Dorrell pressed over children's homes scandal

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The Independent Online
The Government has refused to commit itself to a public inquiry into the biggest child abuse scandal to date in Britain's children's homes, despite pleas from victims anxious to close loopholes in the system to protect children at present in care.

More than 250 children are believed to have been systematically abused by paedophiles, who targeted homes in north-west England between 1964 and 1993. Eight former workers have already been convicted of serious crimes against children and there are a number of trials outstanding.

Eighty-five former residents are now pursuing legal damages against four homes in the area and they plan to take their cases to the High Court.

Peter Garsden, the solicitor co-ordinating the victims' action, has written repeatedly to Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, calling for a commitment to a public inquiry once the outstanding trials are completed.

Mr Garsden said: "The victims are very angry at what happened to them. Their lives may have been ruined, but they want the system exposed to ensure the same things cannot happen to kids in care today.

"The Government has not given us this assurance, but it must not be allowed to ignore recommendations for change to the system. A public inquiry would force ministers to look at this again, and why on earth all these abuses went on for so long without anything being done about it."

The abuse in the homes appears to have been so widespread that the case has emerged as the biggest paedophile investigation in homes in Britain.

Judge William Wickham, who sentenced one of the former workers, said after the trial that social services heads should take heed from what had happened in the homes.

He said: "They should be horrified and alarmed by what these cases reveal, and there should be an inquiry. These are not matters that should be swept under the carpet."

A number of the victims have attempted suicide since they left the homes, while others have suffered from drink and drug addictions and serious psychological problems.

The victims plan to issue four High Court writs, on behalf of all of them, against four homes in north-west England. They will allege negligence, and claim those in positions of responsibility knew or ought to have known that the abuse was taking place.

Mr Garsden has written to Mr Dorrell on three occasions in the last six months calling for a public inquiry.

The Department of Health responded to his first two letters by saying that it would not consider committing to an inquiry while the criminal proceedings against other former care workers were outstanding. He is still awaiting a response to his latest letter, which was sent last month.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "There can could be no commitment to an inquiry before the trials are completed.

"Obviously this is something that ministers will look at when they are over, and they will come back to it then."

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