Since Margaret Hodge’s appointment last month as minister for
children and young people, there have been calls for her
resignation over her handling of child abuse allegations while she
was leader of Islington council between 1982 and 1992.
These have been led by former Islington social workers, who
claim their concerns at the time about the safety of children were
not listened to, and by the National Association for People Abused
In Childhood, which claims that her “inappropriate” appointment
sends out a message that child abuse is not being taken as
seriously by the government as it should be. But professional
bodies and children’s charities have remained silent on the
Interviews by Lauren
“In 1990, when I was leader of Islington
council, Liz Davies’s boss, David Cofie, came to see me and said he
thought a paedophile was operating out of a house. I was beside
myself with worry. I took it to people who were senior to Cofie and
the area child protection committee immediately got involved.
The house was put under surveillance for quite a long time. They
interviewed every child who went into that home. It was an
extremely thorough exercise.
But at the end of that process, they came back to me and said that
there was no evidence to substantiate the claim. Cofie didn’t
believe it and wanted to take the children into care. It was a
simple disagreement. We could equally have taken 14 children into
After that, I am not conscious of them coming back to me with any
further concerns. Indeed, I’m not conscious of ever having met Liz
Davies. I was only told about a single house, not a network of
abuse. I made certain the investigation into that house happened,
and would have done the same with later allegations. I certainly
never stopped an allegation of abuse being investigated.
The only mistake I made was believing the relevant officers who
were sent away to investigate allegations made by the ‘Evening
Standard’ in late 1992 who came back to me saying they were all
unfounded. But, when you think you have thoroughly looked at
questions and you have got the advice of respected senior social
workers against the story of a newspaper that won’t even share its
information, who would you believe? That was my mistake. And I have
lived with that.
In terms of their requests for extra youth workers, these were
unrealistic at a time of huge government funding cuts and when we
had already increased both the number of social workers and their
salaries. So I told them they would have to re-allocate existing
I can’t think of anybody who is working in an area that covers
social services who has not experienced mistakes being made and has
not been scarred in the process. Our understanding 13 years ago of
what was happening in children’s homes was also much, much less
than today. That was really early days.
But things like my very bruising Islington experience helped change
people’s experiences. Even as a backbencher, I was responsible for
getting legislation in place for ensuring that supply teachers were
checked before they were employed in schools.
Since then, during my time in government, I have had three years as
minister for early years. It’s a period of work I am very proud
In that time, I managed to put a framework in place that’s enabled
us to introduce nursery education for all four-year-olds and nearly
all three-year-olds, a new integrated inspection regime under
Ofsted, and a “climbing frame” of qualifications for people working
with children so they can work their way through modules and end up
being fully qualified social workers or teachers.
In addition, the bringing together of early years services with
social care which I started in Islington has formed the basis of
what we are now doing nationally under Sure Start. I think that’s
one of the most successful initiatives of the Labour government,
and I had a pretty important part in developing it.
That experience underlines my suitability for the job of minister
for children and young people, within this radical re-organisation
where we are bringing together all the services that affect
children’s lives, with the child at the centre of everything we do.
I did it in Islington. I did it in central government. And now I’m
taking that a step forward. “
“In 1990, when I was a senior social worker
employed by Islington council, my colleagues and I identified
patterns indicative of sexual abuse among a number of vulnerable
local young people.
Housing and environmental officers working in the same
neighbourhood office as us had also noticed children sleeping on
the floor of adults’ homes and children being taken out in vans at
We talked to colleagues in the police and in education and decided
to take the issue to our neighbourhood forum. We thought we might
be able to organise a network of protective adults within the
community. We also asked for a re-allocation of youth workers from
the central allocation to do three months’ outreach work with these
At that time, Margaret Hodge was leader of Islington council and
was also our local councillor and part of our forum. She asked for
senior officer reports of our concerns, which we provided. She then
told us via the director of social services that it would be
inappropriate at a time of budget cuts to allocate extra resources
to our area.
The following month, we were told by the assistant director of
social services and the local police chief that there was no
evidence to support our continuing concerns. We were ordered to
stop all interviewing of children and all child protection
conferences in relation to this issue.
We agreed with local police officers to continue collecting
information against our orders, and slowly discovered that people
within our own department were involved. That was very chilling. We
thought we had been protecting these children, but by putting them
in care we had actually been putting them in danger.
In October 1991, all the agencies involved called for the area
child protection committee to set up a working party. But the
working party decided there was no evidence of networks of abuse,
despite the fact there had already been at least one arrest by
It wasn’t long after this that I left Islington social services
department. Between April 1990 and February 1992 I had written 15
reports and compiled a card index of 61 children. By that time, we
didn’t trust a single residential home. Residential workers had
started to tell us about child abusers coming in to some homes at
night. Children were being taken from children’s homes at the
weekend to places all over the country. Some foster carers were
also thought to be involved.
Despite the various inquiries into the abuse allegations that took
place, there was never a multi-agency working group investigating
organised abuse. Although it is fair to say that such
investigations have come a long way since then, they were not
unknown at the time.
The new minister for children is a very important post. We all want
to get it right. There were many young people abused by the
Islington regime and I am worried about the message that Hodge
holding that post sends to young people. As councillor for that
ward she would have received monthly reports on the issue, but a
full investigation never happened.
The most important thing is that she didn’t listen to very
experienced professional staff employed by her council to protect
children. Because of that, she didn’t listen to the children we
I want someone with authenticity and integrity in relation to
working with children to hold this new post, someone who will
always put the interests of children first, over and above
political issues and budgetary issues. I cannot say that Hodge
would do that.
Perhaps the prime minister didn’t expect such a strong reaction
after all this time. He probably thought it was long enough ago.
But in terms of suffering abuse and suffering being a
whistle-blower, it feels like only yesterday.