Tuesday. 21 October 2014

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Analysis: we must change how society tackles child sex abuse

Richmond scandal has echoes of abuse at many notorious children’s homes around UK

The authorities failed to protect children in care

We are witnessing a sea change in how our society deals with sexual abuse of children. Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, this week announced a review of the way in which police and prosecutors should treat allegations of such abuse.

Meanwhile, detectives investigating links between the Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond in south-west London and a paedophile brothel at nearby Elm Guest House have made two arrests so far under ‘Operation Fernbridge’.

It is one of at least 30 “major” police operations that are investigating suspected child sexual exploitation by groups or gangs in England and Wales. They include ‘Operation Yewtree’, the wide-ranging investigation into the activities over many years of Jimmy Savile, the BBC presenter who died in 2011, and others from the celebrity world.

Senior police officers have told Exaro of their determination in the present set of inquiries. Peter Davies, the head of child protection at the Association of Chief Police Officers issued a specific warning in an interview with Exaro to prominent people who are paedophiles.

The Richmond scandal uncovered by Exaro has much in common with well-documented events at notorious children’s homes around the country that first came to light in the 1980’s. These homes included Bryn Estyn, Grove Park, Kincora, Melanie Klein House, Orchard Lodge, and Ty Mawr.

In many cases, there was mutual suspicion at the time between social services and police, despite no shortage of witnesses or victims.

This was compounded by the damage suffered by many of the victims as a result of abuse. Drink, drugs and depression took their toll, and were often seen to undermine the credibility of those who were willing to come forward.

As a result, even where there were investigations, the outcomes were unsatisfactory.

Despite major exposure in the national Press of, for example, Grove Park in the London borough of Southwark, there was little follow-up action by the police.

When Clwyd county council commissioned a report in 1994 on allegations of abuse at Bryn Estyn and other children’s homes in north Wales, the police refused to co-operate.

The final report – by John Jillings, Derbyshire’s former director of social services – was never published because of opposition from the council’s insurers, who argued that it would encourage compensation claims.

The case of Alison Taylor, who was running a children’s home in Gwynedd, north Wales in the mid-1980’s highlights how whistleblowers were ignored.

Taylor heard allegations from children in her care about what was taking place in other homes in the region. She soon found that many cases had already been reported, but no action taken.

In 1986, she took her complaints to her managers. When nothing happened, she approached North Wales Police.

A few months later, she was suspended from her job. Gwynedd council cited “a breakdown in communications” with her colleagues.

The council tried to pay her off, but she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. So, it sacked her. She later reached an out-of-court settlement with the authority.

Two years on, Taylor was vindicated by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who conducted an inquiry into Bryn Estyn.

Taylor compiled a further dossier of 75 cases, which she submitted to the North Wales Police, Clwyd council and the Welsh Office. That too eventually foundered because of a lack of co-operation between different agencies.

The authorities failed to protect children in care. The very institutions into which children were consigned made it easy to exploit them.

The children were not really regarded as anyone’s responsibility.

In terms of social work, jobs in such places were seen as low status. Residential social workers needed no qualifications and few skills.

No wonder these large, under-resourced institutions that were little more than warehouses attracted so many child abusers.

The police often treated badly-behaved children in care as a crime issue. Indeed, many children left their dreadful council-run homes only to graduate to young offenders’ institutions or prison.

With the British establishment’s ability to protect its own, we have yet to come to terms with the full extent of child sex abuse, even though it has been in plain sight for so many years.

For the first time in a generation, there are distinct signs that this is about to change.

In 1990, Nick Fielding reported on Grove Park children’s home for The Sunday Correspondent. In the early 1990s, he also reported on Bryn Estyn children’s home for the Mail on Sunday.

If you have information that might help our investigation, please contact us. Keep re-visiting Exaro for more on this investigation.

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