History back in the headlines

Despite relating to allegations from many years ago, today has been a day of fast-moving political events relating to historic abuse in North Wales children's homes.

Yesterday, the Children's Commissioner Keith Towler called on the Welsh Government to set up a new independent inquiry into events there in the 1970s and 80s. He spoke out after claims emerged from one victim, Steven Messham, that a senior Conservative politician had been involved in the abuse - but that this and other allegations had not been dealt with by Sir Ronald Waterhouse's three year, £13m Tribunal of Inquiry which reported in 2000.

His intervention was seen as particularly significant since the Commissioner's post itself was one of the key recommendations of the Waterhouse Inquiry.

The First Minister Carwyn Jones confronted the issue head on at his monthly press conference this morning.

His line was that he was keeping an open mind on whether there should be another inquiry - but in the end, more victims have to come forward before he would sanction one, despite the views of Mr Towler carrying "great weight".

The Welsh Government have powers to set up a full blown judicial review along the Waterhouse lines without referring to Westminster. But it would only be allowed to look into devolved areas. If, for example, its remit covered possible failings in historic police investigations, the First Minister said it would require the Attorney General's consent, although he seemed to be optimistic that would be forthcoming if WG deemed it necessary.

The FM also floated the possibility that the Children's Commissioner could use his powers to carry out an investigation, with Peter Clarke's 'Clywch' inquiry as a precedent. However, this would be more limited in its powers and scope than a full judicial inquiry - but also much cheaper and quicker. This is highly likely to be discussed at his meeting with Keith Towler tomorrow.

Either way, from what he said this morning, what the First Minister seems have in mind is a pretty substantial throughgoing independent inquiry into the allegations.

Mr Jones mentioned that "Number 10" had been in touch with his officials over the weekend relating to the the new allegations and they were taking a close interest.

Just how close an interest emerged at lunchtime, shortly after his press conference ended - with the first suggestions from Downing Street that they were initiating their own inquiries into the claims.

In fact, some hours later, at the time of writing, David Cameron, currently on a trade mission to Abu Dhabi, appears to have launched three separate inquiries today.

The first is a paper exercise asking relevant Whitehall departments to conduct searches to establish whether they hold any records relating to the senior Conservative politician in question.

The second is an investigation into the police handling of the allegations.

The third is to ask an as yet un-named "senior independent figure to lead an urgent investigation into whether the original inquiry was properly constituted and properly did its job and to report urgently to the government."

This doesn't seem to be looking at the substance of the Messham allegations over the weekend, but about the remit and work of the original Waterhouse inquiry.

Two things about this leap out.

In his quote Cameron appears to be questioning whether the late Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his team carried out their job effectively - I've never heard his personal integrity questioned in public before - even if the remit has often been criticised as too narrow.

Secondly, the person responsible for the original Waterhouse remit from 1996 is the then Welsh Secretary, now Foreign Secretary - William Hague.

Downing Street sources are reported as being concerned that the different inquiries announced today don't "trip over" each other - and therefore the idea of one over-arching inquiry is now being floated.

However, this would surely need to be done with the consent of Welsh Ministers, given that much of it would relate to areas now devolved since 1999.

Given David Cameron's words today, and despite the First Minister's earlier caution, it looks increasingly as if it will be a fait accompli.

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.