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HUNT IS ON FOR FORMER CARE WORKERS NAMED IN WATERHOUSE INQUIRY INTO NORTH WALES CHILD ABUSE

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Councils and health authorities across Britain are being given 48 hours to check their staff lists to find out if a...
Councils and health authorities across Britain are being given 48 hours to check their staff lists to find out if any of the 24 former workers in north Wales children's homes named in the Waterhouse reports as proven or suspected abusers are in their employ.

The Guardian (p1) reports that the move follows the publication of 937-page report into the 20-year care scandal in the former counties of Clywd and Gwynedd.

Authorities will have to report to the government whether any of the 24 have found jobs where they might have access to children.

The report, put together by a team led by Ronald Waterhouse, a former high court judge, names about 200 people under the privilege accorded the inquiry. Some have been previously identified in court cases, but others have merely been subjects of complaints assessed by the team.

Still others have been named because they held responsible positions, or because the team felt it necessary to do so to address rumours about them.

The team's 72 recommendations, applying technically to Wales alone but certain to have a broader impact, include a full review of what it would cost to bring children's services up to an acceptable level of performance.

The report also calls for the appointment of a children's commissioner. Although such a move has already been signalled in Wales, the department of health proposes to create a children's rights director - a lesser role that has been criticised by children's chairites.

In an article headlined: 'Why the scandal never came to light', The Times (p7) reports that the allegations might become public years earlier had it not been for the insistence of the councils' insurance company that any admission of wrongdoing would open the floodgates to claims from victims.

The company, Municipal Mutual, which has since been taken over by Zurich, was also the insurer for the North Wales Police, some of whose officers were alleged to have been among the abusers.

In his report, Sir Ronald expressed grave concerns about the role of insurance companies in relation to inquiries by local authorities and called for a Law Commission inquiry to look into the matter.

During the inquiry, it emerged that the insurers had repeatedly advised Clwyd CC not to make any public statements concerning the allegations of abuse. They said that councillors risked becoming personally liable for any compensation awarded by the courts to victims of abuse or individuals falsely accused of abuse.

To resolve conflicts of interest between insurers and their clients, Sir Ronald suggested that local authorities be given statutory powers to institute inquiries and to publish their findings with the protection of qualified privilege.

An alternative might by the production of 'central government guidance to local authorities, including guidance as to the format of inquiries and the content of reports', he said.

Malcom King, chairman of the social services committee, on the former Clwyd CC, who pushed for a public inquiry, welcomed Sir Ronald's calls for a Law Commission inquiry. 'I think I hate the insurers more than the paedophiles,' he said. 'The idea that a commercial company can lean on an elected body is outrageous.'

David Forster, a spokesman for Zurich Municipal, said the company accepted that there was a problem concerning the role of insurers in relation to inquiries by local authorities. He said that the company would welcome an investigation into the issue.

He added: 'Broadly we are in agreement with the tribunal's recommendations. It has done a tremendous job and found that the insurers acted with 'honourable intentions'.'

Meanwhile, The Western Mail (p1) reports that the six councils of north Wales said the conduct of the shamed social services workers was indefensible. The solicitor to the successor authorities to Clwyd and Gwynedd, Ron Evans, said: 'We share with everyone else a sense of outrage towards those who have caused this suffering and who have brought shame on the social services profession.

'Such conduct is indefensible. We have yet to read the report in detail but we are confident that its recommendations will help us to progress along the road towards creating a safer environment for children and will significantly build upon the improvements that have already taken place during the past 10 years.

'Given the safeguards that are being put in place since those events we believe and hope this will not happen on the same scale again. Many people are working hard to ensure it doesn't happen at all.'

Mr Evans said the recommendation that there should be individual complaints officers for each authority had been unexpected but welcome.

The Western Mail also reports that the current director of social services at Ceredigion CC is heavily criticised in the Waterhouse report. Gethin Evans was the head of children's services at Gwynedd CC between June 1982 and August 1995.

One of his first actions in the job was to write a memorandum emphasising that Nefyn Dodd, named yesterday as running an alleged tyrannical and unreasonable regime at Ty'r Felin community home, should have full responsibility for community homes in the area. The report concludes that it was a grave error to give Mr Dodd additional responsibilities.

But last night the chairman of Ceredigion CC stood by Mr Evans. Tom Raw-Rees said: 'I have to say that Mr Evans has given exemplary service to the county of Ceredigion. 'I can find no fault with his work here.'

The Waterhouse report says both former councils' social services departments failed to provide effective leadership at the most senior level which would have ensured that the first consideration given to every child in their care was its welfare.

Senior management of the departments were frequently changed and remained 'confused' without adequate expertise at the highest level.

There were also no coherent management arrangements in place for inspecting community homes and for monitoring the performance of residential care staff.

The Western Mail carries a special four-page supplement on the report. It quotes Rita Stringfellow, chair of the Local Government Association's social affairs and health executive, who said: 'We would urge all local authorities to act without delay on the request that they check their employment records for people named in the Waterhouse report who may still be working with children.'

The Guardian's Society supplement (p2) also carries a general feature on reform of the care system, and a campaign to get local authorities to extend their parental dutires beyond the age of 18

- the full text of the Waterhouse report's final chapter is available on request from LGCnet. Tel 0171 833 7324/5.

- see LGCnet 16/2/00 'FURTHER ACTION TO END ABUSE IN CARE - DEPT OF HEALTH TO CARRY OUT URGENT NATIONWIDE CHECKS'

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