Terrible legacy that haunts so many children

VICTIMS OF THE ABUSERS: How the architects of suffering escaped detection for d ecades
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The Independent Online
When Frank Beck resigned after 13 years of running children's homes in Staffordshire a decade ago, he wanted a reference to apply for a post with a social-work agency. The local social services wrote enthusiastically that he was "above questioning."

It emerged five years later that Beck had led a reign of abuse from 1973 to 1986 at three children's homes in the county. The man who was above questioning was a vicious paedophile who had sexually, emotionally and physically abused more than 100 children in his care.

No case could better sum up the failings of social services for the care of children who cannot live with their own families. Although Beck was eventually given five life sentences in 1991, and died in prison of a heart attack in 1994, he has left a legacy in the recurring nightmares of the children he abused and the loopholes that remain in the system.

Despite the fact that children reported Beck and he was interviewed four times by police in the Seventies and Eighties over abuse allegations, he was cleared each time. The police, according to the subsequent inquiry, were not predisposed to believe the children.

But no formal system was ever set up to address complaints against Beck, who used his infamous regression therapy on his charges who were forced to wear nappies, and was convicted of rape and buggery.

The absence of a central regulatory body meant there was no one to appeal to outside the authority. The lack of interest was summed up by one social worker in the report who said: "I have hard kids to place and here was someone who would take them without asking too many questions. I dare not upset him."

Other councils were anxious to believe that the Beck scandal could never happen in their homes. But across Britain abuse has been exposed in care homes. Among the greatest concerns has been the suspicion that paedophile groups were operating in homes. More than 60 children were thought to have been involved in a ring involving council staff and external abusers in Islington, north London.

In the inquiry that followed last year by Ian White, Oxfordshire's director of social services, he warned that Islington's failure to deal with a further set of allegations in the early Nineties meant staff who may have abused children could be working in childcare elsewhere in the country.

The report put local councillors in the dock as well as employees. It said managers were too terrified to deal with staff in a fiercely politically correct regime for fear of being called homophobic or racist.

The revelations of abuse in Staffordshire of more than 140 children in the Eighties were equally damning. Tony Latham, a social worker, was the architect of the policy known as "pin-down" for controlling difficult children in homes.

They were kept in isolation for weeks at a time in a bare room; many were forced to breaking point where they attempted suicide. But Barry O'Neil, the then director of social services, said of Latham, the policy was "to let him get on with it and not to interfere as long as he produced the goods".

When he was finally exposed, an inquiry launched in 1991 concluded he had lost sight of "minimum standards of behaviour and professional practice".

But perhaps the most disturbing scandal is that of Clwyd, North Wales, in the Seventies and Eighties, where more than 100 children may have suffered sexual abuse in homes.

The attempts to suppress the report into what took place has provoked concern about how deep the corruption went. There have been calls for a public investigation of claims that social workers procured boys for people outside the homes and used the boys themselves for sex.

The most enduring legacy of the scandals must be the revelation that 12 former residents of homes in North Wales are dead, in circumstances that have been linked to their time in care.