Sex abuse report demands wide childcare changes

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Sweeping changes to the childcare system were called for yesterday in a damning report exposing the scale of the sexual and physical abuse of children in care in North Wales.

Sweeping changes to the childcare system were called for yesterday in a damning report exposing the scale of the sexual and physical abuse of children in care in North Wales.

More than 70 recommendations for changes in the running and policing of childcare are made in the North Wales Abuse Tribunal report published yesterday.

The children's commissioner for Wales, an independent agency to inspect children's homes, and nominate social workers for each child in care are urged in the report by Sir Ronald Waterhouse.

It also names more than 50 care workers and former care workers accused of abuse who have never been prosecuted.

As well as the five main recommendations, the report also recommends a national review of pay, status and career development of residential care staff, better procedures for children leaving care, an urgent review of the regulations governing private residential schools, an independent regulatory body charged with inspecting all children's homes, foster homes and other children's services, and a nationwide review of the needs and costs of children's services. Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, said councils would be asked to investigate whether any of those named were still working and a risk to children.

He said: "Our key concern now must be to satisfy ourselves, so far as we can, that people who abuse children are not in a position to do so now. Those individuals named in the report who are still working in one of the local authorities in North Wales have been traced and risk-assessed.

"But, given the time span covered by the report, there are a number of individuals against whom findings are made in the report who are no longer working for one of the successor authorities and whose whereabouts are unknown. We are working together to establish the whereabouts of these individuals and to ensure they do not pose a risk to children or to other vulnerable groups."

The 960-page report details 20 years of suffering of generations of children who passed through the care system in North Wales. It says: "Widespread sexual abuse of boys occurred in children's residential establishments in Clwyd between 1974 and 1990. The homes most affected by this abuse were Bryn Estyn where two senior officers, Peter Howarth and Stephen Norris, sexually assaulted and buggered many boys persistently over a period of 10 years.

"There were other grave incidents of sexual abuse of boys by male and female members of the residential care staff at five local authority homes in Clwyd - Little Acton, Bersham Hall, Chevet Hey, Cartrefle and Upper Downing."

The report says 140 former residents of Bryn Estyn made allegations of abuse between 1974 and 1984. It details a so-called "flat list", where boys were invited to Peter Howarth's flat at the home and abused. If they were wearing underpants under their pyjamas, they were ordered to remove them.

"The allegations of sexual abuse by Howarth were not limited to his activities in his own flat. We heard other evidence of visits by him to dormitories where he is alleged to have fondled boys who usually pretended to be asleep.

In a damning indictment the report adds: "We are fully satisfied that all the senior members of the staff at Bryn Estyn and most of the junior staff were aware of the flat list procedure. The consequence of the abuse by Howarth on his victims at Bryn Estyn were immeasurable and remain so.

"The lives of these already disturbed children were grossly poisoned by a leading authority figure in whom they should have been able to place their trust.

"They felt soiled, guilty and embarrassed and some were led to question their own sexual orientation. Most have experienced difficulties in sexual relationships and relationships with children and many have continued to rebel against authority. Even more seriously, their self-respect and ability to look forward to the future have been shattered."

The report says the tribunal is aware of sexual complaints against 14 other members of staff at the now-closed home in Wrexham. It adds: "The picture we have been given of a community home in which two of the most senior members of staff were habitually engaged in major sexual abuse of many of the young residents without detection is truly appalling and no further words from us are needed to underline the gravity of our findings.

At Little Acton assessment centre the report names three former members of staff. It says three complaints of physical assault were made against Peter Bird by a 10-year-old boy. It says Bird denies the allegations but adds: "We are satisfied the complainants have not invented these allegations and Bird did use violence of a kind they have described. He believed in a strict regime."