Woman groomed and abused in care gets apology after 30 years | Social care


Carrie* is no stranger to a legal challenge. In 2018, alongside other women, she won a landmark case against the Home Office when she challenged a requirement that prostitution offences, including those acquired below the age of 18, be disclosed under criminal record checks.

While Carrie, now 49, was giving a detailed statement to her lawyer dealing with this case, she described her time in care. Her childhood was dominated by neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation. It became clear to her lawyers that there was a second case – against the body responsible for the child protection services that failed her so badly: Leeds city council.

This summer, this second case was settled and Carrie, who spent years in children’s homes, was issued a “wholehearted and unreserved” apology by the council “for the abuse that you suffered and the impact that this has had on you”.

The letter, signed by Saleem Tariq, the director of children and families, is thought by Carrie’s legal team and other child protection experts to be the first of its kind by a local authority because it is, to all intents, a public admission of responsibility and wrongdoing.

Carrie was forced into prostitution at the age of 14 and has multiple convictions for soliciting, nine of which date from when she was under 18.

She was sexually abused by her father from the age of nine, and her mother had severe mental health problems and was unable to care for her. From 1985, Carrie was in and out of Shadwell House, a local authority children’s home. In 1987, when she was 13, Carrie was subject to a place of safety order and sent there long-term.

But unbeknown to Carrie, Shadwell House was far from safe. The abuse began immediately. “The staff didn’t look after me,” Carrie says. “I was sexually, physically, emotionally and mentally tortured there.”

Soon after she was placed in Shadwell, Carrie was raped by two boys who were also residents. A senior member of staff wrote that “[Carrie] has said she doesn’t want to pursue a complaint against the boy; staff opinion is that she was probably a willing participant in what happened.” Months later, Carrie reported a further rape. Again, nothing was done.

After school and at weekends, men gathered in cars outside Shadwell House, bringing cigarettes and alcohol as bribes for the kids. Carrie was unaware that they were pimps but the staff knew the men by reputation.

A notorious pimp named Danny* spent three months grooming Carrie, then 14, before he trafficked her to London from his base in Leeds, where he sold her from a brothel. “He controlled me for at least three years,” says Carrie. “He took me to a flat in London, and I was told to do business with this man. When I refused, I got hit with a bicycle chain. I was terrified. I remember walking up and down the road in my knickers and bra after another beating.” During this time, Carrie would return to the home only to run away again.She said: “I kept running away from Shadwell because of the abuse. And then when I started to be groomed and exploited in the outside world, I was running back to it, because I had nowhere else to go.”

On one occasion Melvin Blake, Shadwell’s deputy principal, hit her on the head with a drawer. “Blake used to have me sitting on his knee in his office, touching places that he shouldn’t be touching,” Carrie says. A staff member, Leonard Lake, called Carrie “promiscuous” and a “slag” when she tried to report to him that she had been beaten up by a group of boys.

In March 2017, Blake was convicted of nine charges of indecent assault and four of rape, crimes that took place during the 1980s, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Lake was convicted of two charges of indecent assault involving one boy and was jailed for two years.

In September1988, staff at Shadwell House stated in Carrie’s file that she was bullied because other children realised she was being prostituted, but none of the staff intervened. A few weeks later, Carrie was arrested in Bradford for soliciting. After her arrest, social workers and staff at the home took no action, and Carrie was treated as being to blame, as is apparent from the handwritten notes by staff members obtained by Carrie’s lawyers.

She was then detained at Westwood Grange remand centre for girls, a semi-secure children’s home also in Leeds. She was confined in the premises for a month but, once the restrictions were lifted, she ran away to be with Danny and ended up back on the streets. “By then I was trapped,” says Carrie. “I had convinced myself he was my boyfriend, I was that off my head.”

Notes from social services show that, in 1989, Carrie began slashing her wrists and showing other signs of serious emotional trauma. Yet she was returned to Westwood Grange in 1990 and continued to be forced into prostitution by Danny.

Things got so bad that Carrie plucked up the courage to report Danny as a violent pimp, but claims that the police said that they could not take any further action as they needed at least two other corroborating accounts from other victims in order to bring a prosecution.

In 1990, aged 15, she was coerced into taking part in a pornographic film by men in Leeds. When staff at Westwood Grange found out, they took no action. Instead, Carrie described how staff acted as though she was to blame.

By the time she left school later that year, Carrie was barely literate and had no qualifications. She returned to live with her mother in 1990 at the age of 16. But she was deeply entrenched in prostitution as well as being pregnant. Social services removed this child from Carrie, along with two subsequent children. In 1991, her care order ended.

Social service records show that the staff knew Carrie was being pimped but nothing was done to stop her. Nor was her behaviour investigated. Her pimp Danny was known to Shadwell House. The only comment made about him was that he was too old to be her boyfriend.

Carrie feels the children’s homes should have offered her therapy to deal with the abuse she had endured both at home and in their care. More importantly, they should have believed her when she reported the abuse and done something to stop it.

While the apology letter brings Carrie some comfort, nothing can take away the years of abuse she endured: “Even though I’ve been out of prostitution for 20-odd years, it still affects me every day. I can’t have a proper relationship because I don’t trust anybody, not even friends.” The apology letter is important as the council acknowledged its role in abuse that she and other children endured in their care. Carrie also received a substantial payment of compensation.

As Saleem Tariq wrote: “It has been identified that different steps could have been taken to protect you, however this did not happen and I am very sorry this was the case.”

A council spokesperson said: “Social work practice in Leeds has changed dramatically in recent years and we are committed to listening to the voice of children, young people and families, so that we can learn from their lived experience and act on this to continuously improve our services.”

“The council, along with its partner agencies, remains committed to continually auditing, updating and improving policies to ensure the safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults.

“The former director of children’s services at Leeds city council sent a private letter to Ms Wilson, the content of which was highly personal to her, therefore we are unable to comment further on this.”

Today, Carrie lives with her 21-year-old son, who she describes as “my biggest achievement”, and struggles with the physical health problems and the trauma caused by her years of abuse. But despite this, she is determined to ensure that no other girls have to go through such abuse when supposedly in the care of the state.

“They keep paying out compensation in secret and nothing changes,” says Carrie. “This is why a public apology was so important to me. It means I can tell myself, and the world, ‘Look, this was not my fault. It was theirs.’ ”

* Carrie and Danny are pseudonyms.

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