`No cover-up' pledge as inquiry judge is named

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The Government yesterday drafted in a former High Court judge to hold a public inquiry into abuse in children's homes in North Wales in the hope of closing what William Hague, Secretary of State for Wales, described as "a very sad chapter in the history of public childcare".

Some 200 children are believed to have been abused while in care in the former county of Clwyd and the deaths of12 young men have been linked to their horrific experiences. A report by the county council has never been published for fear of legal action for defamation.

Seven former childcare workers were convicted, but speculation has continued that the actual abuse was on a "much greater scale", Mr Hague told the Commons.

Simultaneously, Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, published the terms of a wider review of safeguards for children living away from home. The review by Sir William Utting, former chief of the Social Services Inspectorate, follows a series of disclosures in the Independent and Independent on Sunday of abuse in children's homes in Clwyd and Cheshire.

Sir Ronald Waterhouse, 70, a former judge of the High Court Family Division, will consider the abuse of children in care in the former counties of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974.

Welcoming the inquiry, Ron Davies, Labour's spokesman on Wales, pressed for it to examine the role of the North Wales police and the Crown Prosecution Service. He said there were allegations that police files relating to abuse in Gwynedd had "disappeared", and one individual in the CPS was alleged to have decided that prosecutions in respect of "hundreds" of allegations would not have been in the public interest.

Mr Hague confirmed that Sir Ronald will be free to examine the role of the police and the CPS, and also the much-criticised Welsh Office social services inspectorate which, according to the unpublished Jillings report, did not inspect a single children's home in Clwyd during the years when the allegations were emerging. "The Government is determined that there should be no cover-up ... and that every possible step is taken to protect children in care in future," Mr Hague said.

New rules to combat the suppression of reports into child abuse are urged by Adrianne Jones, former director of social services in Birmingham.

Her report, the 15th into child abuse in Clwyd and Gwynedd and the first to be published, comes in the wake of concern that councils have been under pressure from insurance companies not to publish child abuse investigations results because former residents might use them to make claims ...

"We believe that action needs to be taken by government to clarify issues of status, indemnity and extent of publication of case review material," she says.