Lambeth council has apologised for the historic sexual abuse of children in its care homes dating back as far as the 1950s.
A preliminary hearing of the national inquiry into child abuse – previously chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard – heard 600 survivors of the borough’s homes had come forward, includingShirley Oaks, Angell Road, Ivy House and Southvale.
Many former pupils were at a press conference demanding justice for survivors on Wednesday.
The clearly moved borough’s leader Lib Peck heard the testimony of survivors and whistle-blowers.
They told their stories and demanded justice. And Cllr Peck said: “I am very sorry, on behalf of the council.
“It also compounded that horror by concealing this from you. It has taken an incredible time to expose the different injustices you have suffered.
“It is a heartfelt apology, intended in a spirit of recognition of the huge amount of torment, even torture, many of you faced.
“I have heard about the scale of the hurt caused. The word historic is displaced, because the legacy lives on with you – and in the case of some, the feelings of guilt among the whistle-blowers that they could not do more.
“I have listened to some of the evidence and watched a moving and powerful film about the survivors, as well as heard the transcripts of witnesses.
“Not being believed and the concealment of what happened, compounded that.”
She vowed to learn the lessons for the future.
“I can only make promises going forward,” she said. “We will not be judged by words but by actions and proper scrutiny of those actions. We need to be as transparent as possible.
“That might involve some difficult and honest conversations.
“We will also support individuals with counselling and groups, which is fundamental.
“We need to overcome a huge amount of mistrust. I hope we can earn back that trust by the way we work through this.”
The public investigation into Lambeth is one of 13 being undertaken by the inquiry – now chaired by Alexis Jay – into how institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales over decades.
Cllr Lib Peck, inset, Shirley Oaks Survivors of child abuse in Lambeth care homes want to see investigations into the deaths of former staff which they have labelled “suspicious”.
Bulic Forsythe’s body was found beaten and bruised and gas taps left on in his Clapham flat in October 1993.
And Tom Hosey fell from his balcony while he painted his front door in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, in 1987.
Forsythe’s death was connected to matters he uncovered working for Lambeth’s housing department, abused victims say.
Bulic Forsythe Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) spokesman Ray Stevenson said: “What he discovered was part of the issue that was connected to his death.”
His daughter Kiddest Forsythe claimed: “My father had been beaten unconscious and his body and flat set alight.
“The gas taps were left on, presumably to obliterate the evidence.
“But there was not an explosion or casualties. His killers had no regard for him or his neighbours.
“His killing turned me into a statistic even before I was born. It turned my mother and me into a single parent family.
“Whoever is responsible is not only a cold-blooded killer but also stole the life of an upstanding citizen and man of integrity.
Kiddest Forsythe “They stole my mum’s life and the love of a father I have never known.
“They have stolen my father’s presence at some of the happiest days of my life.
“Their theft will never stop – he will not be there for my wedding or my children’s birthdays. But whoever did this has lived and loved and carried on ever since.
“Bulic Forsythe was on the verge of exposing something.
“Boxes went missing around the time of his death and files were moved from his desk.
“Now, 23 years later, we are still waiting for justice. I am not even sure what justice would look like.”
Former officer of trade union NALGO Stephen Heath said he had met Hosey days before he died.
Heath was a Lambeth housing officer from 1985-91 and worked for Lambeth’s corporate anti-fraud team from 1998-2001.
“Hosey died in mysterious circumstances,” claimed Heath. “He joined Lambeth to serve his community, which might sound naïve these days.
“Inadvertently, he seems to have stumbled across something.
“I bumped into him one day and he was sweating like someone who fears his life is in danger. We agreed to speak the following week. We never got the chance.
“He decided to paint his front door, in Barrington Block in Coldharbour Lane.
“He fell over the balcony and died. If you are going to kill yourself, there are better ways.
“And why would you start painting your front door if you are about to do that? There are so many things it raises.
“He wanted to make sure it came out. Whether he saw people coming towards him and decided to jump – I don’t know. But it stinks – the whole bloody thing.
“Council officer Sari Conway, an acting senior officer, was the victim of a campaign of intimidation after investigating a pornography ring in the council. She had her flat ransacked in Brockley. When it came to appointing someone to the role she was filling in, she did not get the job.
“I suspect there may be deaths of children involved somewhere down the line.”