Care home claims prompt child abuse inquiry

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The Independent Online

Police in Lancashire have launched a major inquiry into child sex abuse in care homes dating back nearly 30 years.

Police in Lancashire have launched a major inquiry into child sex abuse in care homes dating back nearly 30 years.

Already officers know of 11 people they want to interview over allegations of abuse at seven residential care homes across the county.

But the investigation, which is codenamed Operation Nevada, is expected to produce many more names as a team of 14 detectives receive calls from across the county - police say many people had phoned during the first few hours of the operation.

The abuse claims are centred on private and local authority children's homes, residential schools and care establishments from the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, police said today.

The investigation comes in the wake of the Waterhouse report into widespread sexual abuse of children in care homes in North Wales. Detectives said it was too early to say whether abuse in Lancashire would prove to be on the same scale as that in North Wales.

One of the senior officers leading the inquiry said he had no fears for any child currently in care as the allegations were historic.

But he added that if the investigation threw up any names of people still working within the care system they would be traced and interviewed.

A special team of detectives has been set up to work with social services investigators to look into the allegations.

Detective Inspector Steve Marston said: "The purpose of this operation is to establish whether there has been a problem of historic institutionalised sexual abuse in Lancashire."

Some of the establishments involved are believed to be in the Blackburn and Blackpool areas, although most parts of the county are involved.

Mr Marston said that some could have been closed for a number of years and staff had moved on to work elsewhere.

"Because this is a police operation we will not be releasing details of any of those people who are the subject of the allegations, nor which care homes are involved," he added.

"But so far we have 11 people who we want to interview who have worked at seven homes across Lancashire.

"All the officers on the team have been specially trained to deal with investigations of this nature and we would encourage people to come forward and speak with us if they were sexually abused while in care or at school in Lancashire."

Max Winterbottom, head of Lancashire County Council, said: "The authority would wish to stress that the allegations are believed to be historic.

"Rigorous screening procedures, involving the police and the Department of Health, are in place so that anyone applying for a post working with children in any capacity within the county council is thoroughly vetted.

"We are confident that should the police, in the course of their investigations, come across any information that any child in Lancashire may be vulnerable to abuse by someone who is caring for them they will inform us immediately.

"The necessary steps would then be taken with parents or other carers for their children's immediate protection."