Leeds City Council has issued what is believed to be the first letter of apology to a woman who was groomed and abused in their care over 30 years prior.

The letter, signed by the Director of Children and Families Saleem Tariq, is a public admission of wrongdoing and responsibility: ‘It has been identified that different steps could have been taken to protect you, however this did not happen and I am very sorry this was the case.’

The individual who received the letter is going by the pseudonym ‘Carrie’.

Carrie first encountered legal battles when she, with two other women, fought against the requirement to reveal prostitution offences on Criminal Record (DBS) checks. The three women involved were each forced into sex work whilst under 18, and received multiple convictions under the Street Offences Act. Carrie’s prostitution began at age 14, and she received numerous convictions for soliciting, including nine received before she turned 18.

When preparing her statement for the case, it became clear that Carrie’s childhood, spent in the care of Leeds City Council, was characterised by neglect, sexual abuse, and exploitation. Her treatment and experiences led to Carrie showing signs of serious emotional trauma including self-harm. Her behaviour was not investigated, and her reports were not actioned. Carrie believes that she should have been supported to end the abuse as well as offered therapy.

Carrie spent two years from 1985 moving in and out of children’s home Shadwell House. This was designed to support Carrie following sexual abuse from her father, as her mother could not care for her due to severe mental health problems. Carrie was then admitted to Shadwell House full-time under a Place of Safety Order.

It was almost immediately that Carrie began to be ‘sexually, physically, emotionally, and mentally tortured.’ Her experiences began with a rape by two boys who were also residents in Shadwell House, about which staff wrote ‘staff opinion is that she was probably a willing participant in what happened.’

Further rapes occurred in the accommodation, with no action taken by staff. Melvin Blake, deputy principal of the house, ‘used to have [Carrie] sitting on his knee in his office, touching places that he shouldn’t be touching,’ and once hit her over the head with a drawer. Another member of staff, Leonard Lake, called her ‘promiscuous’ and a ‘slag’ when she reported being beaten up. Both have now been sentenced for sex-related crimes.

Staff at Shadwell House were aware of men who gathered in cars outside the house on evenings and weekends, bringing alcohol and cigarettes which were used to bribe the underage residents. Carrie was groomed by a pimp in this situation for three months, before he trafficked her from Leeds to London.

From age 14, Carrie was then sold within a brothel for at least three years. Refusals to perform were met with punishment, including beating with a bicycle chain and being made to walk the street in her underwear. The grooming, abuse, and exploitation led Carrie to try and run away from London, back to the abuse in Shadwell House. She noted ‘I had nowhere else to go.’

Carrie’s file at Shadwell House recorded that she was being bullied by the other residents for being involved in prostitution, and that she was being pimped out by a man known to staff, yet no staff intervened. She was subsequently arrested for solicitation in Bradford and detained at Westwood Grange remand centre. Both social workers and staff blamed Carrie for the arrest, and took no further action. After restrictions were lifted, Carrie found herself back on the streets with the same pimp, believing that he was her ‘boyfriend’. When she finally reported him to the police, no further action was taken as it was stated that they needed two further victims to corroborate the account.

At 15, Carrie was coerced into featuring in a pornographic film by men in Leeds. Again, she was held to blame. Carrie left school soon after with no qualifications, deeply rooted in prostitution, and pregnant. She was placed back with her mother, and the child was removed by the local authority. Carrie has successfully removed herself from sex work, but has since lived with the resulting emotional and physical trauma.

The apology letter has brought some comfort and most importantly, has acknowledged the Council’s role in the abuse suffered. Carrie believes that ‘this was not my fault. It was theirs’ and wishes to ensure no other girls in the care of the state will have the same experience.

Farleys has a team of abuse claims specialists who have extensive experience of hearing stories just like Carrie’s. While nothing can take away what a survivor has experienced, we often find that pursuing a claim for compensation can bring a sense of closure on these experiences and fund any treatment necessary going forward. To have a free, confidential chat with one of our team, please call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430, contact us by email, to use the online chat below.