The catalogue of child abuse that puts Britain to shame

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MORE THAN 40 police forces have been involved in investigations into allegations of abuse at care homes.

As a second man was arrested by North Yorkshire Police, it emerged that all but five of the country's 52 police forces have had similar investigations, most of them into abuse of children in care homes. Twenty-seven of the forces have carried out major abuse inquiries, using the Home Office large crimes computer.

It is estimated that nationally more than 2,000 former residents of homes have made abuse allegations and that more than 200 homes have or are being investigated.

Yesterday, as a 44-year-old man was arrested by police investigating allegations of abuse at a children's home in Ripon, research by one force revealed the scale of what has become almost a national investigation into allegations of abuse.

Merseyside, which has been involved in one of the longest running inquiries centred on more than 60 children's homes, asked all other forces whether or not they had been carrying out similar investigations.

"We asked them had their force been involved in any such investigation into abuse in a care setting, and 92 per cent said that they had, which works out at 47. All involve institutional care of some kind and most of the inquiries will involve alleged abuse of children," said Graham Thomas, deputy head of Merseyside's Operation Care.

"We also found that 27 used HOLMES - The Home Office Large Major Enquiry System - which indicates that the inquiry was major, or that it was expected to become a major one. The number of inquiries being launched seems to be on the up and up."

Most of the investigations relate to past abuse, with some dating back to the early 1970s. Almost all involve former care workers and at least 50 have been jailed, arrested or charged over the past eight years.

The cost of the inquiries is not clear, but the North Wales abuse tribunal alone - which is due to report later this summer - is estimated to have cost more than pounds 10m. In addition, there are the criminal compensation payments made to victims as well as the result of any civil litigation against local authorities or the owners of homes.

At least 400 men and some women who were allegedly abused in homes are seeking recompense for their pain and suffering. A handful of cases so far settled have resulted in payments of up to pounds 150,000.

More than 100 claims for damages from victims of the abuse scandals in Clwyd and Cheshire have been received by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Peter Bibby, a consultant and author of Organised Abuse, said: "The damning reality is that it has taken media exposure of these large institutions not only to reveal that widespread abuse is incubated inside, but also to force the hierarchies of such organisations to admit to it and to deal with the abusers they have been ignoring and sometimes hiding."

The scale of the continuing problem gives further weight to claims that the recommendations from independent inquiries over the past decade into a series of child abuse scandals have failed to be fully implemented.

Allan Levy QC, the leading child care law specialist and co-chairman of one of the first inquiries - into the Staffordshire "Pindown" physical abuse inquiry - spells out the problems in a new book, Whistleblowing in the Social Services.

"We must not ignore the fact that we already have many suggestions and recommendations from exhaustive inquires," he writes. "Why have these not been put into practice? What are the same mistakes being made and why is a great deal of avoidable suffering and damage still occurring?"

Merseyside has been among the biggest of the continuing inquiries. Under Operation Care, more than 60 homes have been investigated over the past three years. At the last count, more than 330 people had complained of abuse.

In North Wales, where Sir Ronald Waterhouse is writing his report after an 18-month investigation into abuse at children's homes, more than 400 former residents have claimed abuse.

That inquiry is expected to make a series of recommendations for improving child care. It is also expected to be highly critical of the regimes operated in children's homes in the Seventies and Eighties.

In Cheshire, police investigations have led to 13 men being jailed for a total of 110 years for abuse. A total of 111 people were named as alleged abusers, and more than 400 former residents have alleged that they were abused.

In South Wales, Operation Goldfinch is investigating allegations of abuse by former residents at 32 children's homes. More than 25 allegations of abuse have been made and a squad of 42 detectives was set up to investigate.

The numbers of care workers and social workers being arrested will also give ammunition to those who have campaigned for some time for the profession to have a general council, similar to the General Medical Council, to police professionals standards.

Although abuse seems to have been almost endemic in the childcare system, there is still no real evidence of organised paedophile rings. And although it has been found that some convicted workers had known each other, or had been at the same institution for an overlapping period, care workers move jobs frequently.

In the past, councils are suspected of preferring to move staff on rather than investigate and prosecute. Graphics Omitted.