Hundreds of children were sexually abused by predatory foster carers and residential home staff who were allowed to thrive, an inquiry has found.
Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County councils exposed vulnerable children to repeated rapes and physical abuse, a report said.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said sexualised behaviour by staff was “tolerated or overlooked”.
It said it had received about 350 complaints dating back to the 1960s.
In its report, it said this was the biggest number of allegations of child sexual abuse for any of its investigations so far and added the “true scale is likely to be higher”.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said the abuse was widespread “for more than five decades” and repeated failures to learn from mistakes exposed more young people to harm.
It also criticised staff at Beechwood Community Home in Mapperley, saying they were “threatening and violent”, with sexualised behaviour towards children “tolerated or overlooked, allowing abusers to thrive”.
Children suffered abuse, including repeated rapes, sexual assaults and voyeurism, at many of Nottinghamshire City and County council’s homes as well as in foster care.
Examples of abuse included young people being raped by staff members and assaulted by those responsible for caring for them.
One girl who was abused while in foster care was later placed into a children’s home, where she was visited by her abuser.
The inquiry found in one home inspected in the early 1990s “all children resident over a 12-month period were found to have been exposed to harmful sexual behaviour”.
Who is to blame?
From the late 1970s to 2019, 16 residential staff and 10 foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of children in their care.
The IICSA said some foster carers were allowed to carry on looking after vulnerable children even when they were “known perpetrators”, including some of whom “then went on to abuse children again”.
Its report said there was “no effective or rigorous assessment” of allegations against foster carers, with “too much willingness on the part of council staff to take the side of the foster carers and to disbelieve the child”.
The IICSA also found management at Beechwood were “complacent or deliberately ignored the plight of children under their care”, with only two disciplinary actions taken when allegations of sexual abuse were made, both of which “were inadequate”.
County councillors looking after the oversight of children “did not question the scale of sexual abuse or what action was being taken”, which the inquiry said was a “serious failure of scrutiny and governance”.
“The report found that neither of the councils learned from their mistakes despite decades of evidence,” the report added.
John O’Brien, secretary to the inquiry, said the Nottinghamshire investigation was “in terms of scale, the most shocking we have seen”.
“We’re not talking here about one individual that either blocked or actively participated in the sexual abuse of children, we’re just talking about a regime that over many years just didn’t recognise what they needed to do to protect children.”
Nottinghamshire Police was also criticised by the inquiry, which said although the force has “begun to address weaknesses in its approach to child protection” its initial investigation into allegations was “not adequately resourced” and complaints were not dealt with “sufficient seriousness”.
‘I can’t believe the evil that happened there’
Laura – not her real name – was first sexually assaulted at Beechwood on the day of the FA Cup final.
“[My abuser] told me if I wanted to ring my boyfriend, I could use the phone in the office, and he went and he bought some stout and cigarettes and, you know, I was allowed to have a drink, and he was being very friendly,” she said.
“That same evening he came up to the dormitory in the middle of the night, and this was the first occasion that I woke up with him on top of me. He got his mouth over my mouth, and he says ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Please be quiet, I’m not going to hurt you’.”
Laura said she “couldn’t believe what had happened”, but did not know how to report it.