Byline: DAVID COHEN
IMMEDIATELY after Tony Blair appointed Margaret Hodge as the new Minister for Children in his recent reshuffle, phones started ringing among former social workers who had once worked under her. "It's like putting the fox in charge of the chickens," one commented in disgust. "A sick joke," remarked another.
These social workers couldn't help recalling the inside story of an appalling child sex abuse scandal many of us have forgotten. In 1990, when Mrs Hodge - then Mr Blair's neighbour in Richmond Crescent, Islington - was the leader of Islington council, these senior social workers had reported to her that a paedophile ring was operating in the borough and that children were being sexually abused in Islington care homes.
Mrs Hodge's response was revealing: she chose not to back a thorough investigation. Instead, she dismissed their concerns and accused these social workers of being " obsessional".
When the story was exposed in the Evening Standard two-andahalf years later, in October 1992, her response was equally aggressive. She accused the newspaper of "a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism". It would be a further two-and-a-half years and five independent reports later before she would half-heartedly admit that she was wrong. Yet she would have known as early as 1991 that paedophiles were preying on children in Islington's care.
In 1991, Roy Caterer, a sports instructor at a boarding school used by Islington, was arrested and sent to prison for seven-anda-half years for abusing seven boys and two girls, some of them in Islington's care. Caterer admitted to police that he had abused countless Islington children over many years.
In 1995, an independent report prepared by Ian White, Oxfordshire's director of social services, utterly vindicated the Evening Standard. It lambasted the council and confirmed that the social workers and the Standard, whose reporters went on to win prestigious press awards, were right. It said, in part: "The inquiry has charted an organisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was chaotic. Such a chaotic organisation breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent professional practices in relation to child care."
Mrs Hodge led Islington council from 1982 to 1992.
What the Standard uncovered - after taping hours of interviews with staff, parents, children and police over a three-month period - was a horrendous dereliction of duty by the council that routinely exposed the most vulnerable children in its care to paedophiles, pimps, prostitutes and pornographers.
What the Standard and the White report found inexcusable was the council's refusal - led by Margaret Hodge - to listen and act when experienced staff and terrified children tried to articulate what was going on. Their testimonies lifted the lid on horrific events that were taking place in Islington: teenagers selling sex from their council homes, a girl knifed by a sexual abuser inside a children's unit, a girl and a boy who shared a bed with a known paedophile, a 15-year-old boy fostered with a suspected paedophile - overriding the vociferous protests of social workers - who later sexually abused the boy as predicted. We could go on and on.
The tragedy was that from the moment these children came to live in the seemingly safe children's homes under the care of Islington council, they became fair game.
Some of the very people who were supposed to protect them were involved in their sexual abuse. On top of all this, the social workers who tried to protect them were pilloried by Margaret Hodge and her social services directors. The damage done to such children is beyond comprehension.
But the story of the Islington child sex abuse scandal would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the brave actions of a single secret whistleblower. Until today, the identity of this whistleblower has remained a secret. …