Grosvenor Avenue Children’s Home, Islington
A foster mother pays tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s compassion
By EILEEN FAIRWEATHER
27 January 2007
Liam Lucas with daughter Isabella
When the Archbishop of Canterbury supported the Catholic Church in the gay adoption row last week, many were surprised.
Dr Rowan Williams, usually considered a moderniser, was criticised by liberals for asking Tony Blair to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from Government regulations – being introduced in April – which will force all agencies to offer children for adoption to gays.
The Guardian newspaper, in a comment piece, even suggested that the church’s moral authority was ‘fatally compromised’.
Now it has emerged that Dr Williams may have been influenced by his close involvement with a remarkable couple who rescued a boy brutalised by a notorious social services paedophile ring.
Horrified by the inference that the Archbishop is homophobic, the couple have spoken for the first time of their friend’s ‘immeasurable’ help as they struggled to save a child driven to despair by abuse while in the care of the London borough of Islington.
And they described how Dr Williams even devoted an entire week’s prayers for Liam, the terribly damaged boy they went on to foster.
Liam Lucas was just one of the children abused by predatory paedophiles who took advantage of far-Left Islington Council’s childcare policies in the Eighties and Nineties, when it pro-actively recruited gay social workers.
Paedophiles exploited its well-intentioned commitment to equal opportunities and soon most of Islington’s 12 children’s homes had child molesters on the staff who cynically pretended to be ordinary homosexuals. Numerous children and other staff made allegations of abuse, but were branded homophobes and ignored.
Liam – now 29, in a permanent relationship and the proud father of year-old Isabella – was even falsely classified as gay by Islington social services, which decided he should be fostered only by single men.
Quaker couple Brian Cairns, 57, and his wife Kate, 56 – who became friends with the future Archbishop when they were students together – fought to foster him instead. The horrors Liam later disclosed eventually helped end a 20-year regime of appalling abuse.
A lengthy investigation by The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper, the London Evening Standard, resulted in government-ordered inquiries, but at least 26 members of Islington social services staff, despite being accused of grave offences, were simply allowed to resign, often with glowing references.
Mr and Mrs Cairns and their foster son Liam were so concerned by the ‘rigidity’ of the current debate about adoption and equal opportunities for gays, and the invisibility of children’s needs, that they have decided to go public.
The Church of England’s own adoption agency already allows gay adoptions, and it is thought the Archbishop’s support for the Catholic Church’s exemption plea mainly reflects the importance he places on freedom of conscience and thought.
Mrs Cairns is herself a leading socialwork academic, author and trainer. “I am not anti gay, any more than is Rowan Williams,’ she said.
“I have a close relative who is gay, and I am emphatically not opposed to gay adoption. I am, however, deeply concerned by the bullying, intolerant nature of the present attacks on people with religious or other concerns about it.
“It feels horribly familiar and I fear that rigid thinking about equal opportunities may again blind people to paedophiles who claim to be gay, when all they really want is access to vulnerable children.
“On radio and TV this week I have repeatedly heard politicians insist that every adoption agency, whatever its religious beliefs about the best home for children, must offer gay people “equality of access to all goods and services”.
“My blood has run cold every time I have heard that. Children in care are not goods or services, chattels to be claimed or shared. They have, however, often been treated like that, as Liam’s appalling experiences show.
“Rowan Williams is a deeply spiritual and humble man, he would never dream of telling anyone how he helped us. But he did – immeasurably.”
Liam himself said: “There’s a lot about my childhood I can’t remember. There’s a lot I can remember and wish I couldn’t. The best I can say about it is that it’s over, and that I learned a lot, that will probably make me a better person in the end.”
He was in and out of Islington’s care from the age of two, and witnessed his birth mother suffer domestic violence and descend into drug addiction. When he was nine she died of a heroin overdose.
The distraught, vulnerable boy was initially fostered by a motherly woman who asked to keep him. But the council instead sent him, from age five to 11, to a ‘therapeutic’ boarding school, New Barns in Gloucestershire. This was later closed following a child abuse and pornography scandal.
During school holidays he was fostered by a man later imprisoned for abusing another child in his care. When Liam was nine, Islington placed him in its children’s home in Grosvenor Avenue, run by two single males. Both were eventually accused of abuse but escaped investigation by moving to Thailand.
Last year, Thai police charged the deputy head, Nick Rabet, 57, with serious sexual offences against 30 Thai boys, the youngest six years old. He escaped trial by killing himself.
Liam initially liked Rabet, a ‘big kid’ who pretended he was a sheriff and even wore a sheriff’s badge. The unqualified social worker owned a Sussex manor house, which he had turned into a children’s activity centre, with quad bikes, pinball machines and horses. He took Liam there at weekends.
Liam was abused by a friend of Rabet’s, a senior social services colleague. It is believed he backed the council’s decision to find the boy a gay foster father.
Mr and Mrs Cairns spotted Islington’s advertisement in 1990 in a fostering magazine.
Mrs Cairns was haunted by the then 13-year-old boy’s photo, and the council’s claim that he was ‘suitable for a single man’.
She said: “I instinctively felt that the ad was aimed at paedophiles.”
Mrs Cairns and her husband, also a senior figure in social services, already had three children but immediately applied to foster Liam.
“Islington insisted Liam wouldn’t settle in a family because they had decided he was gay,’ she said. “I said, “So what? Don’t gay people have families?” Besides, he was still a child – how could they be sure?’
Mrs Cairns believes children in care who genuinely identify as gay can particularly benefit from gay carers, but she mistrusts adults deciding children’s sexuality for them. Former Islington senior social worker Liz Davies, who blew the whistle on the abuse scandal, said: “Other Islington children were also falsely classed as gay at a very young age.”
A rebel Islington social worker defied his bosses and supported Mr and Mrs Cairns’ fostering bid after Liam begged him: “I just want a family, I just want to be normal.”
Mrs Cairns said: “He arrived and looked around and said, “Please, please don’t send me back.”‘
She recalls that when he first joined the family at their Gloucestershire home, ‘he had this shy, placatory smile. But it was belied by his eyes – it hurt me to look at him.
“You thought, My God, who left you with terrors like this? He had nightmares every night. He would wake screaming then pretend to me that he was just woken by a cough. He was so ashamed of his fear and trying so hard to be brave and pretend he was fine. It was heartbreaking. I’d sit up til he slept again. This went on for months.”
Eventually, he disclosed abuse at both the home and at boarding school. But his sympathetic social worker, and Liam’s files, simply vanished and nothing was done.
Mrs Cairns found the vice-chairman of the school governors, Peter Righton, former Director of Education at the National Institute for Social Work, had for years openly advocated sex with boys in care.
“Righton and I had sat together on the body which regulated social work training. I researched everything he had published and I felt sick. I was devastated by the betrayal of trust, and social work’s naivety.
“He got away with this, and influenced social workers to this day, because they feared seeming “homophobic” by challenging him.”
It prompted Mrs Cairns to begin confiding secretly with Scotland Yard.
The impasse ended in 1991, when police discovered Rabet’s Sussex children’s centre was partly financed by convicted child pornographers and that he was part of a ring of wealthy, well-connected paedophiles.
Police also discovered that Righton was a founder member of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange, which campaigned for the age of consent to be reduced to four.
In 1992, Righton was convicted of importing child pornography from Holland. Later, two teachers at New Barns were convicted of sexual abuse, five others tried, and the school was abruptly closed.
Islington admitted 32 ‘gross errors’ in its treatment of Liam, and paid him £5,000 compensation.
His principal abuser quit Britain for a Third World country and is believed to have adopted a boy there.
Liam had a breakdown in 1994 after the ordeal of giving evidence at the trial of New Barns staff.
He became angry, took to drugs and drink, was violent and smashed things. “My descent into crime was sudden and violent and frightened me as much as everybody else,’ he admitted.
Liam tried to hang himself and even attempted to strangle Mrs Cairns. She said: “He was wild-eyed and kept saying, “What do you mean, you love me? What does that mean?”
“He couldn’t trust anyone, he was a child broken by grief and betrayal. It broke my heart but I had to report him to the police for our own safety.”
Liam was sectioned to a mental hospital and later ended up for nine months, at just 17, in a secure jail. Mr and Mrs Cairns, feeling desperate, exhausted and lost, con-fided in their friend Rowan Williams, whose help they described as ‘solid and generous’.
“He was deeply moved by Liam’s sufferings and he didn’t just calm us and provide advice, he offered to make Liam’s recovery the focus of his prayers on his annual retreat.
“He is a deeply spiritual man but humble and reticent. He would never, ever volunteer this, but in 1995 he went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, fasted and devoted his week’s prayers to Liam’s healing.”
Liam, who had no idea he was being prayed for so intensely, blamed Mr and Mrs Cairns for his incarceration and no longer kept touch. “But on the last day of Rowan’s pilgrimage, at 5am, Liam woke suddenly and, he says, “just knew he had to write to Mum and Dad”. He started to get better then,’ said Mrs Cairns.
Liam remembers: “I didn’t appreciate my foster family. I was too eaten up with bad memories of being a child and of being in care to appreciate what I had, but when I lost them I learned how much they mattered to me. I never thought before that I could trust anyone, or learn to love or be loved. But I did.”
Although it was a long journey back to health, and the adult stability he has today, he took responsibility for his own behaviour.
Liam has never re-offended and today teaches social workers about the needs of children. Next month he will contribute to a TV programme for teachers on the same theme.
He considers thorough checks on carers essential. Islington dispensed with all but the most basic checks on self-declared gay staff in order to help them counter ‘discrimination’. It meant they were not obliged to provide evidence of childcare experience, qualifications or professional references.
Many now fear such minimal checks will also be made on gay would-be adopters, for fear of prosecution for discrimination.
Mrs Cairns said: “Gay adoptions can work extremely well, but we need sensitively to match the right child to the right carer.
“Liam, for example, was genuinely terrified of men, and he wanted a mum. An abused girl might feel safest with a single woman, or a lesbian.
“We must be utterly rigorous in assessing everyone who wants to care for children, whether heterosexual or gay, male or female – remember Rose West.
“We cannot be less vigilant because an adult says they are from an oppressed group and their feelings should be protected. Child protection matters far more.”
Evening Standard, 17th November 2003
The public humiliation of children’s minister, Margaret Hodge, will continue today as two more victims of Islington care homes tell her: “I want a public apology too.” Yvonne Williams and Douglas Fitch are demanding a “face to face” public meeting in which she can prove her claim to be a “listening minister” by hearing their stories of abuse and explaining why she failed to act when faced with reports by social workers.
And in a sensational new hammer blow to the beleaguered minister, another former Islington senior social worker has said that he attended a meeting – called by Hodge when she was council leader – in which she flatly told all senior social workers: “Sexual abuse does not exist in Islington.”
This meeting was held, he says, after David Cofie, another senior social worker, had reported to Hodge that scores of children – some as young as nine – were being sexually abused in Islington. His testimony is powerful evidence that the culture of suppression and denial – which Cofie and his deputy, Liz Davies, tried to expose in the Standard earlier this year – went right to the top.
Hodge has always argued she was “misled” by her senior management, whereas Cofie and Davies have insisted otherwise. Until now, it was their word against hers. But this new witness confirms Hodge actually set the agenda on how children who reported sexual abuse should be handled by social workers. “There is no doubt that the culture under Hodge was to disbelieve the children,” he says.
This damning testimony comes from the man, now 51, who was Yvonne Williams’s social worker. He is still in the employ of Islington Council and so cannot be named without its permission, which he is seeking today.
Called at his home last night, he said: “My colleague David Cofie had presented powerful evidence to Hodge of sexual abuse in Islington. She wanted to slap him down and she told us that it was all malicious rumour and that it didn’t happen. But I – and others – knew that it did.
“Yvonne Williams was my client and she was horribly abused, but back then children like her and Fitch and all the others you have reported about were not believed. This is why I find Hodge’s comments last week on Demetrious Panton being ‘extremely disturbed’ so unbelievable.
“Over a decade has passed and she still comes out with comments that rubbish the children – just as she did when she was leader of Islington Council.”
Yvonne Williams, who was sexually abused almost every day for six years from the tender age of 10, yesterday told the Standard why she is still angry and demanding a public apology from Hodge.
“If you see someone doing wrong, and you allow that person to get away with it, then you are as guilty as the people who did the crimes themselves,” she says.
“That is why Hodge – who tried to sweep it under the carpet when it was brought to her attention – must be held accountable. She needs to feel our pain, hear our anger. She needs to stop thinking like a politician and behave like a human being. People’s lives have been ruined.”
Unlike Williams, who received a £30,000 settlement from Islington Council two years ago, Douglas Fitch was, until recently, unaware of his legal rights. Now he has told the Standard that he is determined to bring his own lawsuit, not just against the council, but against Hodge, too, and he has approached Williams’s solicitor, Frances Swaine at Leigh, Day & Co, to explore legal action.
“I hold Hodge directly responsible for the abuse I suffered,” says Douglas. “My brother, Michael, was sexually abused in care before me, and if Hodge had listened to the social workers he complained to, then there is every likelihood that I would never have been abused. I will not rest until I get justice.”
Both Williams and Fitch say it is not enough for Hodge to apologise to Panton, whom she slurred last week. For when Hodge was leader of Islington, they say, she presided over a culture that branded abused children as “liars”. Williams and Fitch insist “she has brought that perverted state of mind into the job as minister”.
“That is why she must resign. That is why she is not fit for the job,” says Williams.
Demands for Hodge’s resignation have never really stopped since June, when a Standard investigation published documentary evidence that Hodge conclusively knew about the abuse, yet failed to act. Initially, she had pleaded ignorance until the scandal came to light in October 1992, the last months of her tenure. But a “killer memo”, dated April 1990, provided proof that she was told twoanda-half years earlier.
This memo – on the council leader’s letterhead – exposed Hodge rebuking Cofie for requesting extra staff to investigate “sexual abuse among eight to 16-year-old children”, callously reminding him that the budget was overspent.
The Standard also published a second document, this one by social workers, dated April 1990, which warned Hodge that “14 children” – some as young as nine – were “at risk of sexual exploitation”.
Hodge never satisfactorily explained why she tried to deny knowledge of the abuse, and why, when this was exposed, she had rubbished the social workers who reported the abuse, and then failed to act.
Instead, shooting the messenger became Hodge ‘ s signature response. She responded that way when the Standard first exposed the child abuse scandal back in 1992, calling our reports “gutter journalism”. And she was up to the same dirty tricks last week, shamefully smearing Panton when she heard the BBC was investigating his story.
The Islington victims say it defies decency how she has got away with it. For the abuse that took place on her watch and before – they remind us – was not isolated to one residential unit. So far – last week and in the summer – we have published the horrific stories of five victims whose abuse spanned the borough.
Demetrious Panton, 35, suffered his abuse at Elwood Street. Douglas and Michael Fitch, 28 and 35, were abused while in Islington’s care at Shepall Manor Special School in Stevenage. Ann Belcher, 28, was preyed on at 80 Highbury New Park, and Liam Lucas, 26, was sodomised as a nine-year-old at Grosvenor Avenue.
Today, the horrific goings-on at Gisburne House, yet another Islington controlled home, is added to this list of shame. Yvonne Williams, 40, was in care at Gisburne from the age of 10 to 17, where she was abused by the home’s superintendent, Geoffrey Wylde-Jones.
Visibly shaking, Yvonne says that telling her story is “the hardest thing” she’s ever done. “In a normal world,” she says, “it would be Hodge hiding her face, not me.”