Children's homes 'were gulags'

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The Independent Online
FIVE major police enquiries are currently going on into alleged abuse in Britain's children's homes, which have been magnets for paedophiles and a "gulag archipelago" of horror for the children living there, according to a council social services chairman.

"The evidence emerging is that children's homes were a gulag archipelago stretching across Britain - wonderful places for paedophiles but, for the children who suffered, places of unending nightmares," said Malcolm King, chairman of social services in Clwyd, north Wales, which has seen the country's biggest police investigation into child abuse.

Mr King was speaking ahead of the publication of an independent report into the Clwyd scandal, which resulted in four people being jailed and up to 20 former residents of homes in the county seeking compensation. The report is expected to appear later this month. "There are five major police inquires that we are aware of," he said yesterday. "We understand each is as large as the Clwyd inquiry - and 4,000 people were interviewed here."

Compensation cases are also pending for past abuse in children's homes in other areas. Seven people are claiming compensation in the wake of the case of Frank Beck, sentenced to five life terms in 1991 for sexually abusing more than 100 children in Leicestershire County Council homes. Their claims are currently being heard in the High Court. These are lead cases, and another 30 could follow.

In the past six years Clwyd has drastically reduced the numbers of children in residential homes from 120 to 15. Similar reductions have taken place in other districts.

"The picture that has emerged is one where most children who went into care were virtually abandoned within the care system and separated from the mainstream of other children within the community," Mr King said yesterday. "They were labelled as bad, and their stories were not believed.

"Successive reports have indicated that children's homes usually employed untrained staff who were poorly supervised and separated from the mainstream of social work. Generally children did not have care plans, and their progress or lack of it was rarely reviewed."

He said that staff had suffered too. "There were some brilliant staff and some very good staff who were also abandoned. There are now a lot of examples of staff who have been extremely badly damaged in the process.

"My view initially was, what the hell were the rest of the staff doing? But paedophiles don't go around with labels on: they are very good actors and other staff were not trained to spot the signs.

"A pattern that is also emerging is that the people involved were people who were in controlling positions in homes, which made it very difficult for other staff to complain."