'There was no escape': Victims open up as North Wales care homes probe uncovers 'systemic and serious sexual and physical abuse' over three decades

Operation Pallial has now identified 140 allegations relating to 18 care homes, including 76 completely new complaints

A new police inquiry into historic allegations of paedophilia in North Wales care homes has uncovered a welter of fresh evidence and victims whose testimony indicates that there was "systemic and serious sexual and physical abuse" spanning nearly three decades.

The announcement that Operation Pallial is now investigating 140 allegations related to 18 care homes, including 76 completely new complaints, represents a dramatic widening of the scope of the suspected abuse, which was previously focused on three or four establishments.

The findings mean that one of Britain's biggest investigations into institutional child abuse is now under way. The NSPCC warned it was imperative that after decades of waiting by alleged victims for "their voices to be heard" it was imperative that the system did not fail them.

Officers leading the £500,000 North Wales investigation said a total of 84 individuals, among them nine women, had been named as suspects in alleged assaults carried out between 1963 and 1992, including 16 potential serial abusers accused of targeting more than one child. The ages of those allegedly abused, both boys and girls, ranged from seven to 19.

The complexities of bringing alleged abusers to justice - the majority of them adult carers suspected of grooming and then assaulting their charges - were underlined by confirmation from police that of the 16 people who may have committed multiple offences, ten are already dead.

The investigation was launched last year following the report by the BBC's Newsnight programme which highlighted concerns that only a small proportion of the abuse in North Wales, in particular at the Bryn Estyn home in Wrexham, had been uncovered. The probe falsely implicated former Conservative Treasurer Lord McAlpine in the abuse, leading to a substantial libel payout and a crisis in the BBC's journalism.

At the launch of an interim report yesterday to outline the findings of the first phase of their inquiry to discover the likely scope of the abuse, officers revealed that criminal conduct was now suspected to have been "systemic" across North Wales children's homes.

Detective Superintendent Ian Mulcahey, the senior investigating officer for Pallial,  which is independent of North Wales Police and manned by officers from several forces and agencies, said: "These are serious allegations that will be thoroughly investigated. Many have provided graphic accounts of abuse, in some cases of very serious criminality."

The 18-page report revealed that the offences now being pursued range from physical and verbal assaults through to rape and buggery, adding: "The investigation has resulted in the collection of significant evidence of systemic and serious sexual and physical abuse of children while in care."

Categorising the evidence given by alleged victims as "graphic", it said: "Complainants have provided accounts of serious criminal offences being committed against young and vulnerable people by the adults charged with their care. In the vast majority of reports there was a clear element of grooming with a serious abuse of trust and dereliction of duty of care."

One victim who has come forward in public has complained of how he was placed on a mini-bus with other children at the age of 12 and driven to London to take part in sex parties with men. "Michael" told Sky News: "It was how compliant you were, how nice you were towards them and looking back it was all about what they could get away with."

Det Supt Mulcahey said the investigation had so far not found any evidence that abusers had acted together. He said: "We are still in the early stages of an investigation. We are looking at individual complaints at the moment and if evidence takes us there that tends to support allegations of collusion between other parties then we will investigate it thoroughly."

The Home Office-funded investigation, involving a team of 31 officers, will now move to a second phase of criminal investigation to build evidence against the alleged abusers. Officers said they were prioritising their inquiries to ensure that suspects who might be working with children or young people are targeted first.

Publication of the report comes less than a week after a man was arrested in Ipswich, Suffolk, accused of "a number of serious sexual offences against a number of individuals" linked to Operation Pallial, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) said.

He was the first person to be detained so far as part of the inquiry.

A large number of those who have come forward as victims initially called a helpline run by the NSPCC, which yesterday noted their courage as potential witnesses.

Peter Watt, director of the helpline, said: "This investigation is a major step forward into probing claims of widespread child abuse. Many who have been waiting decades for justice and for their voices to be heard have now finally found the courage to come forward and we must not fail them this time."

Police said that of the total of 140 complaints, comprising 125 men and 15 women, a total of 122 had given or were due to give videoed interviews with trained officers and social workers outlining the abuse they had suffered. In addition to the 84 named suspects, a further 32 allegations have been made against unidentified individuals.

Operation Pallial, which is being conducted under the auspices of the National Crime Agency, also reviewed the original police investigations into the abuse. It found there was no evidence of "systemic or institutional misconduct" by North Wales Police.

A separate review is being conducted by a High Court judge, Mrs Justice Macur, into the Waterhouse Inquiry, which was set up in 2000 to look at claims linked to homes in the former council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974, including Bryn Estyn.

It resulted in 140 compensation settlements but in the wake of the revelations concerning Jimmy Savile, who is said to have been a regular visitor to Bryn Estyn, victims have come forward to say that the inquiry examined only a fraction of the abuse which took place.

North Wales Chief Constable Mark Polin said it was "never too late" to report abuse. He added: "Offenders should quite rightly have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us