Witnesses tell of abuse at home

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The Independent Online
The first witnesses in the North Wales child abuse inquiry told yesterday how they were physically abused at a children's home when they were teenagers and how difficult it was to complain. Being sent to the now-closed Bryn Estyn home was, according to one witness, regarded as a punishment.

Asked why he did not complain, one witness said: "It used to go on all the time. When you are 14 or 15, who do you complain to? I didn't complain, I didn't know how to complain. If anything happened to you it was just part of the regime."

Another said he saw it as an approved school: "I was there to be treated the way I was."

The Waterhouse Tribunal, which is expected to take one year hearing evidence, heard that the first three witnesses had all been resident at Bryn Estyn, Wrexham, in the mid-1970s. Another 30 former residents of the home are due to give evidence over the next two weeks.

Each of the three said they had been struck by the former careworker Paul Wilson who three years ago was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, for physically assaulting boys at the home.

The tribunal was also told of bullying among the residents of the home which had around 60 residents at any one time. The tribunal chairman, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, has ruled that none of the alleged victims or the alleged perpetrators can be named except where they have been convicted. About 180 former residents of homes in North Wales are due to give evidence. About 80 people have been accused of abuse and most of them are expected to give evidence.

Because of the trauma of giving evidence about alleged abuse, a special counselling service has been set up for former residents. One of yesterday's witnesses, who was being questioned about an allegation he had made, said: "Do you know how hard it is for me to stand here today?" The tribunal will hear evidence from 26 former residents of Bryn Estyn who complained of abuse. Another nine statements are being made by complainants who will not give evidence.

The tribunal was set up last year because of increasing concern about allegations of widespread abuse, both physical and sexual, at homes across North Wales. One of the witnesses, now 33, said of Paul Wilson: "Basically he was a bully who would pick on weaker children and those he didn't like."

Another, who was allegedly hit in the stomach, said: "He didn't hurt me, he was just being macho." The witnesses told the tribunal that they were unaware of any system for complaining at the home, which is one of more than 30 where there have been allegations of abuse made.

The tribunal continues.