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Home » Islington Council Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Interview

Islington Council Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Interview

Sally doesn’t know who sexually abused her. It always happened in the dark, she said. Mysterious figures would enter her bedroom at the children’s home, backlit by the lights in the corridor behind.

“It’s more what I heard than that I saw,” she wept, sharing her memories with the Islington Gazette. After the abuse, she would often hear the fire escape door opening and closing as the perpetrator left.

“The noise is distinctive,” she said.

A few weeks ago, Sally’s lawyer notified Islington Council, which ran the home, that she was suing.

Sally – her name has been changed to protect her anonymity – was sent to the Conewood Street home, later renamed Park Place, as a teenager.

Her first night there was Christmas Eve. She had run away from her violent mother. But, she later realised, she’d been better off at home.

Sally spoke to the Gazette for two hours at the Barbican office of her lawyer, Andrew Lord, from Leigh Day. He has handled several abuse cases referred by the Islington Survivors Network (ISN).

Sally’s story is unusual because her alleged abuse took place after the London Evening Standard’s 1992 exposé of widespread abuse in Islington’s children’s homes. This, Sally and Andrew believe, amounts to an extra later of “negligence” in her case. The council should have been hyper-alert, but instead the abuse just continued.

The former Conewood Street Children’s Home has since been turned into a children’s services office (Image: Charles Thomson)

Now in her 40s, Sally cried repeatedly as she told the Gazette of her ordeal and its lasting impact on her life.

“I don’t have a partner. I don’t have children. I don’t have nothing. And it is to do with this,” she said.

“It messes you up in ways that you don’t even realise until you try to get close to someone. The trust – forget sexual stuff – just the trust: I don’t have that with anyone. I can’t have that with anyone.”

She has been in and out of mental health care her entire life, she added.

“I’m just sinking and swimming all the time,” she sobbed. “And it didn’t need to be like this. I went there for help.”

Her lawsuit was precipitated by the council’s Support Payment Scheme. Aided by ISN founder Dr Liz Davies, Sally obtained her care records and applied successfully for one of the scheme’s £10,000 payments. She fully expected her file to be missing or sanitised but was shocked to find it contained evidence corroborating her recollections.

Dr Liz Davies, from the Islington Survivors Network, helped Sally obtain her care files. When she got them, they appeared to bolster her abuse allegations (Image: Charles Thomson)

Staff recorded the stomach pains she reported after her abuse. They logged when she ran away and reported to a different council that she was being abused at Conewood.

“[Sally] has presented herself at Haringey Social Services Intake Team, saying she does not want to return to Park Place,” the entry said. “She will run away again. Saying we hurt her.”

Staff noted her becoming withdrawn and “depressed” – yet she was never offered counselling or therapy: “There was no support. They didn’t do anything about that.”

All she remembered being offered was creative writing sessions. Inside her file, she was horrified to discover some of the poems she had written, alluding to sexual abuse.

“All the signs were there,” she said. “They knew I was in trouble – emotionally, mentally, physically. They knew it because they wrote it themselves. They did nothing about it.

“They knew it because I complained when my stomach was hurting. They knew it when I ran away and refused to go back… They wrote this stuff in there. They wrote it in my file. That really pisses me off… They knew what was going on.

“This is why I feel like they were all a part of it or knew about it. Because it doesn’t make sense to hear and see all this stuff and not know that I’m being abused. Why would a child of that age be writing that stuff in a poem?”

Sally said strange men would enter her room at night in the former Conewood Street children’s home, Islington, and sexually abuse her (Image: Charles Thomson)

She has always suspected some staff facilitated the abuse.

“They was outside the room,” she alleged. “I heard them. I heard their voices.”

“How could anyone even get in the building without being let in?” she asked. “There were staff on at nighttimes… I feel like it was like prostitution for them, if I’m honest. Like we was the prostitutes.”

Around the time Sally’s abuse began, she said, staff held an event encouraging all the children to have a discussion about sex.

“I didn’t go,” she says. “Of course, I absconded. Looking back… it was like they were checking out to see who would say anything. Would any of us speak up or expose them.”

Sally ran away a lot, she said, staying out until four or five in the morning. Not just because of the sexual abuse, but because of the whole culture.

“They weren’t feeding us properly,” she claimed. “We were always hungry.”

Another former Conewood Street resident told the Islington Gazette in March that children there were underfed.

Sally was aggrieved by an entry in her records about breaking into a staff room and stealing crisps.

“One part of me wants to laugh now,” she said. “The other part of me is angry. I didn’t steal your alcohol. I didn’t steal none of your cigarettes. I didn’t go into all your bags or purses that were there. But you’re calling me this bad, naughty girl that I stole crisps because I was hungry.”

Lawyer Andrew Lord, currently representing ‘Sally’, has worked on several Islington Council abuse cases referred by support group ISN (Image: Charles Thomson)

Staff not only kept alcohol on the premises, she alleged, but supplied it to children in their care.

“There’s a lot of adults that were around that would introduce you to certain things,” she continued. “They would give us cigarettes… Cannabis was around.”

Sally left Islington’s care without finishing school or gaining any qualifications. No longer in touch with her family, she was moved into a flat on a problem estate. For years, she lived in a fog.

In the beginning, she said, “I didn’t know that what I was experiencing, or why I felt the way I felt, was related to sexual abuse.” She made several attempts on her own life, never telling anybody what had happened to her.

“I didn’t know how to,” she explained. “I remembered that they didn’t believe me anyway. I’m just a liar. It was like something I had to just take to the grave, I guess.”

She was in her 20s when she finally disclosed her abuse to a counsellor.

“There was a point in my life where the floodgates opened. It was sink or swim time and I was fighting for my sanity. Things came back thick and fast,” she recalled.

She had previously been living in a state of “cognitive dissonance” – her whole life falling apart due to a trauma she refused to acknowledge.

“Your inner voice is yelling,” she said. “It’s screaming. You can’t deny it anymore. You don’t know what to do with it. You know you’re sinking. There’s part of you that wants to swim. There’s part of you that gets angry and mad.”

Islington Council has admitted and apologised for decades of abuse in its children’s homes, but said it could not comment on specific civil lawsuits (Image: Charles Thomson)

“The more years that go by that you’re still f***ed up by something, the more it feels like you’re making it a big deal,” she said.

But, she added, pointing at her file: “Then I’ll read something in there, some stuff that they wrote, or remember things, and I’m reading it like, ‘You’re not making it a big deal, you’ve been minimising it to exist, so you don’t kill yourself. It’s worse than you even let yourself know.”

Her whole life, she concluded: “I’ve been fighting to do something, be something – to not be killed anymore than I already am inside by this.”

Islington Council wound not make any comment on Sally’s story but said it was “deeply sorry” for its “past failure to protect vulnerable children in in its children’s homes, which was the worst chapter in this council’s history”.

It said it was now a “very different organisation”.

“We cannot comment on any individual civil compensation claims while those legal proceedings are ongoing,” it added.