Mr Speaker, with permission I would like to make a statement on historic allegations of child abuse in the North Wales police force area.
In 1991, North Wales Police conducted an investigation into allegations that, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, children in homes that were managed and supervised by Clwyd County Council were sexually and physically abused. The result of the police investigation was eight prosecutions and seven convictions of former care workers.
Despite the investigation and convictions, it was widely believed that the abuse was in fact on a far greater scale. But a report produced by Clwyd Council’s own inquiry was never published because so much of its content was considered by lawyers to be defamatory.
In 1995, the then Secretary of States for Wales, my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Wokingham, appointed a QC to examine all the relevant documents and recommend whether there should be a public inquiry. The recommendation was that there should not be a public inquiry but an examination of the work of private care homes and the social service departments in Gwynedd and Clwyd Councils.
This work revealed not only shortcomings in the protection of vulnerable children, but that the shortcomings had persisted even after the police investigation and subsequent prosecutions. In 1996, my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary, the then new Secretary of States for Wales, invited Sir Ronald Waterhouse to lead an inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the Gwynedd and Clwyd Council areas.
The Waterhouse Inquiry sat for 203 days and heard evidence from more than 650 people. Statements made to the Inquiry named more than eighty people as child abusers, many of whom were care workers or teachers. In 2000, the Inquiry’s report, ‘Lost in Care’, made 72 recommendations for changes to the way in which children in care were protected by councils, social services and the police. And following the report’s publication, 140 compensation claims were settled on behalf of the victims.
But the report found no evidence of a paedophile ring beyond the care system, which was the basis of the rumours that followed the original police investigation, and indeed one of the allegations that has been made in the last week.
Last Friday, a victim of sexual abuse at one of the homes named in the report - Mr Steve Messham - alleged that the Inquiry did not look at abuse outside the care homes, and he renewed allegations against the police and several individuals.
The government is treating these allegations with the utmost seriousness. Child abuse is a hateful, abhorrent and disgusting crime, and we must not allow these allegations to go unanswered, and I therefore urge anybody who has information relating to these allegations to go to the police.
National Crime Agency
I can tell the House that Mark Polin, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police, has invited Keith Bristow, the Director General of the National Crime Agency, to assess the allegations recently received, to review the historic police investigations and investigate any fresh allegations reported to the police into the alleged historic abuse in north Wales care homes. He will lead a team of officers from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, other investigative assets as necessary, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, who will act as the single point of contact for fresh referrals relating to historic abuse in North Wales care homes. He will produce an initial report reviewing the historic investigations and any fresh allegations by April 2013. I have made clear to Mark Polin and Keith Bristow that the Home Office is ready to assist with the additional costs of this work.
In addition, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, the government will also ask a senior independent figure to lead an urgent investigation into whether the Waterhouse Inquiry was properly constituted and did its job. Given the seriousness of the allegations, we will make sure that this work is completed urgently.
Given that there have also been serious allegations about other historic child sex offences, I should also inform the House of the work being conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. This will establish a full picture of all forces that have received allegations in relation to Jimmy Savile, examine whether these allegations were investigated properly, and identify wider lessons from the response of the police forces involved. I have been assured by HMIC that their work will also take into account any lessons that emerge from these latest allegations.
Mr Speaker, before I conclude I would like to warn Hon Members that if they plan to use Parliamentary privilege to name any suspects, they risk jeopardising any future trial and therefore the possibility of justice for the victims that I believe the whole House wants to see.
Mr Speaker, I believe the whole House will also be united in sending this message to victims of child abuse. If you have suffered and you go to the police about what you have been through, those of us in positions of authority and responsibility will not shirk our duty to support you. We must do everything in our power to do everything we can to help you, and everything we can to get to the bottom of these terrible allegations.
I commend this statement to the House.