Evening standard, 13th June 1996
By Eileen Fairweather
ANYONE who investigates child sex rings survives through grim jokes.
Yesterday a man appalled by newspaper reports of yet another children’s home scandal asked me how on earth so many paedophiles had infiltrated British childcare. ‘It was easy,’ I replied. ‘They just knocked on the door and said they liked little boys in shorts.’
John Major’s commission of a national inquiry on organised child abuse hasn’t come a moment too soon. The Cabinet is right to fear the public has totally lost confidence in Britain’s commitment to protecting its most vulnerable children.
He has also ordered a judicial inquiry into North Wales children’s homes, as demanded by the authors of the scandalously suppressed Clwyd report. This is brilliant news, but are inquiries alone enough? Repeated official inquiries have urged simple, sensible reforms to prevent paedophiles gaining access to children – and been ignored.
Who needs conspiracy theories, when the Cinderella status of childcare encourages and protects perverts?
Today Ministers will finally debate the possible horrific result – that children’s homes across Britain have been systematically infiltrated by child sex rings. Despairing police and social services experts have raised this for years.
Their frustration at official indifference made many ‘whistle-blow’ to the Press, including the Evening Stand-ard. In 1992, when we began investigating claims that children in Islington’s care were routinely raped and prostituted by staff, we suspected our sources were paranoid.
That seems an age of innocence ago. It was eventually proven that 32 Islington staff were allowed quietly to resign after serious allegations, including child porn, drugs, buggery, child abduction and dishonesty.
Most were given glowing references, allowing them to gain work with children elsewhere.
It took five government-ordered inquiries before the full truth emerged.
My loss of faith in the authorities stems from this time. The Standard became sick of Mickey Mouse inquiries which looked at everything except child sex abuse, and handed a 118-page dossier of evidence to Scotland Yard and the Social Services Inspectorate. We threatened to keep publishing until an adequate inquiry was held.
After 60 plus articles, the Ian White report last year finally confirmed what we first alleged three years be-fore.
Islington has reformed, its top people were sacked. Some former staff were tracked down and sacked, but only one has been jailed for child abuse – and that was in Morocco, this spring.
The police agree at least three of the men we highlighted belong to child sex rings. But they simply don’t have the resources to investigate.
Will the Prime Minister please today also face the abysmal undermanning of police child protection work? Only 16 specialists at Scotland Yard are meant to keep track of Britain’s child abusers and pornographers.
They are only meant to advise on cases outside the Met, and have long asked in vain for a national unit. If Mr Plod in the sticks doesn’t know or care how to investigate this sensitive area – and many don’t – they can’t muscle in.
National problems call for national solutions. The Government’s realisation of this partly stems from the latest children’s homes scandal.
Up to 300 Cheshire children were preyed upon by men seemingly linked to other, now disgraced, childcare workers in Clwyd and Liverpool.
Every major political party includes alleged paedophiles. Journalists routinely hoot when certain names are mentioned. The evidence, such as it is, invariably comes from rent-boys or screwed-up kids from care back-grounds. It’s legally unreliable and possible scurrilous. But does this explain why no party until now has really dared tackle child abuse?
Mr Major is a decent man and his courage in challenging the North Wales children’s homes cover-up is to be applauded. But does the existing independent inquiry report have to remain suppressed, even MPs have not been allowed copies.
I’ve read the whole damning 373 pages. Up to 200 children were abused and 12 have committed suicide, or died tragically. Just seven men were imprisoned. Many other perpetrators – including public figures – were named.
All along the inquiry team said a judicial inquiry was needed so certain people and organisations could be forced to give evidence, and the results published: an intended cover-up was clear from the start.
The media has explained the Clwyd report was pulped because council insurers feared victims’ compensa-tion claims. That’s only half the story. No one in authority emerges well from John Jillings’s painstaking in-quiry.
Senior executives, the Welsh Office and Welsh Social Services Inspectorate – which for years failed to in-spect a single one of Clwyd’s ‘Colditz’ style homes – must have winced reading it.
It is difficult not to suspect a mutually convenient cover-up.
Welsh Secretary William Hague will today give a report to Mr Major.
Confidence in the Prime Minister will soar if he orders Hague to publish.
Only if we face horrors can we learn from them – and, paradoxically, keep them in proportion. Many good people work in children’s homes: underpaid and undertrained but doing their best for often deeply disturbed, difficult children.
Only some of the repeated recommendations for reforms cost money – for example the 1986 suggestion, following the inquiry into Northern Ireland’s Kincora home, that only qualified staff be employed.
Others cost relatively little, for example the long-suggested social work ‘passport’, so job applicants can no longer easily hide their employment history.
One now imprisoned Clwyd worker was investigated internally six times – no one kept tally.
Common sense costs nothing, and the Government’s belated crackdown on poor teachers needs a social work equivalent. Liberal domination of the field has made managers terrified of sacking suspect staff.
The equal opportunities farce we exposed in Islington widely exists elsewhere. In Clwyd, too, men who preyed on boys deflected suspicion by crying ‘homophobe!’.
Social work trainers and recruiters are fond of insisting that heterosexual child abuse is more common. But ‘straight’ paedophiles can breed their own victims, through the family. Those who prefer boys need institu-tions: hence their targeting of children’s homes (and public schools).
In some Islington homes there was not a single heterosexual member of staff.
Even those measures which will cost have a long-term pay-off.
Currently, an estimated 23 per cent of Britain’s prison population grew up in care. How many bitter, unloved kids could be turned from crime, if care cured hurts rather than added to them? As long as childcare remains a low-status profession, and children’s homes dustbins few want to work in, perverts will obligingly queue up for jobs in them.