Leeways Children’s Home, Orpington
Sex fears over head of home ‘ignored’
By Nicholas Timmins, Social Services Correspondent
Lewisham social services department has been accused of a serious failure to act over warnings about the behaviour of the head of one of its children’s homes, since jailed for four years for sex offences with children.
For 17 years, Ronald Cooper, aged 56, had worked at the Leeways children’s home in Orpington. He was jailed last June after the court was told he took thousands of “revolting” photographs of naked children, some as young as five. He had admitted sexually assaulting a boy aged 11.
As long ago as 1972, social services staff and others warned senior officers about his behaviour. But repeatedly the council failed to act, an independent inquiry has found. Complaints about his paedophile activities were ignored or suppressed.
In 1974, the department was again warned of Cooper’s “unhealthy interest” in the children in his care, but the warning was dismissed as not valid. There were further warnings in 1975 and 1976 on which no effective action was taken. In 1977, five junior staff at Leeways also complained about Cooper’s preference for blond, blue-eyed boys, of his favouritism for them and behaviour. They were told they had no evidence and had bypassed correct precedures. All five resigned shortly afterwards.
The report says Cooper “was regarded as having powerful friends, these included the formidable combination of the chair of the social services committee, the social case work division, the trade unions and the visiting psychiatrist”.
Cooper was discovered when police investigating a child prostitute racket in 1984 came across a printer who had developed and exchanged pictures with him.
The report says that while the situation in Lewisham has improved, change has not occurred fast enough. “Radical changes in organization and attitudes need to be made to effect any real improvement”
“At almost every point at which collectively or individually the people involved had to choose between making the welfare of the children the first consideration and some conflicting loyalty or priority, they chose the latter. They did so not from malice, or deliberate wickedness, but because they did not keep in the forefront of their minds their statutory obligations to the children in their care.”
Lewisham social services committee was due to consider the report in closed session last night. The committee’s vice-chairman, Ms Paulette Goudge, said it welcomed the report.