Over the years, whistleblowers have often discovered the high price attached to their actions; Ostracised by colleagues, shunned by managers, ridiculed and bullied, and careers often ended. It’s hard to recall many who have escaped without damage to themselves.
So, it’s always time for applause when our elected officials finally catch on to what has been known to most for years.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said whistleblowers had often been subjected to bullying and harassment.
Its report called for whistleblowers to be offered legal and counselling help and for “swift sanctions” to be imposed on staff who victimised them.
MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee, said whistleblowing was “crucial” and must be taken seriously by all chief executives of major companies and public sector organisations.
She said protection for whistleblowers was still not adequate…
“The way you support whistleblowers is hugely important,” she added.
“I think it is really important that there are proper sanctions in place in an organisation so if someone does blow the whistle, they are properly supported and if anyone dares bully or harass them, they are not only reprimanded but punished.”
Very encouraging words for all would-be whistleblowers.
I’m wondering if Ms Hodge is also considering applying her strong words retrospectively, so that past whistleblowers who were subject to harassment or worse, can also find justice.
Dr Liz Davies is certainly curious to know.
She was one of the whistleblowers in Islington, who exposed child sexual abuse taking place in the council run care homes at the time that Ms Hodge was leader of the council (1982 – 2002). From the encouraging words above, one might imagine that senior social worker Liz and her colleagues had an easy time at Islington whilst Ms Hodge was in charge. The reality is different;
In 1985 Demetrious Panton complained to senior figures about his abuse by Bernie Bain, who was head of the Islington run home where he lived, in 1978. Eventually, in 1989, the council said it ‘regretted what had happened but did not believe it was at fault’. Bain, described by police as a “brutal sexual abuser”, has since committed suicide.
In 1990 Liz Davies and David Cofie repeatedly raised serious concerns about abuse in Islington run homes. The area child protection committee decided there was no cause for concern.
In 1992 Liz Davies resigned, and later that year the Standard published a series of reports alleging that dozens of children at two Islington council homes were abused. Ms Hodge accused the Standard of “gutter journalism” and rejected its dossier on paedophile activity in the homes.
In 1995 An independent inquiry found that the council failed to properly investigate the sexual abuse allegations. The inquiry report said it was possible many of the allegations were true and that abusers “are still working in the field elsewhere”.
2003, Ms Hodge tried to block a BBC Radio investigation into Islington, writing to BBC chairman, Gavin Davies, accusing it of “deplorable sensationalism” and called Mr Panton an “extremely disturbed person”.
November 19 2003 Margaret Hodge issued a public apology to Mr Panton, read in the high court. Her statement said she was genuinely sorry for labelling him disturbed and accepted the allegation “ought never to have been written”.
Dr Liz Davies recently sent an open letter to Margaret Hodge, which included some very sharp questions. These are some extracts;
‘…If I had received support and understanding from you, I would have been far better able to protect the children who were so severely harmed. Instead, every obstacle was put in my way. My only professionally ethical option at the time was to work covertly with police. When our work achieved a major conviction I thought I would be believed but instead I was further silenced by managers. I now question if you were informed about this conviction and the circumstances in which young people were disclosing?’
‘…What led you to take a stand, for instance, in publicly blaming a brave whistleblowing residential worker? After raising the alarm about child sex abusers accessing children as young as 9 years old in a children’s home, he was dismissed and prevented from working with children for many years.’
‘I am now being contacted by survivors who feel more able to come forward in the current climate. It is deeply worrying that so many of their files are missing. When I attended the Inquiries not a single one of my records was to be found. What is your understanding now of such negligence?’
‘You say that there should be sanctions for those who victimise whistleblowers. The Islington Inquiries were not a legal process and no-one was required to give evidence. Do you think, therefore, that it is too late to call to account those who obstructed my investigations and those who misled you?’
Her letter ends with this;
I am pleased that you are now supporting whistleblowers. I am one of them and I now ask for your full support in helping to unravel what really did happen in Islington about which you must surely know so much. It is a story which includes your story which has never been told. Many politicians are now bravely coming forward to speak out about organised child abuse – it is surely your time to contribute your account of what really happened.
Dr Liz Davies
Reader in Child Protection
London Metropolitan University
We are all ears.