Nottinghamshire County Council's leader has once again apologised to all the victims of historical child abuse in authority-run care homes and said that measures are now in place to ensure it can never happen again.
In a media briefing organised prior to the publication of a report set to be published by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), on July 31, Councillor Kay Cutts said she felt 'shame' that children had been abused while in the authority's care.
In a prepared statement, which the council leader read out, she said: "In January 2018 I made a full and unreserved apology on behalf of this council to the victims and survivors of historical child sexual abuse, as did my predecessor Councillor Alan Rhodes in March 2016.
"Councillors of all political persuasion have been deeply saddened by what happened to children and young people who were entrusted into the care of this council.
"As we approach the publication date of the IICSA report, I once again would like to wholeheartedly express my utter shame that children were abused in our care.
"To the survivors, whose lives were blighted and damaged by the abuse you suffered, I am sorry for what you endured."
The inquiry focused principally on abuse of young people in care at Skegby Hall, near Mansfield, which operated as a borstal - now known as a young offenders' centre - and the former Beechwood care home on the outskirts of Nottingham.
Your Chad first broke the story in 2014, when former Forest Town resident Mickey Summers contacted the paper to document the abuse he suffered while in care homes around the Nottingham area. He described climbing trees to avoid abuse, running away repeatedly, and witnessing children - many with severe learning difficulties - being raped by those entrusted to care for them.
He also made the first call for a fully independent inquiry, after councils lost his childhood records and police, he said, failed to take his allegations seriously when he first reported them in the early 2000s.
The following week, your Chad was contacted by another man who described how he had been serially abused while an inmate at Skegby Hall. He had been so moved by Mickey's story that he shared his experiences for the first time with our reporting team, and ultimately led to one of the first criminal prosecutions.
Speaking at the time, the man, who is now in his 70s, said: “I have awful dreams that just reoccur all the time and I’m very short tempered - a lot of my family are in stable, loving relationships, and they haven’t got the faintest idea what happened in my past. All they know is that I was put into a young offenders institute when I was a boy. I just don’t know how to talk about it and I just really don’t know how to get closure.
“This has been with me for 50 years and I’ve never been able to talk to anyone about it.
“When I was at Skegby Hall, I reported what was going on to the headmaster and he just told me to stop being a silly boy, and sent me away.
“They’ve always known about this and they’ve done absolutely nothing - we were in the care of the council and we should have been protected.”
But Coun Cutts said that the culture at the authority had now fundamentally changed and that such a thing could never happen again.
She said: "It's a very different place than it was all those years ago, we conduct our affairs in a very open fashion - there is a committee system here. Compared with that time, we are open and honest. We all receive the reports. We talk to children, We gather all the information. 30 years ago it was kept between the top echelons."
Victims came forward and prosecutions were mounted, but only a tiny minority were successful, as in many cases it was one word against another. The man who contacted your Chad to say he was abused at Skegby Hall had his day in court, but watched his alleged abuser walk free.
We asked Coun Cutts if she thought the recommendations of the report would offer the victims any closure.
She said: "I think apologising to these victims gives them a sense of closure, but you can't take away those years and experiences where they had their childhoods robbed from them. We can only do our best now. That's all we can do."
Colin Pettigrew, corporate director for children and families at Nottinghamshire County Council said the authority would never again allow young people in care to become victims of abuse.
In a prepared statement, he said: "The county council accepts that its past practice fell well short of what was required and what we would now expect as a result, children in its care were subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse. For that I am deeply sorry.
"The inquiry heard from many victims and survivors who said that in the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s there were barriers to reporting their abuse. These included not being seen alone by their visiting social worker, not being believed and being in physical fear.
"Children now see their own social worker alone, and our systems and quality assurance processes check this to be the case. In addition, they have an independent social work officer who also sees them alone when their care plans are reviewed every few months and ensures they know how to raise concerns or complaints.
"It is now easier for young people to report any concerns they have about their care. We are about to launch a new app to ensure children feel they can speak out in confidence.
"Children who go missing from care are seen and talked to on their return, by someone independent of the placement and all children in residential care have access to independent advocates employed by The Children’s Society."
Speaking to your Chad, he said: "What we know from the criminal allegation and the civil claims, we have seen that, whilst this abuse occurred over a very large period of time, the concentrated period of time was the late 1970s to the early 1990s,
"They said they never saw a social worker, or if they did see a social worker they never saw than alone - there would always be a member of staff sat in, who may have been part of the arrangement which allowed them to be abused; or they did tell but they weren't believed; or they were living in an environment that was also physically abusive. At Beechwood it was a brutal regime, so they were fearful for their physical well-being if they said anything. So now we ensure that when our social workers visit children in children's homes or foster placements that social workers do see the child alone."
He added that young people in care now have regular reviews with an experienced social worker, and that they know where to go if they are being abused.
There is also a victim survivors' group which meets every few weeks, where they are offered support through education, counselling, and help with drugs and alcohol.
Mr Pettigrew said: "A lot of them want justice for the crimes that were committed against them and for people to go to prison, and we have seen an increase, we've seen people go to prison recently. Then, children were seen as not being credible, and thankfully the criminal justice system is revisiting some of these people, and I think that the enquiry will also make recommendations to the Crown Prosecution Service and the police authorities."
The report will be published on July 31 and is expected to run to more than 300 pages.
Your Chad will be running full coverage on the day.
For victims and survivors affected by the publication of the IICSA report, will have access to extra support from the Nottinghamshire Sexual Violence Support Services (SVSS). Its usual opening hours are 4pm to 7.30pm Monday and Tuesday, and 10am to 1pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But from July 31 to August 13, it will also be open from 8pm to midnight every evening. The number to call is 0115 941 0440.