Child abuse: North Wales care home scandal inquiry urged

Keith Towler Children's Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler said there was a need for a new inquiry

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First minister Carwyn Jones will meet Wales' children's commissioner on Tuesday after calls were made for a fresh inquiry into child abuse at north Wales care homes in the 1970s and 80s.

It follows claims by one of the victims that he was abused by a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician.

A three year inquiry into the abuse which spoke to 650 people was published in 2000 by Sir Ronald Waterhouse.

But criticism has been made over the constraints of that inquiry.

Correction 10 November 2012: The BBC has apologised unreservedly for broadcasting a report on Newsnight on 2 November over allegations of child abuse which transpired to have involved a case of mistaken identity. As a result the video of the original report has been removed from the website. More details can be found here.

Wales' Children's Commissioner Keith Towler says he suspects a group were protected by each other's power, enabling the abuse to continue.

It follows criticism from Steve Messham, one of hundreds who were sexually abused during that period.

He says he was abused by a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician.

Mr Messham said the Waterhouse Inquiry report, which looked into the allegations and came out in 2000, uncovered just a fraction of the abuse centred around the Bryn Estyn care home in north Wales.

Start Quote

I think we need to sit down and understand what it is that Mr Messham is saying”

End Quote Keith Towler Children's Commissioner for Wales

In response, Mr Towler says Mr Messham's claims have to be taken seriously and the police and other authorities should have the chance to investigate.

But Carwyn Jones said there needs to be more than one complainant to merit another abuse inquiry and that he is urgently trying to establish what the terms of reference were for the Waterhouse abuse inquiry.

Speaking on Sunday Mr Towler said: "Mr Meesham says that perhaps 30% of what he wanted to say he wasn't allowed to say and it wasn't clear to him why.

"By today's standards that's completely unacceptable."

He added: "I think we need to sit down and understand what it is that Mr Messham is saying.

"We need to understand the terms of reference of the north Wales child abuse inquiry that that Ronald Waterhouse took forward and what the boundaries were to that - what he was able to look at and what he wasn't able to look at.

"What's interesting over the last 48 hours or so is that people are saying that maybe people are being protected, maybe the establishment is being protected.

"By today's standards, whenever you look at the allegations that a victim is making, it's always the wrong thing to try to defend an individual or an institution in favour of looking fully at what happened to somebody who suffered abuse.

'Very concerned'

"That's what I'll be saying to the first minister."

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was "very concerned" by the latest claims.

"Even though the allegations relate to the period before devolution, we believe in transparency in dealing with such issues, but are unable to comment further until we have more detail."

A Downing Street spokesman said in response to claims about a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician: "Allegations of crimes should be reported to the police and fully investigated.

"If someone is concerned that an allegation was reported in the past but not fully investigated, they should raise this with the police or relevant authority so that they can look again at what happened."

In the early 1990s, allegations of the abuse in almost 40 childrens' homes in Wales started to surface and in March 1994 Clwyd County Council commissioned an independent inquiry into claims of widespread abuse across north Wales.

But the inquiry's report was never published and the copies were pulped to ensure the local authority was able to maintain its insurance cover.

In the wake of this, and amid growing public pressure, in 1996 the-then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, ordered an inquiry into allegations of hundreds of cases of child abuse in care homes in former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd between 1974 and 1990.

'Shadowy figure'

The tribunal, led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, heard evidence from more than 650 people who had been in care from 1974 and took almost three years to publish its report.

Counsel for the inquiry mentioned the existence of a shadowy figure of high public standing, but said that there was no substantial evidence to support the allegations.

The Waterhouse Inquiry identified 28 alleged perpetrators but they were never identified in public.

Malcolm King, who led the campaign for a judicial inquiry and became a leading board member of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre told Radio Wales there were areas the inquiry did not go into deeply enough.

"It did acknowledge that there was a paedophile ring operating but didn't look into it or accept evidence of it," he said.

"There are a number of places where it didn't accept evidence where I believe it should have and as a result it left the feeling that somehow other people didn't really want to get at the whole truth."

Chris Ruane, Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd, is backing Mr Towler's call for a new inquiry but thinks it could also provide scope for a bigger UK-wide inquiry.

Bryn Estyn deputy head, Peter Howarth, was jailed in 1994 for 10 years for sexually abusing teenage boys. He died in jail.

Anyone with information into these allegations - or who needs support on the issues raised in this article - can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk, or call their local police station by dialling 101.

Correction 10 November 2012: The BBC has apologised unreservedly for broadcasting a report on Newsnight on 2 November over allegations of child abuse which transpired to have involved a case of mistaken identity. As a result the video of the original report has been removed from the website. More details can be found here.

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