Names named in Welsh child abuse tribunal

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People who have never been prosecuted may be named as child abusers in the forthcoming North Wales child abuse tribunal, which meets for the first time next week.

Up to 100 alleged victims of abuse at children's homes in the counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd wish to give evidence, and some wish to name their alleged abusers, including senior figures who were formerly in positions of authority.

The tribunal, which meets for the first time next week to lay down the ground rules for the hearings, is expected to start taking evidence early next year and complete hearing within 12 months. Chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, it attracts judicial privilege to its proceedings, which means that evidence is protected from civil action.

Since the scandal first surfaced, a number of people who have not been prosecuted, some in senior positions, have been frequently linked in private to the widespread abuse of children at homes in Clwyd over two decades.

"The tribunal has the same powers as the High Court," said a spokesman for the Welsh Office. "They can summon witnesses and the production of documents, and refusal to comply can be dealt with as a contempt. When witnesses give their evidence it is as if they were giving evidence in the High Court and therefore they cannot be sued for deformation."

It is understood that while alleged abusers can be named, a court also has the discretion to stop publication of the names outside the court.

Zak Savio, who was abused at a home in North Wales and is a spokesman for Voices from Care - which campaigns for children who have been in the care system - said he would be giving evidence himself. "I believe that 50 to 70 other people who were at homes in North Wales will also want to give evidence about what happened to them.

"I see this is an opportunity for things that were wrong to be put right. It will all be done in the open and we look forward to that." But, he added, "It is a very traumatic experience to have to go through all that again."

Alison Taylor, the former social worker who compiled a dossier on alleged abuse in North Wales some time before investigations began, said, "If everyone I know about comes forward there would be a lot of witnesses, 200 or so, but I think about 100 will want to give evidence. They will also want to name alleged abusers as part of the evidence.

"Many will not want to give evidence because of the trauma, but will see it as the only way of starting the process of obtaining some acknowledgement of what happened to them."

The inquiry is only the fourth of its kind in the past 30 years since the 1966 Aberfan Disaster Inquiry. The other two tribunals are the on- going Dunblane Inquiry and the 1984 Crown Agents Inquiry.

The two other members of the tribunal who will sit with Sir Ronald will be Margaret Clough, a former social services inspector, and Morris John Le Fleming, former chief executive of Hertfordshire County Council.

The Welsh Secretary, William Hague, has also announced that Sir Ronald Hadfield, who retired earlier this year as chief constable of the west Midlands, will act as the tribunal's special adviser on police matters.

At the preliminary meeting on 10 September, Sir Ronald will outline the purposes and procedures of the tribunal. Anyone who wants to be heard or wants to be represented is invited to attend the meeting.

Included in the inquiry's terms of reference will be whether the caring agencies discharged their functions appropriately, and if they are doing so now.