Letter highlights 'worrying' fear

Child sex claims: Inquiry team seeks assurances over final report
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An independent inquiry team investigating allegations of sexual abuse of young children at a council-run centre for children in Newcastle has asked for reassurances that its report will be published.

Dr Richard Barker and the team have been told that the local authority's lawyers are now investigating whether the report should be published in the wake of the controversial decision in North Wales not to publish the 300-page report into a decade of child abuse at children's homes in Clwyd.

A confidential letter to the team from Newcastle council's lawyers says that a barrister who chaired another inquiry, will be asked for advice. It says: "Hopefully he can provide us with ammunition we could use should there be any dispute with our insurers."

The move by Dr Richard Barker and his three colleagues, who were called in to investigate by the city council in Newcastle, follows widespread concern about the influence of insurers in the Clwyd investigation and the subsequent non-publication of that report.

William Hague, the secretary of State for Wales, has now told councils to find a way of publishing the report, and he is also believed to be talking to other ministers about the insurance issue. John Jillings and the team who carried out the investigation in Clwyd are also concerned about the role of insurers. Their report reveals that the insurers did not want an investigation because of the useful information it might provide for possible litigants.

The Newcastle inquiry was set up following allegations that young children at a council-run nursery had been sexually abused by workers. It is understood that at least 20 children are alleged to have been victims of abuse.

The team is led by Dr Barker, principal lecturer in social work at the University of Northumbria. Other members are Dr Jacqui Saradjian, a clinical psychologist specialising in child abuse issues, Roy Wardell, a former director of social services in Barnsley, and Judith Jones, a social worker.

Dr Barker said yesterday: "We were told when we began that the report would be published and have no reason to believe that that position has changed." He declined to make any further comment.

The council letter refers to a report which says that the duty of an authority to protect its finances from legal action may take precedence over the duty to protect children from the mistakes and failings of the past.

"If this is correct it is very worrying,"the letter says.

Meanwhile, the lawyers of councils who took over from Clwyd County Council in local government reorganisation met yesterday to discuss what action to take following Mr Hague's instruction that they produce a publishable version of the Jillings report.

The lawyers will now report back to their councils and there are fears that it may take weeks for decisions to be made as the reports of the lawyers become entangled in the monthly and in one case, two-monthly committee cycles of the councils.

Andrew Loveridge, from Flintshire council, said after the meeting: "The legal advisers have now met and will be briefing their own leaders and chief executives.

"Until everyone has received that briefing and a mechanism has been agreed by the councils to take this forward, Flintshire, which has a co- ordinating role, is not in a position to make any further comment."

Flintshire is already looking at the possibility that an agreement may not be reached. The council has told the Secretary of State for Wales that if the councils cannot agree he will have to appoint an arbitrator.

The letter also says that Mr Hague now has all the other reports and legal advice and is the best person to make a decision.

It adds: "With all that information clearly you are the person best placed to consider all of the issues including whether or not you should call a full judicial review."

The letter also tackles Mr Hague about not acting when the report was sent to him by Clwyd council.

"It is clear that you have singularly failed to grasp the opportunity presented to you by Clwyd," it says.