Former children's home chief jailed for sex abuse: Teenagers were invited to late-night 'counselling sessions'

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THE former deputy head of a children's home was yesterday jailed for 10 years for sexually abusing teenage boys in his care.

A jury at Chester Crown Court found Peter Howarth, 63, guilty of indecently assaulting seven boys at Bryn Estyn, a Clwyd County Council-run home in Wrexham, North Wales, and committing another serious sexual offence.

Howarth, of Wrexham, had denied nine indecent assault charges and three serious sexual offences. The case related to incidents at the home between 1974 and 1984, when it closed. The trial heard allegations that he invited boys to late-night 'counselling sessions' in his living quarters at the home, which they had to attend in their pyjamas.

On Thursday, the jury unanimously cleared Howarth of two indecent assault charges and one of the other charges. Yesterday the jurors returned majority guilty verdicts on eight of the other nine counts, involving seven boys at the home. They cleared him of another of the serious sexual offences.

Sentencing Howarth, Judge Gareth Edwards said: 'Children were taken from broken homes or from circumstances in which it was felt they should be taken away from criminal associations and placed in care. Falling into the hands of a man like you, one cannot help but reflect that they would probably have been far better off being left where they were in the first place.

'You bring the whole system of child care in this country into disrepute. You shame the hard-working, underpaid and dedicated people who are the vast majority of care staff in our residential care institutions.'

The Chester jury had earlier unanimously cleared Paul Wilson, 44, of three charges of indecently assaulting boys at the home. The father-of-four, from Chirk, Clwyd, had been a senior residential child care officer at Bryn Estyn from 1974 until 1984.

Bryn Estyn was described in court as a 'quasi-custodial' approved school. Teenage boys from all parts of Wales and occasionally from England were placed there until it was closed in 1984.

Howarth had worked at the home since 1973. He was promoted to deputy principal in 1976 and retired in July 1984.

Clwyd County Council, which ran the home, is conducting an internal inquiry. It said it had taken steps to ensure that no such outrage can happen again.

The trial was the latest in a series of cases following an inquiry by North Wales police into allegations of child abuse in Clwyd and Gwynedd.

The investigation was launched on 2 August 1991, with a team of nearly 30 officers who investigated 46 establishments for children in Clwyd and 17 in Gwynedd. Four people have been convicted of offences and three men are awaiting trial.