Lost in Care - The Wales Child Abuse Scandal and the Waterhouse Report

Lost in care - The Wales Child Abuse Scandal and the Waterhouse Report







This brief resumé of the Wales Child Abuse scandal that took place in the 1970's to 1980's is presented here with a series of articles from Alison Taylor, the "whistleblower's " web site and the The Guardian.co.uk


Alison Taylor was featured extensively in the run-up and aftermath of the Waterhouse Report, and in April 2000 she received a Pride of Britain Award






The Waterhouse Report into the wide scale abuse that took place in residential homes in Wales was released in February 2000. It spoke of systematic abuse, a climate of violence and a culture of secrecy that existed for more than two decades. And it made sensible but unambitious recommendations - such as the appointment of a children's commissioner, and protection for whistleblowers. But for most people involved in the welfare of the young, the report did not go nearly far enough. It confined itself to what went on in particular children's homes in Wales over a confined period. It did not look at the plight of children in residential homes and in foster families all over the UK. It did not question the whole structure of care. The Welsh scandal, like the Cleveland child abuse scandal, came at us in a series of lurid headlines and stories so distressing that most of us didn't really want to hear them. Not many want to hear how professional carers were paedophiles; how young boys and girls had been sexually abused over years and nobody had listened and nothing had been done. At least 12 of the victims had gone on to kill themselves; one had become a convicted murderer; many others had had their lives wrecked.




There will always be children who cannot live with their families. Maybe they have been abused, physically or sexually. Maybe their mother simply cannot cope - because of drugs, alcoholism, illness, severe depression, extreme poverty. And how do we treat these children, the unlucky and the damaged ones? Do our hearts go out to them so that we do everything that we can? Give them a safe structure, professional help, every advantage possible to go a small way towards compensating them for all they've irrevocably lost? Or do we put them in a bleak institution, hire carers whose sole interest is to earn money for their own upkeep, turn them into 'problems' and feed them right back into the vicious circle which produced them?




More than 75 per cent of young people leaving care have no formal qualifications at all; high levels of non-attendance and exclusion from school are very common. Between 50-80 per cent are unemployed (the Who Cares? Trust found that many employers mistrust care leavers). An astonishing 23 per cent of adult prisoners and 38 per cent of young offenders have been in care. At least one in seven young women leave care pregnant or as mothers. Sixty per cent use drugs. Many are homeless. Man hands on misery to man; we know this well enough. So what do we do?





Background to the Report




Alison Taylor worked for Gwynedd County Council in senior childcare posts from 1976 to 1987.


In 1987, she was dismissed after breaking ranks and informing the police of her concerns about the neglect and abuse of children in care.  She was vilified and condemned at every turn, and despite making innumerable approaches to the Welsh Office, the Department of Health in London, the Home Office, various Home Secretaries and Ministers of Health, and Margaret Thatcher, repeatedly encountered apathy and almost insurmountable obstacles.


The first breakthrough came in 1991, when HTV, The Independent, and Private Eye took the brave decision to bring the matter into the open.  Between 1991 and 1993, North Wales Police mounted a huge retrospective investigation and subsequently referred some 800 allegations to the Crown Prosecutions Service.  Fewer than 3% of these referrals proceeded to trial, much to the dismay and mystification of many of the alleged victims and of the adults who knew the extent and nature of the alleged abuse.


The North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal of Inquiry was announced in summer 1996 by William Hague, then Secretary of State for Wales.  The announcement followed more than a decade of abuse allegations, counter allegations, police investigations, the conviction of a handful of former social workers, the broken promise of a public inquiry, the suppression of at least one damning report on abuse in children's homes in North Wales, and mounting public and political concern.


The Inquiry, led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, opened in September 1996 and closed in May 1998.



Questions and answers that surround a catalogue of abuse against children



What was the Waterhouse inquiry all about?


It was ordered in 1996 by William Hague, when he was Welsh secretary in the then Conservative government, into abuse of children in care after 1974 in the former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd. This followed an outcry over a decision by Clwyd councillors, acting on legal advice, not to publish the report of a smaller inquiry lest it prompt court actions and a rash of compensation claims. The Waterhouse report calls for a review of such problems by the Law Commission.


How did it compare to other child abuse inquires?


It was by far the biggest. It sat for 203 days and took evidence from 575 witnesses, including 259 complainants alleging abuse when they were in care. Some 9,500 social services files were made available and the inquiry team scrutinised 3,500 statements made to police. In all, there were 43,000 pages of evidence of complaints about some 40 homes, as well as foster placements.


How did the scandal come to light?


Care workers in Clwyd were being convicted of sex abuse as long ago as 1976 and there were allegations and investigations in Gwynedd in the 1980s. But the scandal was only exposed after Alison Taylor, a children's home head in Gwynedd, pressed her concerns at the highest levels. The inquiry report finds that her complaints have been "substantially vindicated". But for her, there would have been no inquiry into Gwynedd and possibly not into Clwyd either.


Why did it take so long to emerge?


What the report calls a "cult of silence" at the most notorious home, Bryn Estyn, was all too typical. Few children made complaints. When the police first investigated Ms Taylor's concerns in 1986-87, the authorities constructed a "wall of disbelief" at the outset. The subsquent decision not to bring prosecutions was greeted with "inappropriate enthusiasm" by social services.


What kind of abuse did the inquiry hear about?


Almost everything imaginable, and much that was not. Most attention has focused on sex abuse of boys by staff and paedophiles outside the care system, but there was also sex abuse of girls and boys by women staff. The bulk of allegations concerned physical and emotional abuse, including hitting and throttling children, bullying and belittling them. Punishments included being forced to scrub floors with toothbrushes, or to perform garden tasks using cutlery. The inquiry team says the quality of care, and standard of education, were below acceptable levels in all the homes it investigated.


Was there a paedophile ring?


Rumours of a ring of abusers, including prominent public figures, have been rife. But the report says there is no credible evidence of any such network. It also dismisses suggestions that freemasonry was implicated in what went on. The report does, however, find there were paedophiles in Wrexham and Chester, many of whom were known to each other, who abused boys and shared information about victims.


Will the victims get compensation?


Some already have, as a result of court convictions of their abusers. Payments have typically been in the tens of thousands of pounds, though one or two have reached six figures. More claims are expected, particularly from people who were in the care of staff named in the inquiry report.


Have people lied to the inquiry to try to get compensation?


The report says not. While acknowledging a lack of direct corroboration of most allegations, the inquiry team says it was "impressed generally by the sincerity of the overwhelming majority" of witnesses claiming they were abused.


Could it happen again?


It is extremely unlikely, according to the Association of Directors of Social Services. Measures in place, and more to come, should make it impossible for the care system to escape scrutiny as it did in north Wales. But there remains the threat posed by individual abusers and the fear is that determined paedophiles have moved into other sectors, such as boarding schools and youth groups.


Any more inquiries in the pipeline?


Potentially plenty. According to the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, there are 80 police investigations into institutional abuse. It says each one should prompt a public inquiry of its own, which for most victims would be "the closest they will get to real justice". But with the cost of the north Wales inquiry put at £13.5m, and rising, it is almost certain to be the first and last of its kind.


 For more information please see:




Refuges that turned into purgatory
Report condemns oversights and inadequacies of a system that allowed children to be abused for 10 years
By Audrey Gillan




Government to accept child abuse report recommendations
Staff and agencies



'I just hope this will protect future generations in care'
Reaction: Abuse victims give cautious welcome to report
By David Ward and Helen Carter



'Punishment was the only thing I knew'
The victim: Beatings and humiliations haunt mother who survived
By David Brindle



Hunt for 24 care workers in child abuse scandal
By David Brindle



Recalling life in the Colditz of care
By David Ward and Helen Carter





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