Kafka at large in Clwyd

The Welsh Secretary must rescue a child abuse report from the shredder, says Rhodri Morgan
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John Jillings, the former director of social services at Derbyshire County Council, and two distinguished colleagues have spent most of the past two years drawing up a 300-page report on the child abuse scandal in Clwyd, North Wales. Clwyd County Council commissioned it. It cost more than pounds 500,000 to compile.

If William Hague, the Secretary of State for Wales, doesn't step in soon, all copies of the report, even including Jillings's own copy, will be hauled back to Shire Hall, Mold, and fed through the county council's paper shredder. Is there any hope for child protection if our political system allows Kafkaesque acts of mass evidence destruction?

Mr Hague has been sent a copy. If he places it in the Library of the House of Commons, not only is the report saved from the shredder, but MPs can read it, debate it, copy chunks of it, quote from it and generally ensure that the right lessons are learned.

How important is the report? On the child-abuse Richter scale, Clwyd must rate much higher than the Staffordshire Pindown scandal and the Frank Beck case in Leicestershire. Seven men have been convicted of paedophile offences, committed while they were working in children's homes in Clwyd. None received sentences of less than four years.

The criminal trials did not and could not look at the patterns and linkages, neither between the defendants themselves, nor with any wider paedophile rings. That was why the then Chief Constable of North Wales, David Owen, called for a judicial inquiry on September 4 1992. That was also why, three days later, the Welsh Office minister responsible for health and social services issued a statement saying: "I have concluded that a public inquiry is necessary to consider the matter fully."

The only caveat was that the inquiry could not start until the criminal trials were finished, but when they did, something curious happened. Nicola Davies QC was commissioned to advise, after an "examination of relevant papers held by the various agencies concerned, whether an inquiry is required".

Her conclusions were that inquiries were in her experience traumatic for all concerned and would not help Clwyd and Gwynedd to improve their present child care practice. She made no reference to the ministerial undertaking of September 1992 to have such an inquiry and did not appear to be aware of it. In addition, the inquiry that she advised against, into whether Clwyd and Gwynedd were presently failing children in care, was much narrower than the one promised by the Welsh Office in September 1992.

The county council meantime pressed ahead with its own inquiry, but without powers of subpoena and no access to North Wales Police files, nor to reports from the Welsh Office Social Services Inspectorate. But, there will, we all thought, at least be some kind of report into the scandal.

The gods who protect paedophile rings from investigation then came up with their most ingenious trick yet. Clwyd County Council was insured by Municipal Mutual. They had got into serious financial difficulties in 1991-92, partially because of huge payouts to children abused in Staffordshire and Leicestershire children's homes.

They were in an insurance limboland known as "solvent run-off", unable to write new business, but still meeting old claims. Clwyd County Council was itself to disappear on 1 April this year under local government re- organisation. When semi-solvent insurance company meets disappearing county council, child protection is unlikely to come top of the priorities.

Should insurance companies have the ability to veto publication of independent reports into local government scandals? Westminster City Council has published its report into its own asbestos-ridden flats-for-homeless-families scandal and is reported to be in serious difficulties with Commercial Union.

Insurance companies' fears of adding to the number of claims is understandable. Child protection and open government are far more important. That is why William Hague must step in and save the Jillings report from the shredder.

The writer is the Labour MP for Cardiff West.