Child abuse victims welcome reports

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The Independent Online
CLAIMS for compensation for 86 victims of Frank Beck will be strengthened by reports detailing incompetence and mismanagement, according to a solicitor overseeing their cases.

Damages are expected to reach at least pounds 1m against Leicestershire County Council.

It employed Beck during his 13- year reign of terror in children's homes and is thought to have set aside pounds 5m to cover damages and costs.

Brian Dodds, the liaising solicitor for the 86 complainants who allege abuse by Beck and other staff in the county's children's homes, welcomed the report into their management by Andrew Kirkwood QC.

'It will be extremely useful. It can only reinforce the claims being made and will very significantly increase the damages because of the aggravating feature of negligence it highlights,' Mr Dodds said.

He added that many complainants would receive relatively small amounts, but at least 10 were likely to win pounds 70,000- pounds 100,000 in

damages.

Beck, a social worker, is serving five life sentences after being convicted in 1991 of charges of buggery, rape and sexually abusing children in his care.

The Kirkwood report, and another into the actions of Leicestershire police, said that the abuse continued, despite a succession of complaints, because of a combination of incompetence and negligence, ignorance and navety, by police officers and social services staff.

Despite scathing criticism of the inaction and mishandling of a succession of complaints by police and the social services, no police officer or Leicestershire County Council staff member involved in the Beck scandal has yet been

dismissed or faced disciplinary

proceedings.

A report by Chief Superintendent David Foster, of West Mercia police, said no officer would be disciplined because there was no 'equitable basis' for bringing disciplinary charges.

It also emphasised that there was no evidence of any criminal misconduct by officers.

The report added: 'It is not only the fact that many of the police officers we have identified in these 29 cases are now retired but there are other officers in these cases no less open to criticism whom we have not been able to identify.'

The council has set up a team of officers to see if any named member of staff or officer named in the report should face disciplinary action. 'No stone will be left unturned' in investigating the past conduct of staff, Brian Waller, Leicestershire's director of social services since 1988, said. But no action will be taken against staff and officials who have since resigned or retired.

Mr Waller also disclosed that in an internal council inquiry into the running of children's homes since Beck's conviction, complaints against a further 24 employees had been investigated.

Five of the complaints were investigated by police. One allegation of sexual abuse is still being investigated but in the other four cases no charges were brought.

Four staff were suspended, one for alleged sexual abuse, two for assault and one for bad child care practice. These are in addition to staff named in yesterday's report by Mr Kirkwood.

The police report contains some of the most serious criticism of officers in recent years, attacking their prejudice against the children and their open disbelief.

The police inquiry, conducted under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority, revealed that Beck's activities could have been exposed as early as 1977.

Ch Supt Foster's inquiry into 29 cases in which children complained of abuse between 1973 and 1986 uncovered a catalogue of errors by investigating officers.

'Mistakes occurred through a combination of incompetence, negligence and prejudice compounded by a lack of understanding about child abuse. They were also the product of an inadequate system,' he wrote.

The Kirkwood report shows that Beck was given a free hand to practise dubious 'regression therapy' techniques; that his methods were fundamentally abusive and that although unqualified in therapeutic techniques he was considered an expert by nave officers.

It criticises the lack of a coherent child care strategy, weaknesses in every tier of management, ineffectual monitoring of homes, and says warning signs of Beck's gross sexual offences and humiliating regression therapy went

unheeded.

Tim Yeo, an Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health, said: 'The terrible catalogue of abuse perpetrated by Frank Beck, ran unchecked as

a result of (the) council's abysmal failure to conduct even the most basic management scrutiny.'

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