The Independent, January 8th 2001
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
THE APPALLING abuse committed by Frank Beck, who was entrusted with the running of three children’s homes in Leicestershire, was what alerted police officers to the possibility that a national scandal had gone undetected.
Before the conviction of Beck, who was sentenced to five life terms in 1991 for sexual assaults against more than 100 children, few officers believed that such widespread and systematic abuse was possible.
The true scale of Beck’s crimes may never be fully known but he is estimated to have assaulted between 100 and 200 children over 13 years. He was sentenced to a further 24 years on 17 charges of abuse, including rape. He died in jail from a heart attack, aged 52, in June 1994.
Tony Butler, the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire and spokesman on abuse issues for chief police officers, said: “In the past social workers and police officers simply didn’t believe the children. We didn’t think that short of thing went on in children’s homes. With Beck’s trial it became painfully clear that they could and did go on in children’s homes.”
Since Beck, many other abuse inquiries and trials have taken place, including the report by Sir Ronald Waterhouse into the horrific abuse of children in care homes in North Wales, which was first revealed by The Independent.
But as a survey by this newspaper has found, an unprecedented number of investigations are continuing and many more scandals may emerge.
The survey gives the fullest picture to date of where the inquiries are taking place. Many police forces have attempted to keep their work secret, partly for not wanting to alert potential offenders. Some are also concerned that by going public former residents may come forward and make bogus allegations in the hope of obtaining compensation.
These forces would rather approach potential victims and question them away from the spotlight of publicity. Others believe publicity is one of the best ways of obtaining new witnesses.
The Independent survey has identified 67 separate investigations at 32 of the 44 forces in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where inquiries are either continuing or have recently been completed.
A national database of historic abuse inquiries, most concerning children’s homes and schools in the Seventies and Eighties, held by Gwent police, has a list of 34 forces involved in 98 separate inquiries. The numbers are increasing on a monthly basis.
The database aims to link alleged perpetrators to different inquires, and expose paedophile rings and examples of travelling abusers. So far the police have 59 links or “hits”. These cases are taken from a list of more than 1,800 names of suspected paedophiles, convicted abusers, and care workers, teachers and individuals, who have aroused suspicion.
A total of 67 investigations have been identified by The Independent. The police have asked for details of some of them to remain a secret because they are at a particularly sensitive stage. They involve more than 400 homes and school, at least 2,000 victims, 415 suspects, and have in excess of 400 detectives working on them full-time. They have so far resulted in at least 51 convictions and there are 25 trials pending.
Many of the inquiries are huge and involve substantial resources. In Greater Manchester, Operation Cleopatra is investigating more than 66 care homes. Operation Flight in Gwent is investigating 19 homes, including the former children’s home at Ty Mawr near Abergavenny in west Wales. The police want to trace 10,000 former residents.
In Devon and Cornwall, Operation Lentisk is examining allegations of abuse throughout the two counties between 1960 and 1985. A 34-strong team is investigating allegations from more than 230 former pupils and residents against 102 alleged offenders.
Not surprisingly, considering the vast area it covers, the Metropolitan Police has the most investigations, with 22 recorded on the national police database. These include a 31-strong team to look at 30 local authority care homes in Lambeth over allegations of abuse against up to 200 children, said to have happened from 1974 to 1994.
Operation Care in Merseyside is investigating 84 care establishments. So far 27 people have been convicted of physical and sexual abuse.
The care scandal started to emerge in 1989 when the police investigated a series of complaints from past residents about abuse in Castle Hill, a privately owned home in Ludlow, Shropshire, which took in children from local authorities. Allegations of abuse were made by 57 victims, and in 1991 Ralph Morris, proprietor of the home, was jailed for 12 years.
The inquiry sparked off a series of new investigations, most notably in Staffordshire, North Wales and Leicestershire.
The extent of the institutional abuse, in which hundreds of vulnerable children suffered the most appalling assaults and mental torture, was illustrated by the Tribunal of Inquiry headed by Sir Ronald Waterhouse. His report, published last February, said at least 650 people had been abused in children’s homes in North Wales.
But while many people had hoped that the worst of the care scandals had already come to light, the extent of the current investigations, and likelihood that these will mushroom, make this a vain hope.
n The latest child abuse scandal to hit the Catholic church came to light yesterday as police confirmed investigations into accusations of sexual abuse and brutality by monks.
A report is said to name 12 former teachers and care workers at St Ninian’s List D School. The school, operated by the Catholic teaching order the De La Salle Brothers in Gartmore House, Stirlingshire, was closed almost 20 years ago.
The allegations, which cover more than two decades – between 1960 and 1982 – are believed to centre on seven monks and five staff. Two of the monks have since died while the remaining five have retired.