Lambeth Council has maintained a stony silence about its interactions with a sect that allegedly held three women in servitude for 30 years at up to 13 different addresses in South London predominantly in Lambeth. While refusing to comment to the media, Lambeth Press office has issued a succession of what are effectively “gagging orders” to members. It is still warning them against making comments to the press or speaking to journalists nearly two weeks after the news broke.
I respect the need to ensure that nothing is said that jeopardises any legal proceedings. Of course that is right, but for me the very act of trying to control the media and curb free speech in this way reminds me of Lambeth in the 1990s, when dreadful things were happening to some children in Lambeth’s care and every attempt was made to stop councillors speaking out about it.
In fact the firmer the grip the Council exerts, the more I believe questions have to be asked.
Some of the key unanswered questions for the council are these:
- What interactions did the council have with the household – the youngest of whom was born into the commune – over 30 years?
- Why did the youngest adult allegedly never go to school ?
- How did Lambeth Housing handle their multiple applications for council accommodation?
- What did Lambeth Finance do about the household’s housing benefit and council tax benefit claims?
- Why was this household never on the electoral register despite the council’s claim to canvass properties for electoral registration once a year?
Lambeth Conservatives are the only group on the council so far to have publicly called for an inquiry to establish the facts rather than to cast blame—the Liberal Democrats have said nothing on the record. Labour back benchers are under a draconian whip and in any case rarely breach the party line not even those sponsored by the Co-operative Party.
If the council had no dealings with this household then it would have been easy to say that from the outset.
Knowing the chaos the council was in from the late 1970s to the late 1990s it is possible that records have been removed or destroyed and that those in the know may have moved on or retired. In the 1990s Lambeth Council was mired in controversy over abuse in its children’s homes which were then closed down by the 1994-1998 hung council in which all three major parties shared power; but it won’t be enough to blame this on the past.
The key questions need to be answered so Lambeth can move on and ensure this never happens again. Unfortunately the silence from the Council simply reminds of us of Lambeth’s history and does nothing to get us to that better future.