Crimes in Cheshire the 'tip of an iceberg'

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The full extent of a widespread paedo-phile ring, whose members abused hundreds of children in care, can be revealed for the first time today.

Court orders restricting the reporting of details of several cases, for fear of prejudicing later trials, were lifted by Judge Huw Daniel at Chester Crown Court yesterday as he jailed the senior Cambridge-shire social services manager Keith Laverack for 18 years for abusing children in care.

Twelve paedophiles who preyed on hundreds of vulnerable youths in children's homes in Cheshire and Merseyside were exposed by one of the biggest investigations into child sex abuse ever mounted. Eleven have received lengthy prison sentences. Cheshire's social services department was one of the prime movers in the investigation when allegations first came to light.

None of the county council's own homes was involved but the department worked closely with the police on investigations which began in August 1993 and developed into a massive and complex three-year operation which cost the authority roughly pounds 250,000.

Police and social workers in Cheshire and Merseyside worked closely to investigate allegations from former residents of children's homes, their attentions focusing on Greystone Heath approved school in Warrington. Cheshire investigations alone unearthed a total of 534 allegations, 353 of them sexual.

However, the social services officer who helped mastermind the wide- ranging investigation into the homes in Cheshire warned yesterday that the crimes unearthed in the county were only the tip of a national iceberg, with similar events waiting to be uncovered all over the country stretching back to the Sixties and Seventies.

David Whitehead, Social Services Officer (Operations) for Cheshire, said: "The way in which this country treated its children in care 20 or 30 years ago was intrinsically unsafe," he said. "We must not make the same mistakes again, however tempted we might be because of the strong emotions that are raised about children who cause trouble."

With further child sex allegations still coming to light, the Cheshire force is setting up a permanent Paedophile Investigation Unit. On Merseyside, detectives are investigating allegations of abuse in about 17 more homes.

Senior officers are convinced similar patterns of widescale abuse by paedophiles in children's homes in the Sixties and Seventies will emerge from other investigations around the country.