Inquiry ordered into Welsh child homes abuse scandal

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The Independent Online
The Welsh Office is to open an investigation into one of Britain's worst scandals of abuse of children in care.

It is to appoint a leading barrister to investigate the circumstances behind allegations that have involved more than 46 children's homes in North Wales, taken four years for the police to investigate and led to seven convictions for abuse.

The barrister, a QC, will advise the Government on whether a further public inquiry is needed. If an inquiry is recommended, it could assume the same importance as the 1988 Cleveland report which led to an overhaul of childcare law.

The investigation, which is expected to report within a few months and is likely to be made public, will focus on homes in Gwynedd and Clwyd. Malcolm King, chair of Clwyd social services committee, said: "It has always been our view that there is a real need for the fullest judicial inquiry into every aspect of the concerns that we identified and reported to the police in 1991.

"The sheer scale of the subject and the number of parties and agencies involved demands [it]. Such an inquiry would ensure that all those who wish to raise matters or to have their questions answered would be assured of hearing and it is only in this way that public confidence in the care of children can be restored."

The final prosecution resulting from the police investigation - the longest of its kind in British history - ended last Friday in Chester, when John Allen, aged 53, was jailed for six years for committing sex offences against boys at the Bryn Alyn home in Wrexham, where he had once been in charge.

Allen was found guilty of six offences of indecent assault which took place between 1972 and 1983 at the private residential home. He denied paying boys for sexual favours.

Last July, the deputy head of a council-run home, Bryn Estyn, was found guilty of assaulting seven boys between 1974 and 1984, when it closed. Peter Howarth was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The trial heard that he had invited boys to late-night "counselling sessions".

Judge Gareth Edwards told him: "You bring the whole system of child care in this country into disrepute. You shame the hard-working, underpaid and dedicated people who are the vast majority of care staff in our residential care institutions."

Howarth held his sessions four times a week for 10 years. In return boys received money, weekend leave and other favours. Established favourites, the court was told, would be allowed to act as his golf caddie.

Since launching the investigation in 1991, police have taken 2,000 statements involving 150 complaints. The Crown Prosecution Service received 58 files, but only seven people were convicted of offences against children.

Some of the victims have since issued writs for compensation against the two county councils. At present, however, local authorities are immune from actions in which negligence is alleged in child care. But the House of Lords is considering a test case which challenges this immunity.

Three victims at the Bryn Estyn home committed suicide after leaving - including Mark Humphreys, who gave evidence to the media, including the Independent on Sunday, in a libel trial following sex allegations made against Gordon Anglesea, a former police superintendent. Mr Anglesea won damages against the newspapers and a television station involved.