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Child abuse inquiry 'must ask if powerful were protected'


A fresh inquiry into widespread abuse in children's homes, including allegations that a top figure in the Conservative party was involved, must investigate whether senior people were protected, the children's commissioner for Wales said yesterday.

Keith Towler said he would be writing to First Minister Carwyn Jones demanding an inquiry into the latest claims made about the abuse of hundreds of children at care homes in north Wales over 16 years, insisting concerns about a cover-up by powerful people were "understandable" and a full investigation was the only way to resolve the issue.

His comments came as Culture Secretary Maria Miller warned the BBC could face a full public inquiry into the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal if the corporation failed properly to investigate the matter. Since the allegations came to light, there has been a series of questions about other historic abuse cases. Yesterday Mr Towler said he wanted to re-open the case into the Welsh care home scandal after criticism of the original Waterhouse Inquiry. The tribunal, led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, heard evidence from more than 650 individuals who had been in 40 homes between 1974 and 1990, publishing its report in 2000.

But one of its victims has come forward to say that he was banned from mentioning abuse that took place outside the care system, by the tribunal's terms of reference, alleging that a senior Thatcher-era Tory was involved. The Waterhouse Inquiry identified 28 alleged perpetrators but they were never named in public.

"In the home it was the standard abuse, which was violent and sexual. Outside it was like you were sold, we were taken to the Crest Hotel in Wrexham, mainly on Sunday nights, where they would rent rooms," Steve Messham told BBC's Newsnight. "One particular night that I always recall is when I was basically raped, tied down and abused by nine different men."

Mr Towler said: "The fact that we have someone on camera now who was clearly a victim of appalling abuse in Bryn Estyn children's home back in the 1970s and 1980s, saying that what he wanted to say was outside of the terms of reference, and people told him that he could not say these things and he couldn't talk about people who had abused him, is clearly wrong." He added: "The fact that he is now saying that so publicly means we have to respond."

He said that the inquiry should be wide-ranging and allow victims to be heard fully: "Unless you do that, that level of suspicion will always be around that there is a cover-up... No one should be protected. Society needs to know that it is clean in this sense."

Yesterday a Welsh Government spokesman said it was very concerned about the claims, adding: "Even though the allegations relate to the period before devolution, we believe in transparency in dealing with such issues."

Meanwhile, Mrs Miller said that a "public inquiry remained an option" if BBC investigations into the Savile scandal were not deemed to go far enough.