One man's war against the perverts

Roger Dobson meets an unemployed Merseysider with a mission to expose paedophilia in children's homes
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The Independent Online
A computer on a kitchen table; a filing cabinet next to the fridge. These are the tools, in a council house in a northern industrial town, that have largely created the growing awareness of the paedophile problem in Britain's children's homes, and its astonishing extent.

They belong to John O'Sullivan, an unemployed steel erector in Runcorn, Cheshire, who this week will be meeting MPs in the House of Commons to try to get more action taken nationally against child abuse.

Mr O'Sullivan, a bespectacled 40-year-old father of four with a Scouse accent as broad as the Mersey itself, is entirely unknown as a public figure, yet it is largely because of his efforts that the scale of the problem has been exposed.

Later this week the Government is expected to announce a national register of convicted child abusers, which is regarded as an essential step in protecting children from paedophiles who may ostensibly be in positions of care.

In many quarters it is also regarded as overdue; by Mr O'Sullivan most of all. For the past five years he has been assiduously building up his own database of child-sex offenders, information from which has been made available to MPs, police, solicitors, care workers and journalists. It is the dynamo of the campaign to protect communities from paedophiles which bears the title People Against Child Abuse (PACA).

From his home he organises campaigns, protests and meetings: this week 40 MPs have been invited to meet him and PACA at the Commons; in January he is back in London to plan a national support group for parents of abused children.

PACA has 120 members, nearly all parents or relatives of children who have been abused while in care. Mr O'Sullivan is one such himself. Five years ago he lived quietly at home with his wife, Susan, and their Yorkshire terrier and cockatiel, entirely oblivious to the dark underworld of paedophilia. What turned his life upside down was his discovery that a close relative had been seriously sexually abused in a children's home. He became a driven man.

"The boy was only in the home for 28 days, for God's sake," he rages as he rolls another of the cigarettes that he is smoking incessantly despite a heavy cold. "They got to him and he was only 14.

"We had had our suspicions, but I demanded access to the social services files and we found out that the boy had been interviewed about paedophiles while he was in the home and no one had told us. That was a disgrace. I got them to start an investigation and they are still doing it."

At that time he and his wife joined the newly formed PACA, and so began a task that was to take over their lives and their home, seven days a week.

A filing cabinet was installed next to fridge along with a computer, a second-hand fax machine and of course the telephone which were to became the main artillery in his war. He has been called the Simon Wiesenthal of child abuse; he is certainly as fixated as the celebrated Nazi-hunter.

"We are dedicated to one thing only: alerting people to child abusers. We don't do counselling, we simply collect data and cross-match with our own database and raise the alarm when necessary," he says, lighting another cigarette.

"We have over 200 names on our database, most of them men who have not been convicted and some who still work in care. In some cases we hand information over to the police."

Every couple of months a newsletter is produced which names paedophiles. These are men who have been convicted and whose names were obtained by tracking court reports in local newspapers around the country.

"We hand it out in the streets all over the county and people are amazed when they see what is happening," Mr O'Sullivan says.

"They just didn't realise what was going on and we are really only a small area. All we are doing is letting people know that there is a problem. Only by being aware can you protect your own children.

"If we have information and the person is investigated but no action is taken, we still keep an eye on them if we believe the investigation was badly handled.

"One man, for instance, who was cleared in the investigation has now been suspended. That's one less we have to worry about."

Over the past two years he has become a magnet for parents and relatives of abused children around the country seeking help and advice. He liaises with solicitors about forming support groups and taking civil legal actions, and talks to MPs about his campaign for a Royal Commission into the abuse which he believes has spread like a cancer through Britain's children's homes during the past 30 years.

He and PACA also use their database to help people. "A couple came to us who thought their child had been abused, but the child wouldn't say anything. We put the name of the alleged abuser through the database and we found that similar allegations had been made.

"The couple went back with that information and the child told them all once he knew about the other cases. The man involved had told the child the parents would be killed if he talked."

He is adamant that the problem has been around for a long time. "I think we have for far too long turned a blind eye to this child abuse and the public should have been made aware of what was going on years ago.

"We believe the establishment must have known because it is so ingrained in the system. It seems to have been going on for 30 years or more, so how can people not have known? I think it just spread and thousands of children have been abused.

"Only now are those who were abused coming forward because, let's face it, until relatively recently no one believed them.

"And, you know, what really grates with us is that no one is standing up and saying sorry to these kids for what happened to them. No one is saying, 'Look, we know it wasn't your fault and what happened to you was wrong'. No one is prepared to do that.

"Many of these kids don't want compensation for the unspeakable things that happened to them. They just want someone, somewhere, to say sorry, that's all.

"That can't be too much to ask for, surely."

As he turns to his computer to plan this week's meeting with the MPs and to prepare his speech, he sighs in frustration. "Just imagine what it must feel like to be abused and to have no self worth, no value in society. A lot who were abused have killed themselves, you know, and if I had gone through what some of them have, I wouldn't want to carry on either."

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