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Children in the care of Lambeth Council faced death threats, punishment and disbelief when they attempted to report sexual abuse, an inquiry has heard.

Paedophiles targeted young people in children’s homes run by the south London local authority for decades, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard on Monday.

But inquiry barrister Rachel Langdale QC said responses to allegations of sexual assault ranged from “explicit disbelief and punishment to limited efforts to remove the alleged perpetrator from their role”.

The inquiry hearing, which is due to last four weeks, will investigate whether there were failures in child protection by various public authorities, including the Metropolitan Police Service and Lambeth Council.

Former residents of the council-run children’s homes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s claimed they were physically and sexually abused by those responsible for their care.

“This investigation raises fundamental questions as to whether life was any better or indeed whether it was far worse after they (children) came into Lambeth’s care,” Ms Langdale said.

While some staff witnessed abuse against children at the homes, they did not always report it or investigate it properly, the inquiry heard.

One girl at the Shirley Oaks home in Croydon – which could accommodate up to 350 children – was told by her abuser that if she reported what he had done “he’d kill her”, Ms Langdale said.

“She (the girl) was terrified and believed him,” said Ms Langdale.

“When she did find the courage to tell people, she was not believed.”

The inquiry also heard how a housemother found an “alleged perpetrator” in the bedroom of a girl he had sexually assaulted.

Ms Langdale said: “He sexually assaulted her, then hid under the bed before assaulting her again, and then hid behind the door when she went to get help.

“The housemother caught him behind the door and told him to leave.”

Ms Langdale said the girl had been “too afraid” to tell the housemother what had happened, and was instead made to “feel responsible”.

The inquiry also heard how Lambeth Council’s Angell Road home – which opened in 1981 – was run by the “convicted child sex abuser” Michael Carroll, who was also known as John Carroll.

Ms Langdale said: “You will hear that Lambeth came to know of his conviction from Croydon Council when Carroll and his wife applied to become foster parents (there).”

She added: “Lambeth officials decided that Carroll should not be dismissed on account of his previous conviction, nor on account of his concealment of it.”

Carroll was instead dismissed in 1991 because of “financial irregularities”, the inquiry heard.

He was jailed for 10 years at Liverpool Crown Court in 1999 after admitting a string of sexual assaults against children while working in residential care between 1966 and 1986.

The inquiry hearings are due to take place over 20 days, spread out between June 29 and July 10, and from July 20 to July 31.

Some 33,445 documents have been received as part of the investigation, including 24,244 pages of disclosures, Ms Langdale said.

Further opening statements from core participants will be heard on Tuesday.

The inquiry continues.