Abuse inquiry at council home for disabled children

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The Independent Online

Police have begun an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at a council-run home for children with learning difficulties.

Police have begun an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at a council-run home for children with learning difficulties.

Child protection officers are looking into claims of abuse at the Betts Way children's home near Bromley, Kent, amid fears from children's support groups that the alleged culprits may never be prosecuted.

About 40 people - mostly alleged victims - have been interviewed about the claims at the home, run by the Ravensbourne NHS Trust, which closed temporarily last spring.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police confirmed yesterday that its child protection team was investigating but could not confirm the scale of the allegations. She said allegations related to a period of "several years" in the early 1990s, though could not say why the claims were only now being investigated.

The home is owned by Bromley Council and provides respite care for children with mental and physical disabilities, including autism.

A spokesman for the council said the inquiry was being conducted "sensitively", taking into account the difficulties faced by many potential witnesses.

Because of their learning difficulties, witnesses often face problems during cross-examination if they go to court.

However, Alan Corbett, from the charity Respond, which helps children with learningdifficulties who have been sexually abused, claimed only a "staggering minority" of such cases go to court.

Mr Corbett said: "When people with learning difficulties are involved often they are simply not believed, or notconsidered reliable enough witnesses.

"It is often assumed that they won't be able to give evidence well enough because their story is not consistent and they have problems of time and memory.

"Of course they can give evidence well, it just needs more working at it."

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service deniedthe claims and said judges often allowed video evidence to be used if they feared potential witnesses would be too intimidated to testify.

A report published earlier this year detailed how hundreds of children in Welsh care homes were systematically sexually exploited over 20 years.

Its author, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, called for the appointment of an independent children's commissioner to oversee complaints and to ensure that children who made allegations of abuse were taken seriously.

He also recommended new"whistle-blowing" procedures making it a disciplinary offence for care staff to fail to report suspected abuse.

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