POLICE have accused Wandsworth council, the flagship Conservative borough in south London, of preventing the prosecution of an alleged rapist. Detectives believe the authority has hindered the inquiry because it fears disclosures about the brutal treatment of children in its care. The council, which failed to inform police immediately of the 16-year-old girl’s allegations, has repeatedly refused to allow police access to social work files, its internal inquiry or the girl’s medical reports.
This has led Kent police to suspend their inquiries. The alleged rapist is still fostering children for Wandsworth.
“I am troubled that a public service such as Wandsworth social services is not open to external scrutiny,’’ said Detective Inspector David Pryde, heading the investigation. “The fact that they appear able to hinder and undermine a current criminal inquiry is most unsatisfactory.’’ Pryde believes Wandsworth is trying to prevent details of its oppressive child care emerging. “From the documents that have come into the possession of the inquiry team, I can see why Wandsworth social services do not wish these files to be open to external scrutiny,’’ he said. The girl was sent by Wandsworth to a children’s home in Gravesend, Kent, owned by the Church of England but independently managed and since closed. Records obtained by the victim show she was frequently locked in a small room with just a bed and a wash basin once for 163 days and subjected to a “pin-down’’ regime, in which she was stripped and injected with strong tranquillisers from the age of 13.
The two alleged rapes occurred shortly after the girl turned 16 and had been fostered out to a couple in Herne Bay, Kent. Her sister alerted Wandsworth social workers, who were sceptical. No medical examinations were carried out to test her claims. The social workers did hold a meeting to discuss her case with officials at the children’s home. However, the minutes reveal that the foster father accused of rape was present but not the girl. They record that the girl had been interviewed by a social worker but had refused to withdraw her allegations. The girl was forced to confront the alleged rapist and his wife to repeat the allegation at a meeting, in contravention of good social work practice.
She was not given the support of a social worker during the confrontation. It was also alleged in reports that the girl was having sexual relations with men before the alleged rape, a claim she was not told of at the time and now vehemently denies. Although the alleged rape happened 10 years ago, the girl, now a woman of 26 with her own children, contacted the police in September last year when she learned the man was still fostering for Wandsworth council. “The social workers brushed it all under the carpet. They tried to get me to retract but I wouldn’t so they contacted Kent police, but the inquiry never got anywhere at the time,’’ she said this weekend. “I never got over what happened. It has affected my health and my relationships with men ever since.
The way I was treated by the social workers was wrong. It has spoilt my life.’’ Behind the legal tangle is a tragic story of a young girl taken into care by Wandsworth because of family difficulties. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia and her father from alcoholism. Though close to her father, the council sent her to Kendall House, a children’s home in Gravesend, 30 miles away. After an attempt to run away to see her father, the home began to drug her. “I didn’t want them to and struggled, so they used to pin me down, two male staff and two female, stripping off my knickers to give me the injections,’’ she said. Files show she was given powerful doses of Valium and other tranquillisers, along with drugs used to treat schizophrenia.
The case will be raised in the Commons next week by Neil Gerrard, Labour MP for Walthamstow. He said: “I will be calling for an urgent debate. It is all the more urgent that we get to the truth because the man accused is now fostering people with learning difficulties.’’ At the time of the alleged incident Wandsworth council was led by Paul Beresford, since knighted, elected to parliament and made a junior environment minister. A council spokesman said it was not releasing the files on the advice of its insurers but had offered to meet Kent police to answer specific requests for information. He said no medical examination was made when the claims were raised because the alleged rape had occurred some time earlier.