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A parents' champion.

SIR Stuart Bell became a champion for parents during the traumatic Cleveland child sex abuse scandal.

He played a pivotal role in bringing children back to their families and helped amend the law following the scandal that made headlines all over the world.

In 1987, some 113 children were taken into care over a six-week period as Dr Marietta Higgs and her colleague Dr Geoffrey Wyatt believed they had been sexually abused. They used a controversial diagnostic practice called RAD - reflex anal dilatation - which they said indicated abuse.

In just five months, Dr Higgs had diagnosed 78 children as having been the victims of sexual abuse and Dr Wyatt 43.

Shocked by what was happening in his constituency, on June 29, 1987 Sir Stuart put down a Private Notice Question in the House of Commons asking for a Government statement.

Then on July 9, 1987 the Secretary of State for Social Services ordered a public inquiry. It was 12 months later when chairman Elizabeth Butler-Sloss published a report. It said that physical and sexual abuse of children in the county had increased "beyond all bounds".

The public inquiry found most of the allegations were unfounded and all but 27 children were returned to their families.

The two doctors were criticised for "over-confidence" in their methods.

Sir Stuart gave up his role as Labour Front Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland to concentrate on the issue and defend the families involved. And after five years of hard work from Sir Stuart, the Children Act 1989 came into force in 1991.

The Act abolished notorious Place of Safety Orders and said all cases of alleged child abuse had to be brought before a proper court within three days, and declared the child's interest paramount. Sir Stuart said at the time it "takes away the state power to abduct children".

It was five years before he got back to the front bench. But he later told the Gazette: "I never regretted my action on behalf of my constituents."

He subsequently wrote a book on the events, When Salem Came to the Boro.
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Oct 15, 2012
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