Police seek former care residents in child abuse probe

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Glenda Cooper

Social Affairs Correspondent

Two men working in local authority children's homes have been suspended after allegations of abuse dating back to the 1960s, police announced yesterday.

In one of Northumbria Police's biggest ever inquiries , detectives are trying to locate hundreds of former residents of children's homes between the 1960s and 1980s.

The investigation was set in motion after a resident of a Newcastle City Council children's home in the 1970s made allegations of abuse. Subsequent inquiries then resulted in more complaints being made. These allegations involve both sexual and serious physical abuse and the investigation is likely to be "lengthy but it is not known how wide-ranging it may prove to be" according to a police spokeswoman.

The inquiry is the latest in a growing number which have been triggered by allegations of sexual and physical abuse of young people by their professional carers.

The Department of Health said last night that "Ministers are very concerned to hear the serious allegations which are now being investigated by the police."

"We need to wait for the conclusion of police inquiries and any possible proceedings. If these allegations are substantiated ministers will want to see that lessons are learnt."

The two men's current employers are not being named. However, during their careers they have also worked for four further councils, and the investigation's scope has been widened to take in these authorities. Police tonight refused to name the other authorities, but Northumberland and Gateshead are believed to be among the four.

Detective Chief Superintendent David Wilson, who is leading the inquiry has more than thirty officers working on the investigation. He said that the first allegation was made at the end of May.

"From that, the investigation uncovered a number of other allegations of serious sexual abuse and subsequent strategy meetings developed into what we are announcing today." he said. "We are still at the foundation stage of the investigation and are seeking information to decide how big it is going to be. Probably when we have achieved that we may be in a position to give more information."

When the potential scale is known he said that it might be "prudent to seek the experiences gained by the investigations in Cheshire and north- west England"

Stressing that the investigation was essentially looking at events of past decades, he added: "We must get across that the care and supervision of homes in the late 1990s is totally different to that in the late 1960s and early 1970s."

rAny former children's home resident who has information which could help the inquiry is asked to call a special incident room on 01661 868680.