Children's tales of horror must be fully told

A national inquiry is the only way to expose the enormity of child abuse in homes, says Roger Dobson
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The silence over the unspeakable horrors of sexual and physical abuse inflicted on hundreds and quite possibly thousands of young children in care has at last been broken. For years the scandal of homes that were infiltrated by paedophiles remained hidden by a cloak of secrecy. The victims kept quiet because of feelings of guilt instilled in them by their abusers, and the councils that carried out individual investigations kept their findings secret to avoid claims of compensation from victims.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the scale of the abuse remained hidden. Occasionally, when abusers were prosecuted and imprisoned, they were treated as rare cases, untypical of a "decent"caring system.

The first real evidence of abuse in children's homes emerged in the 1980s, with major inquiries into abuse at homes in Belfast, Staffordshire and Leicestershire.

Then, in 1990, claims of abuse in Clwyd and Gwynedd in North Wales surfaced and led to the biggest police investigation of its kind in Britain. More than 3,000 statements were taken and 300 cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The result? Just seven people were prosecuted. Subsequently, a team of childcare specialists, led by John Jillings, former director of social services in Derbyshire, were called in and spent two years investigating what went wrong in Clwyd.

They hoped that their report would be published so that childcare workers could learn from what had gone so catastrophically wrong. In the event they hoped for too much. Clwyd decided not to publish the report and the 300-page document still lies on the desk of Welsh Secretary William Hague.

It paints a horrifying picture of vulnerable children being abused on a regular basis, of desperate youngsters running away only to be returned to their abusers. Worse are the deaths of 12 young men that have been linked to their time in care in Clwyd. And in other parts of the country, young people have died as a result of their appalling experiences in a care system that failed so badly.

More than 200 children are thought to have been abused in homes in Clwyd, another 300 in neighbouring Cheshire, and more than 40 are seeking compensation in Leicestershire. Many other claims are in the pipeline, despite the quest to keep the abuse inquiry reports secret.

While councillors and ministers sit on their secret reports the tragedy goes on: the lives of many of those who survived the years of abuse have been ruined. Others have been turned into abusers themselves. As one man convicted of abusing his daughter said, "It was the only skill they left me with."

Paedophiles were able to infiltrate the care system because professional social workers regarded residential home jobs as second class. Ironically, the worst offenders ran the most apparently efficient homes and were never bothered by outsiders. Children who dared to complain were ignored.

A copy of the secret Clwyd report has been seen by the Independent. It talks of the possibility of paedophile rings, but so far the police have never been able to establish that such rings existed.

The scale of abuse, the deaths of so many young people, the ruined lives, and the suspicions of paedophile rings are all reasons why there has to be a national inquiry into what went on behind the doors of Britain's children's homes. And although the report may never see the light of day, at least now we can hope that the judicial inquiry may establish the failures that allowed such widespread abuse and expose the attempts to cover them up.