North Wales abuse inquiry urges shake-up in child care

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RADICAL proposals for a shake-up of child care in Britain was spelt out yesterday by the senior lawyer for the North Wales abuse tribunal.

A central vetting agency for staff, independent complaints' officers, a general council to police social work standards, and a new national child care strategy were among the proposals put forward by Gerard Elias QC, counsel for the tribunal.

In his closing speech on the last day of the public hearings he also urged that where necessary abusers be named.

"Physical and sexual abuse of children is about as abhorrent an evil as may be imagined and its rooting will require those who have been demonstrated to carry responsibility for its perpetration to be named as such so that never again shall they have the opportunity of contaminating the system of child care," he said.

Yesterday, 15 months after its first meeting the tribunal, which is estimated to have cost more than pounds 10m, ended its public hearings.

The tribunal chairman, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, will now produce a report with a series of recommendations for the Secretary of State for Wales.

The tribunal has heard from about 250 alleged victims of abuse and Mr Elias said: "It is submitted that the substantial majority of complainants endeavoured to tell the tribunal the truth about their experiences in care."

He dismissed suggestions that compensation had been a motive: "The theory that many had conspired to perjure themselves in order to fill their pockets with compensation became more unrealistic with every passing week of evidence.

"Complainants gave a number of reasons for not complaining at the time, principally that they felt they would not be believed, they feared retribution, there was no complaints procedure, the shame and embarrassment, and most depressing of all, that fact that violence was simply part of the regime and to complain would be pointless."

On one home, Bryn Estyn, he said "The inescapable conclusion is that those in charge of the home did all they could to ensure that complaints did not reach the ears of anyone outside its confines."

Of another home he said: "The overall picture is of a regime which resembles more that of a detention centre than a children's home."

Mr Elias then went on to look at suggestions of a paedophile ring operating in the area: "The tribunal has made detailed inquiries of all police forces carrying out investigations into child abuse in order to seek to establish whether there were links between alleged abusers from North Wales and suspects named in those investigations," he said.

"Those inquiries have revealed no significant evidence linking, for any paedophile purposes, abusers from this area with those from any other areas.

"There is very little to suggest that there was any kind of systematic attempt by a network of abusers to find employment in children's homes."

The Welsh Office came in for criticism from the Mr Elias, as did the management in both Clwyd and Gwynedd councils.

Years of torment, page 16