This is part of the Story of the Brave Social Worker Alison Taylor who stood alone against the Police, the Courts, the Council, and the politicians in the Welsh Office and beyond to raise the voice for the beaten and sexually abused children in North Wales Children Homes.
For years, children in care in North Wales were abused and beaten by those charged with their welfare. Some social workers turned a blind eye. Others were part of a more sinister conspiracy of silence. Thankfully, one woman was not prepared to look the other way - even though her complaints about the abuses she had witnessed cost her her job.
Alison Taylor was sacked as head of a Gwynedd care home in 1986 after taking her concerns outside the closed ranks of the North Wales care system. When she took her former employees to an industrial tribunal, she found her own name had been blackened and she had been labelled "a subversive."
A police inquiry drew a blank and the abuse continued. Shocked by what she had seen and heard, Alison, 55, was determined that justice would be done. And after a 15-year battle, she finally saw the abusers exposed and 25 of them convicted.
When her complaints were ignored in 1986, Alison wrote to the North Wales Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Welsh Office and even to Margaret Thatcher. In 1991 she compiled a dossier of 75 allegations which resulted in a second police investigation.
Again there were no convictions. Still Alison did not give up. In 1996 four men were jailed for physical and sexual assaults on boys in the neighbouring county of Clwyd and a full investigation was ordered.
The North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal was finally opened in 1997. Its findings revealed the biggest child-abuse scandal Britain has ever witnessed. Some 200 people were named by 129 victims, although the number of children affected is thought to be in the region of 650 across 40 children's homes.
The report, chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, stated that without Alison's campaigning there would have been no inquiry.
She told the Waterhouse Inquiry in 1997: “When I returned from training, children were being transferred to my home and I was receiving more and more complaints from children about the abuse and ill treatment they had suffered and which they had seen others suffer. By the autumn of 1985 Gwynedd County Council would not admit to the existence of a problem, the problem of mistreatment of children.
“I reported on an assault involving an alleged head injury. I made a written report ... and the response I received was an insurance claim for the boy and a telephone call from [a care worker] saying: ‘How could you have done such a thing, we thought you were our friend’.”
Asked what happened after she made the complaint, Mrs Taylor said: “Nothing as far as the assault was concerned, but I think shortly afterwards you will find that I was in hot water yet again over something. The pattern seemed to be that if I made a complaint then something would happen to me – it was like having a sniper behind the wall.”
Mrs Taylor told the Inquiry that on another occasion a girl had complained that a member of staff had sex with her: “She had been in care for a very long time and her behaviour was a cause for concern, but we didn’t know why. She became suicidal at times. Then she told me she was being sexually abused and I reported it. She was transferred but continued make allegations and the next I heard she had been transferred to a secure unit in a hospital.
“I think she was shifted to keep her quiet. As far as I know, there was no investigation.”
In 1986 Mrs Taylor made a statement to police about naming six children who had allegedly been assaulted. In December of that year she was told to stay away from work and was formally suspended in January 1987. She was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing, but an agreement on compensation was later reached.
In 1991 Mrs Taylor compiled a dossier of 75 separate allegations which she submitted to the police. Many related to the Bryn Estyn care home in Wrexham, which until its closure in 1984 had been run by Clwyd County Council.
Mrs Taylor enlisted the support of Welsh politicians in her campaign to get justice for the abuse victims and an extensive police inquiry was launched in August 1991. All 46 children’s homes in Clwyd were examined, with a special focus on seven of them. Most of the allegations covered the period 1980 to 1988, 2,600 statements were taken and no fewer than 300 cases were sent for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service.
In the event, eight men were charged and seven convicted. The longest sentence was meted out to Peter Howarth, jailed for 10 years in July 1994 for indecently assaulting seven boys between 1974 and 1984 at Bryn Estyn, where he was deputy head. He died in prison in 1997. John Allen, head of the Bryn Alyn home, was jailed for six years in February 1995 for six indecent assaults on boys in his care.
Despite the prosecutions, rumours persisted that powerful people who did not work in children’s homes had also been involved in the abuse. There were persistent suggestions that boys had been taken out of the homes to be abused in hotels. But Britain’s tough libel laws acted as a strong deterrent to news organisations in naming names.
In March 1994 Clwyd County Council commissioned a report on abuse in its homes from three leading experts in child care: John Jillings, the former social services director for Derbyshire, Professor Jane Tunstall of Keele University and Gerrilyn Smith, who had previously been attached to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The 300-page report was delivered a year later, but has never been officially published because of legal concerns. Most copies were pulped.
This week the chief executive of Flintshire County Council, the successor authority to Clwyd, said he would seek fresh legal advice about publishing the report if a copy turned up. In fact, copies of the report were leaked at the time and crucial passages were put into the public domain.
Calling for a judicial inquiry into the whole affair, the report said: “It is the opinion of the panel that extensive and widespread abuse has occurred within Clwyd residential establishments for children and young people. An internal social services inquiry such as that of the independent panel cannot hope to address successfully the wider areas of concern which we identified during the course of our investigation, having neither the resources nor the authority to do so. This includes the suggestion that public figures may have been involved in the abuse of young people in Clwyd.”
The unpublished report denounced those who should have stopped the abuse, saying: “Our findings show that time and again, the response to indications that children may have been abused has been too little and too late. Furthermore, the needs and interests of young children have tended to be an incidental rather than a primary concern. Our criticisms in this regard apply not only to the county council, but also to the Welsh Office, North Wales Police and constituent agencies.”
The report went on to criticise the way professionals involved had put their own concerns first, saying: “A second overarching finding is that there has been a conflict of interest between safeguarding professional positions versus the safety of children and young people. The interests of children have almost invariably been sacrificed.”
It particularly condemned Welsh Office social services inspectors for failing to visit a single children’s home in the 10 years during which most of the abuse took place.
And it said: “It is clear that in a significant number of cases the lives of young people who have been through the care system in Clwyd have been severely disrupted and disturbed. At least 12 young people are dead [most of them having committed suicide]. These issues are all of fundamental importance and we regard it as imperative that they are addressed in the full view of public scrutiny ... “We consider that a public judicial inquiry under the arrangements set out in section 250 of the Local Government Act should be initiated.”
Incredibly, the report predicted its own suppression at the behest of Clwyd County council’s insurers, who were opposed to the inquiry from the start, fearing it might provoke a flood of compensation claims from abuse victims. One letter from the insurers quoted in the report said: “We do not see why it is necessary to have such a wide-ranging inquiry.” Every inquiry is a dress rehearsal for claimants and a further incentive to the bandwagon syndrome.”
The unpublished report said that insurers or their legal advisers also successfully opposed plans by the inquiry team to look for other children who may have been abused. The insurers also warned that a public dispute between the council and North Wales Police was unacceptable, and suggested that Malcolm King, the chairman of the council’s social services committee who had been vocal in his calls for full disclosure, should be sacked from his post by his fellow councillors.
Clwyd County Council voted not to publish the report after the insurers threatened to cancel the authority’s cover if id did so. But it passed the report on to Welsh Secretary William Hague, who decided to set up of a Tribunal of Inquiry under retired judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse.
Contrary to the Jillings’ Report’s call for a judicial inquiry that addressed the issues “in the full view of public scrutiny”, it was decided before any evidence was gathered by Waterhouse that the names of alleged abusers would not be published. The Tribunal also concentrated on abuse within the homes. One of the victims, Steve Messham, told BBC’s Newsnight programme that he was banned from mentioning abuse that took place outside the care system by the Tribunal's terms of reference.
The ban on naming names undoubtedly diminished the impact of the Waterhouse Tribunal, even though hundreds of victims gave evidence at hearings that lasted more than a year. The victims were hoping for justice, but the legacy of Waterhouse is not the identification and prosecution of further perpetrators, but improvements to the regulatory regime governing children in care.
When Sir Ronald Waterhouse died in May last year, Deputy Children’s Minister Gwenda Thomas paid tribute to him for making 72 recommendations in his report “which have provided the foundation on which we have driven improvements to children’s services in Wales over the last decade”. These included establishing a Children’s Commissioner – the first in the UK – improving the regulation of care settings and strengthening arrangements for advocacy and whistle-blowing.
Important as these reforms have been, there remain fundamental concerns that justice for many of the victims has still not been achieved.
In Fact with the vilification of abuse survivor Steven Messham by David Rose in the Mail newspaper the abuse is still going on.