3,000 in new abuse scandal

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The Independent Online
Police have launched a third full-scale investigation into allegations of sexual and physical abuse in children's homes in the North-west, this time on Merseyside where a team of detectives is trying to trace 3,000 former residents of the homes.

The Merseyside investigation, centred on 15 children's homes and covering allegations stretching back over the last 20 years, comes hard on the heels of inquiries into widespread abuse in homes in North Wales and Cheshire.

It will fuel claims that there was paedophile activity stretching across the North-west and beyond in the 1970s and into the 1980s, with children being moved between homes in the region and abused systematically.

A team of 20 detectives set up by Merseyside police to investigate the allegations of abuse which date back to the 1970s, are expected to work for at least the next 12 months on the inquiry, which may be extended to other homes.

As The Independent revealed earlier this year, in neighbouring Cheshire nearly 4,000 former residents of homes have been traced by a special squad of detectives leading Britain's biggest investigation into institutional child abuse. Several former care workers have been jailed and the investigation is still under way.

Across the border in Clwyd, half a dozen care workers have been jailed for offences against children, and a pounds 6m judicial public inquiry into the scale of abuse at homes in North Wales is due to start in January. In the Clwyd homes, about 100 young people were abused and at least 12 people have died in circumstances related to their experiences in the homes. During the police inquiry more than 3,000 statements were taken.

The sheer size of the investigations in the North-west, involving tracing or interviewing up to 10,000 people, will also renew calls for a wider Royal Commission into what really went on inside children's homes in the Seventies and Eighties.

Parents of children who have been abused in Cheshire have already called for such an inquiry. "We don't want it to stop at North Wales. We want a public inquiry here too to show people what went on," a spokesman said.

Operation Care launched by Merseyside police is the latest in a series of inquiries into allegations of abuse dating back to the 1970s at children's homes. It follows a smaller inquiry by the force, Operation Van Gogh, which centred on another two homes and resulted in four separate convictions with sentences totalling 47 years.

Detective Superintendent John Robbins, who heads the inquiry, said yesterday: "We will be tracing about 3,000 people are we are looking at 15-plus homes. "What we have found is that victims are now recognising that things had gone wrong and that people will now listen to them. There was a perception that years ago people would not listen to these sorts of complaints. Now we are listening we are getting people coming forward.

"I have also been very proactive in getting people to come forward too because we feel there is a need to deal with this thing in its entirety. I invite victims to speak with my officers by letter or by knocking on doors. We expect to interview more than 3,000."

There have been claims that an organised paedophile network operated in the North-west in the Seventies and Eighties. But senior police officers believe it was more informal and haphazard.

Jobs in children's homes in those days were low-paid and difficult to staff, and were often run in isolation from the main social services departments.

Children were also frequently transferred between homes and the workers themselves regularly changed jobs.

A detective involved in the North-west investigations said: "I don't think there was an organised and structured paedophile ring as it is commonly seen.

"It was people attracted to the work for the wrong reason and then networking. I interviewed a convicted paedophile in prison and he said the key was like-minded people.

"He told me, `If I walk into a room I know within three minutes the people who think like me'. "

Earlier this year The Independent campaigned to improve conditions in children's homes, introduce better training programmes for staff and for tighter controls on the activities of convicted paedophiles, some of whom had found it easy to move around the homes.

The Government subsequently ordered a national inquiry into the systematic sexual and physical abuse suffered by hundreds if not thousands of young people.

It also announced plans for a national register of convicted sex offenders, including an index of paedophiles.

While the largest police inquiries have centred on the North-west, there have been scandals involving homes in Leicestershire, Islington, north London, and other cases have emerged in Norfolk, Hereford and Worcester, Essex and Berkshire.

Leading article, page 13

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