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Charities defend children's minister

Margaret Hodge, under fire for the Islington child abuse scandal, has some allies. Michael Shaw reports

YOUNG people's charities have defended Margaret Hodge against calls that she should resign as children's minister for mishandling a child abuse scandal in Islington in the early 1990s.

The National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Children's Bureau said that Mrs Hodge should be judged on her future work and her record as early-years minister instead of on past mistakes.

The minister was Labour leader of Islington council between 1982 and 1992 when scores of young Londoners were being sexually abused by council staff.

Newspapers and Conservative MPs renewed calls for Mrs Hodge to resign this week after the Evening Standard printed a series of stories criticising the minister.

These included reports on the ongoing suffering of the Islington abuse victims and the revelation that Mrs Hodge had been warned about the scandal in 1990, two years before it came to light.

Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of the Sun, wrote that the minister was a "vain and silly woman" unsuitable for any job in public life.

However, Paul Ennals, chief executive of the NCB, said it was important to recognise Mrs Hodge's successes as early-years minister between 1998 and 2001. "We intend to monitor her progress to ensure that she has learned from the past errors which she has herself acknowledged," he said.

"But we believe that she should now be judged on what she achieves for children and young people."

The sentiments were shared by the NSPCC and The Children's Society - even though it employs former Islington residential home manager Cynthia Morris, one of the scandal's whistle-blowers.

Mrs Hodge has rejected calls for her resignation, claiming that her experiences in Islington made her better equipped for her role.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, she said: "Children must be kept safe, and through my experience I have learned to do that properly."

Prime Minister Tony Blair answered MPs' questions about the minister's suitability with a description of her successes with early-years education:

"That is a record of which she and we can be proud."

* More than a thousand children who act as unpaid carers signed a 40ft-high letter to Mrs Hodge this week calling for more support.

Last Word, 56

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