A top barrister has vindicated a weekly newspaper’s investigation into a councillor’s past links to a pro-paedophile campaign group which prompted a review into an historic child abuse scandal.
An independent review carried out by Sarah Morgan QC on behalf of Islington Council has backed claims made by the Islington Gazette, first published in May 2017, about alleged previous links between former council member Sandy Marks and a group called Fallen Angels.
The Gazette had asserted that Ms Marks, who was involved with both the council and children’s services for a number of years in different capacities, had personally been involved with a group “with an interest with sexual activity in children” only two years before first holding positions of responsiblity within the authority.
Ms Marks had denied the allegations but as a result of the Gazette’s investigation, the council commissioned Ms Morgan to undertake a review of the allegations and whether they had impacted on the conclusions of an earlier 1995 report on the abuse of children and young people in its care.
Ms Morgan’s 127-page paper was published on Wednesday after a review spanning eight months and involving thousands of pages of documents, as well as interviews with victims and survivors, Ms Marks herself, and with the Gazette staff who originally worked on the story in May 2017.
The Archant-owned weekly splashed on the outcome of the review in its latest edition published yesterday.
Fallen Angels was a group active in the late 70s and early 80s which campaigned for the release of five men on trial for involvement with the Paedophile Information Exchange, which backed the abolition of the age of consent.
In her report, Ms Morgan wrote: “Fallen Angels, the organisation, and those who spoke for it, of whom I am satisfied Sandy Marks was one, expressed support for […] an abolition of age of consent laws, and for what was described as the right to sexual self-determination for all, irrespective of gender and age.”
However, in deciding whether Ms Marks’s involvement with the Fallen Angels influenced her role on Islington Council between 1982 and 2001, Ms Morgan said: “I did not find evidence that Ms Marks appeared to be exercising control and direction in relation to children and their placement in care.”
She concluded: “I did not find anything which suggested to me that Ms Marks was carrying out duties on any committee or sub-committee or any combination in a way which was affected by [her] involvement in Fallen Angels.”
The Gazette says it first confronted Ms Marks with allegations about her past links to pro-paedophile groups in May 2017, and she initially said she did not remember the period in question.
But when shown a key piece of evidence, a grainy black-and-white photograph unearthed in minutes from an International Gay Association conference in 1980, at which Fallen Angels had distributed two papers, she accepted it showed her as a young woman.
The next day she said the Fallen Angels were “something stupid” she had been involved in, and she had not understood their message at the time, but she changed her story on the eve of publication to deny the allegations, claiming the photo wasn’t her and that the ‘Sandy Marks’ listed as a contact for the Angels at the conference could be someone else.
Ms Marks declined to comment on the report’s findings when approached by the Gazette.
Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel told HTFP: “[Former reporter] Emma Youle worked extremely hard on this investigation with a thoroughness and diligence that was remarkable. She spent hours in dusty archives, interviewed a large number of sources both on and off the record, and analysed pages and pages of documents, many of which made little sense in isolation but painted a shocking picture when pieced together.
“It was clearly a risk for us running something so controversial, and I remember none of the nationals seemed interested in touching it after we published, but we were confident in our sources and the research we’d done, which involved dozens if not hundreds of hours’ work over the course of several months. Nonetheless, it was a relief to have our findings backed up by an independent review.
“Children in Islington’s kids’ homes over a period of decades suffered the most appalling abuse. Reading some of their stories in Sarah Morgan’s report – as I have done in our own stories over the last three years – reminded me why it is so important to keep asking questions about this scandal.
“This report stops short of what a lot of them had hoped for, but it is still important to see our work vindicated and some of the issues being dragged back into the public sphere after so many years. We will continue to publish stories about this awful part of Islington’s past so long as there are people who want to tell them.”