The report that first exposed child abuse in North Wales care homes has finally been published. But, says Eileen Fairweather, damning details have still been left out
Seventeen years ago, a nervous-sounding woman rang and asked me to publicise a top-secret report. She was not the whistleblower, she explained, but a go-between. She would not give me her name: “It’s safer if you don’t know.”
That secret report revealed the extensive rape and savage beating of countless children in North Wales children’s homes. It was titled “Child Abuse: An independent investigation commissioned by Clwyd County Council, period 1974-1995”. Last week, John Jillings’s report on the Clwyd scandal was finally published. But Flintshire county council – successor to Clwyd – has heavily censored it. I dug out the original and discovered, unsurprisingly, that the cover-up continues.
The cloak-and-dagger way I obtained the redacted report speaks volumes about how those struggling to expose Britain’s child abuse rings were intimidated and derided. Few then believed children’s allegations that people in power, including politicians and senior police, were involved. I was myself incredulous when first asked in 1990 to investigate a social worker. Weren’t care professionals all kind?
It was a baptism by fire, as one investigation rapidly led to another, and I realised that paedophiles had comprehensively infiltrated Britain’s children’s homes since the 1970s.
Back in 1996, only a handful of local politicians and officials were allowed a copy of Jillings’s report. They were told – by police, insurers and the council – that they risked their careers, arrest and being personally sued if a word reached the media. The uncensored Jillings report includes these chilling threats.
Every report had a number, imprinted as a large watermark on every page. Any journalist who quoted it would supposedly be ordered by the courts to produce their copy or photocopy or face jail, and the watermark would expose their source.
My caller said apologetically I must write out the report by hand. I was also told to share it widely with other reporters. Journalists need exclusives, but the rationale was sound: “If all the media cover this, there won’t be a witch-hunt.”
I collected the report from a safe ‘drop’ point. It took me three exhausting days, holed up alone in a poky room in a B&B, to scribble out hundreds of pages. I fed to different newspapers and broadcasters different extracts suggested by my source. I only produced one article, and later a programme for HTV, under my name.
At least one paper and a news channel independently acquired the report: clearly, others whistle-blew. The coverage was widespread, and the whistleblowers’ drip-feed strategy worked: no one was arrested or sued.
Clamour mounted, and the Government announced a public inquiry. Yet surely, no further inquiries were needed: instead, police could have acted on the evidence already given to them by hundreds of victims and concerned staff, kicked-in doors and arrested suspected perpetrators.
The late judge, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, took evidence over three years, and in 2000 produced a report, “Lost in Care”. His tribunal had cost millions and ultimately achieved little, other than fat fees for lawyers. It amplified the horrors described by Jillings but it did not lead to arrests or managers being disciplined or struck off.
Jillings – the retired former director of Derbyshire social services – and his team, Prof Jane Tunstall and Gerrilyn Smith, had been commissioned after several former workers at Clwyd care homes were prosecuted in the early 1990s for abuse. But victims described many more abusers, and alleged organised child prostitution.
Last autumn Rod Richards – a former Welsh Conservatives leader, who has recently joined UKIP – revealed that the late Sir Peter Morrison MP, a close aide to Mrs Thatcher, was implicated in the North Wales care scandal. Did this limit the political will to act?
Flintshire county council says it has redacted much of the Jillings Report on the advice of Operation Pallial, which in April confirmed it is examining 76 new allegations of abuse in 18 North Wales care homes between 1963 and 1992.
North Wales Chief Constable Mark Polin has warned abusers: “If you believe that the passage of time will reduce the resolve of Operation Pallial or any police force to identify people still alive who have caused harm to others and bring them to justice, you are sorely mistaken. Offenders should quite rightly have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.”
Mrs Justice Macur is also examining the evidence excluded from the Waterhouse inquiry. Following a key arrest, I am cautiously hopeful that, this time, police mean business.
The authorities had issued such stern libel threats to Jillings’s panel that it only named a few of the accused staff who were allowed to resign unpunished. But he exposed the excuses of the jobsworths who allowed sadists to control these terrible homes. This is the real censored dynamite in the report.
The whited-out paragraphs in the redacted version help minimise the breathtaking incompetence and laziness of ”the suits’’ – those in the Welsh Office, the Social Services Inspectorate, the local council and welfare directors.
Some cuts are not even indicated. Jillings wrote that one Bryn Estyn boss – allowed to take early retirement following grave concerns – caned children “despite Welsh Office guidance to the contrary”. In the redacted version, at section 8.6.4, the key words “Welsh Office” have vanished.
So many looked the other way, despite desperate children and a lone, brave social worker begging for years for action. Shamefully, the whistleblower Alison Taylor’s name is also redacted from the online version of Jillings. This heroine was sacked. But those who looked the other way were promoted, moved to senior child welfare roles elsewhere or retired on enhanced benefits – like many alleged abusers.
Jillings, in the non-redacted report, reveals that one head of a home who allegedly cruelly beat boys even had a post secured for him by Clwyd at an exotic holiday destination abroad. Might some who failed to act now be investigated for neglect or conspiracy? When does inertia become criminal?
Many children ran away, but police returned them, weeping, to their abusers. At Bryn Estyn – famously described by Jillings as “the Colditz of residential care” – one boy was crammed into a laundry basket, the lid tied shut and tossed into a swimming pool. Other children saved him from drowning.
Jillings also describes ”M’’, a 15-year-old girl. Three men were eventually convicted of unlawful sex with her at her foster home. They tied her to a wooden pole, dragged her upstairs and half-drowned her in a cold bath. Yet managers claimed the sex was consensual. The uncensored version exposes concerns that she was prostituted. Such subtle redactions make it harder for people to join the dots.
In May 1997, after the Jillings report, a key member of Clwyd’s fostering panel was imprisoned for abuse. Roger Saint had been appointed despite his known history of abuse.
Other redacted details concern Unit Five, where older boys routinely abused younger ones. It was feared that they violently “broke in” recruits for a paedophile ring. But managers said the sex was consensual.
The redacted version also conceals the fact that David John Gillison, imprisoned in 1987 for three years for gross indecency against a boy in care, was prominent in the local Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Why conceal that? Paedophiles in other child-care scandals have similarly hijacked the banner of gay rights – to the detriment of both children and ordinary, decent gay men.
I earlier exposed a similar scandal at Islington children’s homes, where paedophile staff cynically accused anyone raising concerns of “homophobia”.
The redacted version has also removed the fact that a former Bryn Estyn head was arrested for abuse but the charge dropped. Yet Mat Arnold was long dead, so why was this cut? Jillings later – seemingly randomly – mentions that Arnold died of an unspecified blood disease. Later he notes his concern that the abusers put their victims at risk of sexually related diseases. Did he fear that Arnold died of Aids – and is that still too politically incorrect to mention?
I later exposed Mark Trotter, a Hackney social worker who died of Aids after abusing boys in care. His council believed him an Aids martyr and covered up his abuse.
The real martyrs are the care children who killed themselves or died violently. Jillings lists 12. He called them R1, R2, etc, with just a few poignant lines about their deaths by hanging or falling from heights. My hand ached after I wrote out that report, and so did my heart.
I later learnt of four other abused boys who died tragically or mysteriously. I rang the secretariat of the Waterhouse tribunal and asked if it would examine the deaths of these 16 boys. The official said no and, when I asked why not, became supercilious. If they’re dead, he snapped, they can’t give evidence – can they?
I slammed down the phone and wept.
Back in 1996, my sole news story about Jillings’s report appeared in a Sunday paper. It had been severely cut. I understood why – I had focused on something key but “dry”, namely the insurers’ role in suppressing the report. But I felt I had failed these hurt children and my distress infected a weekend with old friends.
Even they seemingly thought I was exaggerating the scale of the scandal. I glumly trailed round a stately home’s garden with them and shut up. One, a psychoanalyst, wrote me a sweet, implicit apology after the Jimmy Savile revelations and said she and colleagues had since been inundated with people painfully disclosing long-hidden abuse. She thanked me for helping make the unbelievable believable.
I have sometimes thought of those who escaped the Holocaust during the war, but no one believed their stories. This has been a hard journalistic beat to tread. Yet I am not one of the victims of Britain’s holocaust of children, just a witness, a reporter. Dear God, please, this time, let us not fail them.
Eileen Fairweather is an award-winning journalist whose investigations over 20 years have helped expose several paedophile rings