seventeen month old boy who was to become known to the world as Baby P died after months of appalling cruelty at the hands of his mother, her partner, and their lodger.

As his harrowing story unfolded, with the events leading up to his death being dissected in forensic detail by the press, the nation recoiled in horror, politicians demanded answers, and everyone, it seemed, was looking for someone to blame. However, one deeply significant aspect of the child’s family history had somehow been overlooked. Years before he was born, Baby P’s mother and another close relative had been in the care of Islington Social Services, where children were being subjected to systematic abuse by an organised paedophile ring.

In 1990, senior social workers Liz Davies and David Cofie approached Margaret Hodge (then leader of Islington Council) with concerns about widespread child sexual abuse in the area, and asked for extra resources to investigate. Their request was refused, with Hodge writing a memo to social services saying that the council’s budget would not allow for the extra staff. Despite this, and despite being told at a meeting of senior police and social workers to desist, conscientious staff continued to investigate and to submit evidence to the area child protection committee; where, again, they hit a brick wall.

In 1992, in desperation, they went to the press. The London Evening Standard conducted a damning investigation (dismissed by Hodge as “sensationalist gutter journalism”) revealing that dozens of children were being abused in care homes that had been infiltrated by paedophiles. Eileen Fairweather, a journalist for the paper, wrote to Herbert Laming (then chief inspector of Social Services) about the scandal; including the fact that Baby P’s relative in particular was being used to recruit other children in the council’s care to be abused. Laming inexplicably decided that Islington should be allowed to conduct its own investigation. Unsurprisingly, they found themselves innocent.

An independent inquiry in 1995 concluded that not only had the council failed to investigate allegations of abuse, but that they had disciplined just four out of 32 staff suspected of involvement.

It was within Laming’s power to recommend police action. He didn’t.

Lord Laming (as he was created in 1998) went on to conduct the 2001 inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie.

Margaret Hodge was appointed as the first Children’s minister in 2003. Later that year, she called Demetrious Panton , a victim of abuse in Islington who had been repeatedly ignored in his attempts to bring those responsible to justice, an “extremely disturbed person”. She was later forced to apologise publicly.

The public was told that Lord Laming’s recommendations led to the implementation, under Hodge, of Every Child Matters; a regime of surveillance, assessment, and interventions destined to be imposed on every child in England to ensure they meet government determined outcomes. In reality, it had been on the cards since long before the Climbie inquiry; they were just waiting for an excuse.

There is something very rotten stalking the corridors of power. These corrupt, self serving cowards have effectively collaborated with monsters by tolerating institutional child abuse; they have victimised, slandered, and silenced anyone who has dared to speak out; they have cynically exploited the memory of murdered children for their political ends. They would presume to take ‘ownership’ of our children’s futures, yet have the audacity to claim it is in the interests of child protection. They would invade the privacy and compromise the safety of every child in the country by placing their personal details on a massive, fatally insecure database. They would remove the presumption of innocence and have every parent considered a child abuser by default.

ContactPoint, they say, will prevent terrible cases such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie. It won’t; it will do quite the opposite, by drowning victims of cruelty in oceans of paperwork on wholly innocent families. They tell us that Every Child Matters will improve children’s welfare, but its sole purpose is to trap the next generation in a web of government control. There can be no justification for this assault on human dignity, and the revelation that its architects have so spectacularly failed in their duty to protect children in their care only adds insult to injury.

Children have already suffered terrible and preventable harm under their watch. How may more will suffer as a result of their political legacy?

In a final, sickening irony, Lord Laming went on to lead a review of Baby P’s case. Perhaps the thought occurred to him that if he had carried out his professional and moral duty to save those children in Islington who were being brutalised all those years ago; if he had had the courage and decency to break a nightmarish cycle of abuse … maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be witnessing history repeat itself in the form of a murdered baby.

Perhaps the thought occurred to him, briefly?


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