Wrexham abuse victim: 'We must have a new inquiry'


Lois Hough

A VICTIM of abuse at Wrexham’s Bryn Estyn care home has spoken movingly of its terrible legacy.

Cllr Keith Gregory spoke to the Leader as Home Secretary Theresa May announced major reviews of allegations of abuse in North Wales and the original Waterhouse Inquiry.

'I became aware of people being taken from their beds at night'

"I KNOW of 12 or 13 people off the top of my head who have killed themselves because of Bryn Estyn.

"I was taken away from my family in 1972. I was playing truant in school because I had dyslexia and problems hearing, and I was being bullied. I got into a little bit of crime – minor vandalism – more out of boredom than anything else.

"I ended up in court and I was told they wanted to put me in care until I was 18. I just couldn’t believe it. My family couldn’t either – I remember my dad crying.

"I didn’t have a chance to go home. There was no chance for anything.

"They put me in a car between two police officers and they drove for miles and miles. They took me to a remand centre in Liverpool. It looked like something from the Addam’s family – a dirty, dingy horrible looking place.

"I left Liverpool after a month and went on to another centre. They told me they were looking for somewhere for me to go and the place that kept coming up was Bryn Estyn.

"At last I can have visitors, I thought, as it was difficult for people to get to Liverpool if you didn’t have a car.

"Well, I got there. What a place.

"On my first day I was told to wait outside a staff member’s door, as he would want to speak to me, so I waited and leaned against the wall.

"When the member of staff saw that, he punched me in the stomach and shouted ‘when I talk to you, you stand to attention’. I refused to apologise and he dragged me in, tore my clothes off and caned me from the back of my neck to the bottom of my feet. I was beaten bloody.

"They didn’t bring in a doctor. Everything was in-house, kept in secret within the walls of the home.

"They would do searches after a visit, where they’d check you everywhere. It made me hate visits from my family. It was very invasive – they would check your penis and your bum.

"They said it was because people could smuggle stuff in, but why didn’t they just search the visitors? It was just an excuse to touch us.

"We had what was called ‘Borstal showers’, where a man would come in and watch us.

"One teacher used to take you into the shower – which was like a cattle pen – and turn them on alternatively freezing cold and boiling hot and force you to run all around them, and he would whip you with a very fine stick if you slowed down.

"I was only about 12-and-a-half years old, but I knew something was very wrong.

"I tried to report this, and other things going on. There were beatings and we were made to lean against walls, supporting ourselves with our fingertips, for hours at a time. We were made to hold floor buffers – big metal things – in the air for hours. It used to kill our hands and arms.

"It was torture. I’d had enough.

"I reported it to a care worker, face to face. He came in and set up a case conference with members of staff and members of the governing body.

"It was obvious they were all on the same side. And they just started laughing at me.
I became aware of people being taken from their beds at night.

"They made you feel powerless.

"There was a flat on the grounds where we were told all the ‘good boys’ would go to watch films. But they were given something to drink and then they would abuse them.

"We used to lie in our beds and pretend to be asleep and put our heads under the sheets. We didn’t know who they were going to come for. You’d hear the kids being put back into their beds crying their eyes out, sobbing their eyes out.

"It sounds horrible, but you’d be glad when it wasn’t you.

"That was hard, living with that.

"We knew of people visiting this flat. People turned up regularly.

"We also knew of kids being driven off to a hotel where they would be gang raped.

"That didn’t happen to me, but it was common knowledge. I knew it carried on.

"I left when I was 15 and stayed in an associated hostel where I had to go straight into work. Basically I had to pay for my own punishment.

"I was put into care because I was not going to school. But since I was taken, I had never seen the inside of another classroom in my life. Because of them, I lost my education.

"They called it care, but believe me, there was no care and no protection.

"There were little kids there whose mums had died in car crashes and house fires – horrific. And these were the ones they targeted more, knowing they could do nothing about it.

"I got a job that led to me being released.

"You got a suit, a shirt, a tie and a horrible mackintosh and they shut the door behind you.

"I was lucky my family lived in Wrexham. A lot of boys had nowhere to go, but they still threw them out and they ended up on the streets. And they’d be picked up again.

"There were paedophiles waiting to abuse them when they got out, because they knew.

"I know some of the lads ended up as sex workers in London and Manchester.

"My parents knew about the beatings but I didn’t mention the other. You didn’t mention it – it was something you didn’t do. I tried once and it did me no good.

"Over the years, I tried to put it all at the back of my mind, to cope and get on with things.

"The first I knew of the Waterhouse Inquiry was when I got a knock on the door from an ex-police officer. They opened a can of worms and just left it sitting there.

"In the inquiry there were a lot of people we were not allowed to name, all the visitors (the report focused solely on Bryn Estyn staff and care workers). If you wrote a name they would cross it out.

"My experiences led to a breakdown in my relationship with my wife. I turned to drink, drugs, all sorts of things after the inquiry. It all went round in a big circle. I didn’t know what to do.

"Some things on TV or seeing a mother smack her kid, or hearing the slamming of a door in hospital – bring it back. It never goes away.

"People would come for a talk and tell me what happened to them and name names.

"There were shopkeepers, policemen, people from the church, directors of big business, all involved with what was going on.

"If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be doing this. But then the abusers would never be caught.

"If the authorities had looked into the names we supplied during the Waterhouse inquiry, there’s a chance they could have caught more paedophiles. Links could have been found.

"And that would have stopped another 12 years of innocent people being abused.

"If people are out there who were abused as children, I would encourage anyone to come forward. It doesn’t matter whether it was physical, mental or sexual, abuse is abuse.

"The more people who come forward, the more likely it will be that we can get help and find justice.

"I fully support the opening of another inquiry but it needs to be independent and it needs to go further.

Home secretary to launch abuse inquiry

THE National Crime Agency (NCA) is to mount an investigation into fresh allegations of abuse at a Wrexham children’s home.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the director general of the NCA, Keith Bristow, would review the original police handling of the case – which dates back to the 1970s and 1980s – and look at the latest allegations by victim Steve Messham.

It comes amid claims a senior Conservative politician was part of a paedophile ring which targeted Bryn Estyn care home.

Yesterday, Mrs May told MPs in the House of Commons: “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.”

On BBC’s Newsnight on Friday, victim Mr Messham, 51, said the exploitation which took place at almost 40 children’s homes across North Wales in the 70s and 80s is yet to be revealed.

He claimed he was “sold” to men for sex at a nearby hotel and that a Tory politician from the Thatcher era, who was not named by the programme, was among the perpetrators.

He said that the Waterhouse Inquiry – led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse – uncovered only a fraction of abuse centred on Bryn Estyn.

Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced an investigation into whether the Waterhouse Inquiry was adequate.

Yesterday Mr Cameron said: "These are very, very concerning allegations.
“That is why I have ordered this rapid investigation into the previous inquiry to find out whether there was something wrong with it and make sure the victims are properly listened to.

“We must get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible on behalf of the victims.”

Mrs May said she will consider Labour calls for a wider, over-arching inquiry into child abuse – including the allegations involving the late DJ and BBC presenter Jimmy Savile – if the evidence was shown to justify it.

In her statement at the Commons she warned MPs not to use parliamentary privilege to try to name the alleged suspect as it could jeopardise the prospect of any future criminal trial.

Yesterday Mr Messham received a phone call from David Cameron’s private secretary.

He said: “They were just reassuring me they are taking this matter very seriously, reassuring me they wanted an inquiry into the abuse, not just an inquiry into the inquiry.

“Years ago I can understand it was a taboo subject but it is not a taboo subject today and I just think it is now time people opened up, it is now time for people to speak out and it is time for the truth to come out.

“The lack of investigations and the poor quality of the inquiry is what needs to be sorted out.”

Lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented 15 victims at the original inquiry, told ITV’s Daybreak: “Sir Ronald Waterhouse was charged to make inquiries to find out about how these things happen, how you could stop it happening again.

“But in terms of his investigations into what happened and why and all the rest of it, there had been a series of investigations, none of which had really got to the bottom of it and he looked at his terms of reference rather too narrowly in my judgment and as a result some of the stories we have heard over the last couple of days were effectively suppressed from coming out.”

'They musn't be scared of powerful people'

POLITICIANS have backed calls for an ‘over-arching’ inquiry into the fresh allegations.

North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd has called for the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, to take charge of the inquiry.

He said: “Victims must have absolute confidence this inquiry will examine every aspect of the alleged abuse rather than seek to limit the investigation.”

Clwyd South MP Susan Elan Jones told the Leader: “We need maximum intelligence on this to ensure all of the perpetrators are brought to justice.

“We’re asking victims who have been through hell and back to speak publicly about what happened.

“They mustn’t be scared to speak out because the perpetrators are powerful people.”

And Clwyd South AM Ken Skates has called for a full criminal investigation into institutional child abuse in the UK.

He said: “The problem of institutional abuse goes well beyond the confines of North Wales.

“Looking at the issue as isolated cases of abuse in North Wales care homes or within institutions such as the BBC won’t get to the root of the problem.

“Whilst a lot of important lessons came out of the original Waterhouse report, the restraints of the inquiry mean some of the victims feel they have not had their say and that some child abusers have not been brought to justice.”

Mr Skates, who was chief reporter at the Flintshire Leader at the time of the Waterhouse Inquiry, added: “The work done by key people at the Leader, including the then court reporter Gareth Evans, and editor-in-chief Reg Herbert, was incredible.

“Their determination to seek out the truth and deliver justice for the victims was inspiring to us reporters.

“The Leader was central in the exposure of the vile abuse of children at North Wales care homes.”

The National Crime Agency investigation

Director general Keith Bristow will lead a team of officers drawn from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and “other investigative assets as necessary”.

He will produce an initial report by next April.

Theresa May said HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is drawing together details of allegations made to police forces around the country against DJ Jimmy Savile, would be able to take into account any lessons during his inquiry.

North Wales force urges victims to come forward

NORTH Wales Police are backing calls for a new investigation.

Chief Constable Mark Polin said: “The Government, the force and our partners are anxious for recent allegations in relation to the public inquiry and investigations into child abuse at children’s homes in North Wales during the 1970s and ‘80s to be investigated.

“To this end,  I have requested the assistance of the Director General Designate of the new National Crime Agency, Mr Keith Bristow, to provide resources to do the following:

Scope any information recently received in relation to abuse allegations, and – in the light of that assessment - review as necessary the historic police investigations and any fresh allegations reported to the police into alleged historic abuse in care homes in North Wales; and

Identify any lines of enquiry, as part of any necessary review of historic cases that warrant further investigation, and to investigate them, including arresting suspected offenders where appropriate.

“This work will be led by Mr Bristow, so as to provide a transparent, objective and independent assessment.

“Victims and members of the public can be assured that any new identified lines of enquiry will be pursued as rigorously and as swiftly as possible.

“The work will not cover any new allegations of abuse which are unconnected to the previous investigations in relation to the historic abuse in care homes in North Wales. Any such new allegations will remain the operational responsibility of the force. I encourage anyone who may be the victim of abuse or suspect others of abuse to report this to the police or another agency.”

Top-level meeting

WELSH Secretary David Jones met with North Wales child abuse victim Steve Messham yesterday.

Mr Jones said: “Child abuse is a truly abhorrent crime and any allegations made should be properly investigated by the police.

“I hope Mr Messham feels reassured by the Government’s response and the action now being taken.”

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones met with the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler.

Mr Jones said: “Mr Towler confirmed his office is dealing with a number of people who have contacted him since the weekend.”

Former high court judge was appointed after allegations since '70s

The Waterhouse Inquiry was set up by then Welsh Secretary William Hague following continuing speculation in North Wales about the level of abuse that had been suffered by children living in care in the area.

The retired High Court judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse was appointed to head the judicial inquiry examining allegations of abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd since 1974.

When announcing the inquiry, the report noted that Mr Hague referred to the fact that it had been known for “several years” that serious sexual and physical abuse of children had taken place in homes managed by the then Clwyd County Council in the 1970s and 1980s.

An intensive investigation by North Wales Police began in 1991, in which about 2,600 statements were obtained from individuals and which had resulted in eight prosecutions and seven convictions of former care workers, the report said.

But nevertheless, speculation continued in North Wales that the actual abuse was on a much greater scale than the convictions themselves suggested, the report noted.

The three-year inquiry, set up in 1996, sat for more than 200 days and heard evidence from 259 complainants, of whom 129 gave verbal testimony. The report noted that for the “vast majority” this was the first opportunity for their accounts to be publicised and “very many of them expressed satisfaction” that this was achieved.

Lost in Care was published in February 2000 and concluded that widespread sexual abuse of boys had occurred in children’s residential establishments in Clwyd between 1974 and 1990. The inquiry added that there were some incidents of sexual abuse of girls in these establishments but they were comparatively rare.

Although the extent of abuse of children in care in Gwynedd was much less than it was in Clwyd, the failings in practice were of a similar order or degree, the report found.

The inquiry made 72 recommendations, including creating the post of a Children's Commissioner in Wales. A decade after publication, health officials and politicians met to discuss the progress in implementing the recommendations.

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