Sexual abuse of children in council care in Nottinghamshire was widespread for decades and repeated failures to learn from mistakes exposed more young people to harm, a report has concluded.
Some 350 people alleged they were abused while in residential or foster care in the county from the 1960s onwards, but the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said the true scale is likely to be higher.
The panel, presenting its report on Wednesday following 15 days of evidence at public hearings in October, said it was the largest number of specific allegations of sexual abuse in a single investigation that the inquiry has considered to date.
Widespread abuse including repeated rapes, sexual assaults and voyeurism took place during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in many of Nottinghamshire County Council’s and Nottingham City Council’s homes as well as in foster care, the report concluded.
As well as this, “harmful sexual behaviour” also occurred between children in both settings, it said.
In a damning assessment of the councils’ failures, the report said: “For more than five decades, the councils failed in their statutory duty to protect children in their care from sexual abuse.
“These were children who were being looked after away from their family homes because of adverse childhood experiences and their own pre‑existing vulnerabilities.
“They needed to be nurtured, cared for and protected by adults they could trust. Instead, the councils exposed them to the risk, and reality, of sexual abuse perpetrated primarily by predatory residential staff and foster carers.”
Between the late 1970s and 2019, the report said 16 residential staff were convicted of sexual abuse of children in residential care. Ten foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of their foster children.
The panel said it was also aware of 12 convictions relating to the harmful sexual behaviour of children against other children in care.
The inquiry heard about the notorious Beechwood Care Home, of which both male and female former residents described being routinely sexually abused by members of staff and being too afraid to report it.
The report said abuse also took place in a number of other children’s residential units, including Hazelwood, Skegby Hall, Edwinstowe, Sandown Road, Wollaton House, Hillcrest, Risley Hall, Greencroft, Beckhampton Road, Woodnook, Amberdale and Three Roofs.
The panel also criticised a comment by Jon Collins, then leader of the city council, who was reported to have said last year “we will apologise when there is something to apologise for”, as being “crass” and having caused “avoidable upset”.
It said the provision and consistency of support and counselling for victims “remains an issue”.
The report recommends both councils should “assess the potential risks posed by current and former foster carers directly provided by the council in relation to the sexual abuse of children”.
In a second recommendation, it said the city council and its child protection partners “should commission an independent, external evaluation of their practice concerning harmful sexual behaviour, including responses, prevention, assessment, intervention and workforce development”.
Criticism was also levelled at Nottinghamshire Police, which the inquiry panel said had not properly resourced its initial investigation into allegations of non-recent abuse of children in care, nor treated the allegations with “sufficient seriousness”.
It said that despite increased confidence in the police investigations after a number of prosecutions, “only now have Nottinghamshire Police begun to address weaknesses in its approach to child protection”.
Inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said: “For decades, children who were in the care of the Nottinghamshire councils suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse, inflicted by those who should have nurtured and protected them.
“Those responsible for overseeing the care of children failed to question the extent of sexual abuse or what action was being taken. Despite decades of evidence and many reviews showing what needed to change, neither of the councils learnt from their mistakes, meaning that more children suffered unnecessarily.
“We hope this report and recommendations can help ensure it never happens again.”
In a joint statement the city council leader David Mellen and chief executive Ian Curryer said: “We accept that the council made mistakes and should have done more to protect children from harm while they were in our care.”
They said the council will take “appropriate action” on the recommendations.
Referencing an apology made at a council meeting in November, the pair added: “We’re sorry for any further distress we caused to those who would have welcomed a public apology from us sooner – we didn’t get that right.”
Colin Pettigrew, corporate director for children’s services at the county council, which has previously apologised for failings, said: “We are determined to do our utmost to ensure that children in the care of this council are as safe as they can be.
“And swift and effective measures are now in place to deal with any allegations of abuse of children in the care of this council.”
The council will reflect on the report’s findings and consider any further changes deemed necessary, he added.