Children's Commissioner for Wales calls for abuse probe

The Children's Commissioner for Wales is to write to the nation's first minister to request a new inquiry into the abuse of children at care homes in north Wales in the 1970s and 80s.

Keith Towler says he suspects a group were protected by each other's power, enabling the abuse to continue.

It follows criticism from Steve Messham, one of hundreds who were sexually abused during that period.

He says he was abused by a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician.

Mr Messham said the Waterhouse Inquiry report, which looked into the allegations and came out in 2000, uncovered just a fraction of the abuse centred on the Bryn Estyn care home in north Wales.

Mr Towler told the BBC News Channel "What Steve Messham is telling us are... there are things he wanted to say... that for one reason or another, he wasn't able to say... if there are issues there for the police to investigate, then that needs to be investigated."

He said he would be writing to the first minister in Wales "as the children's commissioner to say... I'm concerned about what Steve Messham is saying and I want to make sure a full inquiry takes place to make sure that the evidence that he wants to give can be given".

On the claims surrounding the politician, who has not been publicly named, Mr Towler said: "Sometimes when people move to protect individuals or institutions, they do so at the expense of victims and that is unacceptable."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Allegations of crimes should be reported to the police and fully investigated.

"If someone is concerned that an allegation was reported in the past but not fully investigated, they should raise this with the police or relevant authority so that they can look again at what happened."

Image caption Children's Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler said there was a need for a fresh inquiry

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was "very concerned" by the latest claims.

"Even though the allegations relate to the period before devolution, we believe in transparency in dealing with such issues, but are unable to comment further until we have more detail."

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said Mr Messham's concerns "must be further looked into" and she would be raising questions in the Welsh Assembly to "see exactly what can be done".

Mr Towler's comments came as Culture Secretary Maria Miller said a public inquiry could be held into the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal if the BBC's own investigations failed to get to the heart of the allegations against the former TV presenter.

The BBC has started probes into its culture and practices and the decision to shelve a Newsnight investigation into Savile.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Mrs Miller said: "At this point we want the criminal investigations by the police to be able to proceed as swiftly as possible. We also want the BBC to consider these matters in detail for themselves and hold their inquiries.

"If the investigations are considered not to suffice because of issues around transparency, process or other such things, then a public inquiry remains an option."

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo also addressed the allegations made by Mr Messham about the leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician.

"Maria Miller has called on the BBC to be absolutely transparent and to get to the root of everything that has happened in the BBC," he said.

"David Cameron will have to put himself in a similar position. He'll have to say he wished to get the root of whatever may have happened, not institutionally with the Conservative Party... but whatever it is that may have happened with a senior Conservative."

Never published

Since the Savile sex abuse allegations surfaced, politicians have been raising questions about other historic abuse cases.

In the early 1990s, allegations of the abuse in almost 40 children's homes in Wales started to surface and in March 1994 Clwyd County Council commissioned an independent inquiry into claims of widespread abuse across north Wales.

But the inquiry's report was never published and the copies were pulped to ensure the local authority was able to maintain its insurance cover.

In the wake of this, and amid growing public pressure, in 1996 the-then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, ordered an inquiry into allegations of hundreds of cases of child abuse in care homes in former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd between 1974 and 1990.

The tribunal, led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, heard evidence from more than 650 people who had been in care from 1974 and took almost three years to publish its report.

Counsel for the inquiry mentioned the existence of a shadowy figure of high public standing, but said that there was no substantial evidence to support the allegations.

The Waterhouse Inquiry identified 28 alleged perpetrators but they were never identified in public.

On Saturday, Mr Towler told BBC Radio 5 live: "It's easy for us now to feel really quite suspicious about why those constraints were put on the Waterhouse Inquiry because... for us now in 2012 that would be absolutely unacceptable."

Asked about suspicions that there had been a cover-up, Mr Towler said: "The only way that you can clearly put that to bed is to say... that we will conduct that inquiry and we will allow that inquiry to go as far as it needs to go to make sure that the evidence that witnesses and victims want to give is fully heard."

An investigation by BBC reporter Angus Stickler in 2000 revealed allegations of a much wider circle of abuse than that uncovered by the inquiry.

He uncovered allegations of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children not just by care system staff, but that children were being lent to paedophiles from all walks of life including businessmen, police, and a senior public figure in a paedophile ring stretching beyond the borders of north Wales, to Chester, London, Brighton and beyond.

Bryn Estyn deputy head, Peter Howarth, was jailed in 1994 for 10 years for sexually abusing teenage boys. He died in jail.

Anyone with information into these allegations - or who needs support on the issues raised in this article - can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email, or call their local police station by dialling 101.

Correction 10 November 2012: The BBC has apologised unreservedly for broadcasting a report on Newsnight on 2 November over allegations of child abuse which transpired to have involved a case of mistaken identity. As a result the video of the original report has been removed from the website. More details can be found here.

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