Decades of child abuse alleged

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THOUSANDS OF children may have suffered abuse in Britain's care homes in the 1970s and 1980s, according to detectives.

Sample interviewing by police officers of former residents of homes has revealed that 7 per cent of those approached alleged some kind of abuse.

It is the first indication of the potential scale of the abuse, both physical and sexual, that went on for decades behind the closed doors of the residential care system.

Detective Superintendent John Robbins, who has led Merseyside's Operation Care for the past two years, said: "In those days you could be a bin man one day and a care worker the next."

Although there have been a number of high-profile cases involving the abuse of children in care, including the pindown scandal in Staffordshire, the Beck affair in Leicestershire, and the ongoing North Wales abuse tribunal, there has never been any clue to the scale of the problem nationally. Each police force has carried out its own investigation and there has been no national co-ordination.

But more than 40 police forces have now been involved in investigations and some of them have tried tracing all ex- residents, or carried out sample trawls of former residents of homes in their area. The North Wales tribunal also carried out a random sampling inquiry and had similar results.

In Britain's biggest investigation, on Merseyside, where allegations of abuse have been made by former residents of 70 homes, Det Supt Robbins said yesterday: "Our latest figures show that 7 per cent of the people we sampled and we approached have alleged abuse. When I started this investigation two years ago I said ... perhaps we should look at every care home on Merseyside. We are now reaching that stage."