North Wales child abuse scandal

Dave Reid, Secretary, Socialist Party Wales

The BBC has become embroiled in a crisis over its coverage of child abuse scandals, but what is becoming forgotten is the issue of child abuse itself.

Lost in the latest twists and turns of this scandal has been the fact that hundreds of children were horrifically abused and brutalised at the Bryn Estyn care home and other homes in North Wales in the 1970s and 80s.

Powerful and wealthy people were able to prey on child residents at the homes with impunity. The authorities, police and council officials helped to cover up the abuse for years despite numerous complaints.

As we go to press only a BBC executive has resigned and the only apology has been from one of the abused, Steve Messham.

Their crime was to mistakenly claim that Lord McAlpine, Tory party treasurer and advisor to Thatcher, abused children from Bryn Estyn.

It seems that in the eyes of the Tory press this mistaken accusation is worse than the abuse itself.

But those who were abused have not received justice. Steve Messham has been pilloried in the Daily Mail and disgracefully Tory David Mellor called him a “weirdo”.

Hundreds of children at Bryn Estyn and at 40 homes across North Wales were abused in the 1970s and 80s.

Keith Gregory, a Wrexham councillor who was abused at Bryn Estyn in the 1970s by staff and others from the area around North Wales, says names of alleged abusers given to the 1996 Waterhouse Inquiry had been left out of the final report “because they were only interested in care workers and the staff of Bryn Estyn”.

He said the abusers also included MPs, solicitors, judges, factory directors, shopkeepers and serving police officers who were not mentioned in the Waterhouse Report.


Victims have spoken of being taken out of the homes to visit abusers who were not employed within the care system.

The police had refused to respond to claims of abuse by former residents at the homes and the authorities have appeared determined to protect the powerful abusers.

Meanwhile any of the abused have suffered years of psychological trauma. Some have been driven to suicide.

Steve Messham has alleged: “In the home it was the standard abuse which was violent and sexual. Outside it was like you were sold,” he has described being tied down and raped in a hotel room.

It was only in 1991, following the determination of a social worker in Gwynedd who reported abuse, that the police were forced to launch an investigation. 150 former Bryn Estyn residents came forward with abuse claims.

In 1994 a report commissioned by Clwyd County Council, which was responsible for Bryn Estyn, was produced but never published.

The council claimed its contents were “defamatory” and the report was destroyed. As we go to press it is reported that copies have been found in archives.

Two inquiries have now been launched by the UK government: one into the original abuse claims and another into the conduct of the 1996 Waterhouse Inquiry.

Concern has been raised that underfunded and austerity-hit services will be further stretched by the demands of the inquiries.

While regimes such as at Bryn Estyn are much less common now, children in today’s under-funded, privatised and fragmented care system are still very vulnerable to grooming, sexual exploitation and rape, as the recent Rochdale case shows.

Also while the current media focus is on institutions, the vast majority of child abuse takes place within the family.

We demand:

  • Justice for the abused. For a genuinely democratic and accountable inquiry into the abuse case, involving the trade unions with adequate, publicly funded resources
  • Stop the intimidation of ‘whistle-blowers’
  • No cuts and privatisation in care homes and services. We need a fully-funded, publicly owned, democratically controlled service, run by care receivers and providers, families, the unions and medical/care professions