Strained relations with police hampered inquiries

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The report calls for an urgent independent inquiry into the police investigation of complaints of abuse at children's homes in Clwyd.

It also criticises the way the joint investigation was handled, and wants a national database set up to establish links between sex offenders. The report also reveals that a dossier of names of "suspicious" people was presented to police by Clwyd in 1991: "A number of former residents we interviewed stated that they made complaints when they absconded from their residential units. Indeed they frequently absconded precisely because of the abuse they were experiencing within their units.

"The independent panel heard from a number of informed sources ... that the relationship between the Chief Constable and some representatives of the council were strained. Additionally, we were told by a number of social services staff of dissatisfaction at operational level with their dealings with the police.

"Since we were not able to meet with any police officers during our investigation we were unable to confirm or refute this. It would appear that the policy of joint investigation of child matters was not followed in Clwyd in a major police investigation instigated in 1991. We were told that the rationale for this was that the majority of complainants being interviewed were now adults.

"Our understanding of the manner in which the police investigation was mounted stems from the letter of July 1991 from the county solicitor to the Chief Constable outlining a number of concerns regarding residential childcare in Clwyd.

"It raises the issue of a paedophile ring in North Wales. It also contains ... a list of suspicions, and a list of named individuals about whom there were queries. Following this letter an extensive police investigation took place.

"The new Chief Constable for North Wales, Michael Argent, declined to meet with the independent panel; although he provided some statistical data to use, many of our questions remain unanswered.

"Findings: It has become evident during our investigations that the public and some social work professionals, have serious concerns about the involvement of the police in the recent investigation which may compromise future collaborations in child-protection matters...

"It appears to us that much of the major police investigation was managed in such a way that precluded the utilisation of Clwyd's existing professional social work skills and expertise in child protection.

"It is our view that retrospective allegations of child abuse made by former juveniles who have reached adult status should be given the same degree of investigatory care ... as [has] been developed in relation to young people under 18.

"We strongly urge that consideration be given to an inquiry, as a matter of urgency, into the police investigation of complaints of child physical and sexual abuse in Clwyd's residential homes ... We feel there is a need for a national database whereby in situations of suspected organised institutional abuse, connections can be made across police boundaries."

Turning to the work of the Welsh Social Services Inspectorate, which has responsibility for inspecting children's homes, the report says that there was no inspection of any Clwyd council residential children's home between 1984 and 1993.

"Indeed we have no knowledge of any inspection at Bryn Estyn [home] throughout the period when it was managed by the local authority, from 1974 onwards. We know that the former director of social services, Gledwyn Jones, wrote to the chief inspector in October 1990 requesting, with the agreement of the county council, an inspection into the running of[another Clwyd home]. The chief inspector declined.

"Our view, albeit with the benefit of hindsight, is that by that time the problems in Clwyd residential homes had reached an acute level, assistance from the Welsh Office ... might have gone towards identifying an abusive situation which only fully emerged over several years following the director's request for help.

"The Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State, Nicholas Bennett, [later] instructed the inspectorate to undertake a review ... In undertaking the review, considerable reliance was placed on a postal questionnaire to obtain a profile of the service and of individual homes. This had the disadvantage of being dependant on information submitted by the providers...

"The report analyses the responses of the eight Welsh local authorities. It states: 'These responses reveal a service which has been poorly directed and undermanaged. If good work is being done, it is in spite of the lack of ... explicit policies and a supportive management'.

"Among the conclusions of the report is: 'Training in the recognition of the signs of distress and the experiences of sexual abuse among children should be part of the skills package of all those working with children.'

"...There is a well-established constellation of factors which is frequently associated with poor management and residential care and with the attitudes and behaviour of staff and children which can give strong pointers towards the possibility of abuse.

"The factors identified as being present in situations of institutional abuse had all been consistently and obviously present in Clwyd over 20 years: Recruitment policy not standardised or rigorously implements. Lack of professional qualifications and insufficient in-house training. Inadequate police checks. Lack of clear role boundaries for staff. Confusions over responsibilities. Individual children targeted for special favours. High concentrations of vulnerable children with low esteem who are easier to target.

Lack of care plans. Little or no involvement of children's wider network, including family, friends, social worker and other professionals.

"We consider that a sensitive and regular programme of inspections, reviews, monitorings and spot checks is likely to provide the kind of support which encourages good professional practice. We consider unproven the Welsh Office statement that the 1992 review did not reveal the cause of concern which led to it.

"Access to information to the extent of internal investigations into Clwyd's residential services would have signalled to senior management at the Welsh Office that residential care for children was in a precarious and potentially dangerous state."

One care worker's shady past

April 1974. Applied for senior houseparent post at one home (Little Acton), was offered another (Bryn Estyn) instead.

June 1974. Told director of an offence he had committed in his previous job. Twice interviewed successfully for senior houseparent post.

December 1978. First allegation of physical assault

March 1980. Director expressed concern after further similar physical assault complaint made against him.

September 1981. Three complaints of physical assault.

May 1982. Further complaint of physical assault.

January 1983. Further allegation of physical assault.

April 1984. Deployed to another home.

August 1985. Suspended after allegations of physical assault.

January 1986. Move to centre for mentally handicapped adults.

December 1986. Allegation of physical assault on resident.

August 1987. Requests transfer back to child care. March 1992, arrested in a major police investigation. November 1994, guilty of common assault and assault causing actual bodily harm. Suspended prison sentence of 15 months.