“I ABSOLUTELY APPRECIATE THE POOR CONFIDENCE PEOPLE HAVE IN THIS COUNCIL” – Lambeth council leader Cllr Lib Peck
The England club room at Kennington Oval, home of Surrey county cricket club, has probably never seen anything like it.
Normally events there are hosted by former England cricket captains. What happened last night many people would not consider to be cricket.
The occasions were an extraordinary meeting of Lambeth council’s cabinet to endorse plans to implement a Lambeth children’s homes redress scheme and to refer the increased budget requirement to full council for approval;
which would be followed by a full meeting of Lambeth council to endorse the financial arrangements of the redress scheme.
Council leader Cllr Lib Peck opened the cabinet meeting. “It’s an exceptional cabinet meeting to consider a redress scheme” she told around 200 people – the vast majority of them survivors of abuse in children’s homes run by Lambeth council and its predecessors (London county council and the Home Office) – and their descendants.
Every chair in the England club room at Kennington Oval had a copy of the cabinet agenda placed on it – something that is not accorded to regular attendees at other Lambeth council, cabinet and committee meetings.
Lib Peck told of the many hours she had spent in the offices of SOSA (Shirley Oaks Survivors Association) with Raymond (Stevenson) and Lucia. (Throughout the meeting Cllr Peck would only call Raymond Stevenson by his first name.)
“I found out things in truth I don’t think we wanted to. know BUT we have to confront Lambeth’s stark history.”
Offering the first of many apologies which would come from councilors during the afternoon – and later at at the behind closed doors meeting in early evening – she added: “As a society we have to find a different national way. “I remain hopeful an independent inquiry into child abuse will produce a very different approach but at the moment nothing we do is being proposed at national level.
“That’s why we in Lambeth wanted to set up a redress scheme for all victims of child abuse. “We cannot right the wrongs of the past but it’s our duty to acknowledge and accept liability for that terrible period.”
It was a shame SOSA could not endorse the scheme, she said. There would be an independent appeal panel of three who would review any disputed claims.
“I can’t pretend it hasn’t been exceptionally difficult putting together this redress scheme as there is no precedent. “It has to be legal and it has to be credible enough for us to let the Government borrow the money.”
The scheme would be the first of its kind in England which would be closely monitored – monitored because we want to make sure it delivers, she said.
“Far too many survivors have waited far too long for any redress” added Cllr Peck as she ended her comments to complete silence.
Helen Charlesworth-May, strategic director for adults and health, said that so far 112,000 documents had been supplied to ICSA. But there was no mention at the meeting of the documents reported by Private Eye magazine to have been destroyed in 2009 (and which Lambeth council have never commented on).
And the council meeting to be held later behind closed doors would hear that a few weeks ago councillors learned that six months of complaints from parents of children in Lambeth’s care had been lost – a year ago.
Then it was the cabinet members turn to ask questions. Most (but not all) of them were obviously cosmetic, obviously pre-arranged. All ignored Shirley Oaks Survivors Association’s reasons for refusing to join the redress scheme.
(Do Lambeth do this deliberately just to create even more anger and hurt as part of some nasty, vindictive, spiteful wind-up?. Why don’t they ever give proper answers, proper reasons why they disagree with groups or campaigners or individuals?)
But Cllr Jackie Meldrum, cabinet member for adult social care wanted to know a bit more about the independent counseling service run by Oxleas Wood. How do people gain access to that? she asked.
“Many families may not be living in Lambeth or this country anymore. “How do people access that?”.
Helen Charlesworth-May, strategic director for adults and health, responding, said the families of people who were abused can access services. “We recognize the impact isn’t just on the individual but on their wider family.” BOLD
Oxleas Wood is Greenwich-based and had been picked to provide a service from outside Lambeth, a service which could provide advice face to face or over the phone. “The majority of people who had contacted the council live outside Lambeth, some live abroad the officer added.
Shortly after this as Cllr Bernard Gentry (Con) was addressing cabinet there was an interruption at the entrance to the room. Survivors, council officers and two camera crews rushed over but it was quickly quietened. “They won’t let them in” said one woman.
After being heckled by Raymond Stevenson of SOSA, Cllr Peck threatened to adjourn the meeting.
Cllr Gentry said he was satisfied of the independence of the appeals panel. “The council does have the responsibility for running things legally” he said – before adding this bombshell comment:
“I suspect this is the beginning rather than the end. “There are other issues some of us are aware of from the 1990s that may well come to light.”
Cllr Scott Ainslie (Green) told the cabinet: “These people don’t want any more apologies. (applause) They want to be heard and they want to know that their recommendations – all of them – are acted upon.
“You cannot talk of historic change without given them the one major asset they’ve been denied. “You are skirting round the issues of a fully independent panel (applause).
“Stop denying them what they want. “Lambeth ignored a request from survivors to have an independent panel from outside.
“Lambeth has the opportunity to set the standard for open and fair redress for survivors and demonstrate that the cover-ups of the past are truly behind us despite the false assurances given by Lib Peck.
“This proposed redress scheme continues to disregard the principles of human rights and natural justice (applause) and alienated the people it seeks to fund and help. “Let justice run its course without any interference.” (Further applause)
After Cllr Scott Ainslie had addressed cabinet Cllr Peck said: “I think we’ve heard from officers on several occasions how the independent panel will be managed…..”
“NO NO NO” chanted the audience.
Cllr Peck: “I absolutely appreciate the poor confidence people have in this council. “All I can hope is that hundreds of people who have come forward to register for this scheme demonstrated their robustness and a s a result more people came forward.
(This point would later be questioned by barrister Michael Mansfield as he addressed cabinet – please see separate story – Ed.)
Cllr Peck then threatened to move to the vote to which Raymond Stevenson responded: “We know what’s going on. “Let me get up there and address the people and see how they respond.”
Stormy scenes followed. Elements of the audience rushed towards the slightly-raised rostrum on where the cabinet sat.
One elderly gentleman, tears in his eyes, was edged away from the cabinet members by a young woman whose mum was, and is, a Shirley Oaks victim.
But Raymond Stevenson was not going to be silenced. Invited to address cabinet he told them:
“When I came here today I felt a bit like 12 Angry Men…..” he said – in apparent reference to the 11 cabinet members one of whom was absent – “….who have always made decisions for political reasons, nepotism.
“You didn’t ask one question taken from the information we gave you. “This is a done deal.
“Why do the council want an independent panel? There’s only one reason: You are protecting Labour from between 1998 and 2003.” Applause.
“We’ve seen documents of the cover-up.”
Later he added: “Let me tell you you’re going to be exposed anyway. “We know exactly what they’re trying to do here – it’s because they don’t want a third party looking at their dirty washing.”
“You want to create a bespoke scheme because we can’t give evidence in person.
“Lambeth council at every tier of management was affected by a paedophile ring. “These paedos knew they could get away with it. “The officers decided to turn a blind eye. “It was their people that was abusing the kids.”
There may be other claims that SOSA may not know about but Lambeth did, he said. 40 MPs were backing their call for a panel independent of Lambeth. (See survivors letter to cabinet members – Ed.)
“How do you think the brother of a sister who committed suicide is going to feel coming to the same council again?. “How evil are you?. “People have to face the same people who abused them – so why should we?.
“Don’t force us to come and sit with you – judge and jury”
Lib Peck: “Raymond I don’t think we can possibly continue in this way.” (Raymond came away from the table to applause).
Michael Mansfield then addressed cabinet (please see separate story). Cllr Peck said she thought Mr. Mansfield had raised some fundamental legal points.
Both Raymond Stevenson and SOSA adviser Linton Orrett raised various points. Cllr Peck said: “We’ve had a long discussion. “We’ve had the papers. “We do know this scheme. “It’s been discussed for a long time. “I’m going to ask if people will agree the scheme.”
The people (the cabinet) did – without any comment. The people (the audience) didn’t.