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Calls for fresh inquiry into allegations of child sex abuse; FIRST MINISTER APPEALS FOR VICTIMS TO COME FORWARD.

Byline: GRAHAM HENRY Senedd Correspondent graham.henry@walesonline.co.uk

FIRST Minister Carwyn Jones yesterday confirmed he would examine growing calls for a fresh inquiry into widespread child sex abuse allegations across North Wales.

The First Minister made an appeal for other victims of abuse across Welsh care homes in the 1970s and 1980s to come forward to police or the Children's Commissioner, in the wake of new claims from one victim that he was abused by a senior Conservative politician.

Mr Jones confirmed he would meet the Children's Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, today after Mr Towler called for a new inquiry at the weekend, after the claims made by Steven Messham on the BBC's Newsnight programme.

His comments preempted an investigation announced by Downing Street, with David Cameron ordering an urgent, independent probe into the original Waterhouse Inquiry and whether it did its job properly.

Mr Messham, from Flintshire, claimed he was abused by a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician at a North Wales care home in the 1970s, and that only a fraction of the abuse was covered by the Waterhouse Inquiry which was published in 2000.

His evidence prompted calls from Mr Towler for a fresh probe into the abuse, with the Commissioner writing to the First Minister to demand a new inquiry.

Speaking at his monthly press briefing yesterday, the First Minister said he was examining the case for a fresh inquiry into the allegations, urging other victims of the scandal who felt that all the evidence had not been aired during the original inquiry to come forward to the police or the Children's Commissioner.

But he stressed that any new inquiry would have to be prompted by "more than one" person coming forward with new evidence.

Mr Jones said: "At the moment we have one person who has come forward, that may change over the course of the next week and that inevitably will have an influence over what needs to be done to ensure the greatest level of transparency when it comes to investigating what happened in Bryn Estyn.

"I have asked for urgent advice on the terms of reference of the Waterhouse Inquiry at the time when it was set up, because I want to understand fully what was in those terms of reference, and what was not.

"In due course that will enable me to consider whether any further inquiry might be necessary."

He said that the Welsh Government took the calls for a fresh inquiry "very seriously" and that his officials had been in touch with North Wales Police.

"One of the key recommendations of the Waterhouse Report was the establishment of a children's commissioner for Wales. I have invited Keith Towler to come in and see me tomorrow so that I can hear his thoughts directly," he said.

But he warned that it was too early to say whether any inquiry would be set up by the Welsh Government and what form it would take. It is unclear how an inquiry, which may stray into non-devolved areas such as the police, would operate.

Mr Jones said: "We can institute any kind of inquiry in devolved areas - that doesn't include the police.

"So if there were to be, and this is not prejudicing it, an inquiry in future, there may need to be police involvement and therefore there would need to be permission granted from, I suspect, the Attorney General."

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight last week, Mr Messham claimed that he was taken out of Bryn Estyn and "sold" to men for sexual abuse at a nearby hotel.

Mr Messham said a senior Tory from the time, who was not named by the programme, had been involved.

He criticised Sir Ronald Waterhouse's inquiry, arguing that its terms of reference meant he was not able to raise the issue of abuse that took place outside the care system.

Mr Towler said on Saturday: "I would support a full inquiry.

"The fact that we have someone on camera now who was clearly a victim of appalling abuse in Bryn Estyn children's home back in the 1970s and 80s, saying that what he wanted to say was outside of the terms of reference, and people told him that he could not say these things and he couldn't talk about people who had abused him, is clearly wrong.

"The fact that he is now saying that and he has now said it so publicly means we have to respond to that."

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood also supported an investigation into the original inquiry. She said: "If the original inquiry failed to get to the bottom of the extent of child abuse in North Wales, as has been alleged, then no stone should be left unturned in getting to the bottom of these claims.

"The remit in any new inquiry should be a wide as possible and take into account other areas of the country as the abuse may not have been confined to North Wales. The Welsh Government needs to be proactive in ensuring that any obstacles to a new inquiry are removed if a new inquiry is warranted."

The original Waterhouse Inquiry was set up in 1996 by then Welsh Secretary William Hague following allegations of abuse in Bryn Estyn, a care home for boys, and almost 40 other homes across the former council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd. An independent inquiry by Clwyd County Council into the claims was commissioned in 1994, but was never published - and the copies pulped - to maintain its insurance cover. Mr Hague launched the inquiry in the wake of growing public opinion, and the hearing subsequently heard from more than 650 people who had been in care from 1974 until 1990. The probe identified 28 alleged perpetrators, including an important public figure, but their names were never publicly released after an order from Sir Ronald to stop the press from identifying the figures.

The independent organisation Voices from Care, which had legal representation throughout the Waterhouse probe, said that if further evidence had come to light regarding "prominent people within positions of power", they should be considered via criminal processes.

But it warned that, despite safeguards introduced by the Welsh Government as a result of the Waterhouse report, there should be non complacency about potential dangers.

Deborah Jones, chief executive of Voices from Care, said: "UK Central Government must learn lessons from the previous inquiry to ensure that never again will vulnerable children be put at the mercy of manipulative individuals."

CAPTION(S):

First Minister Carwyn Jones, right, addresses the media yesterday about the inquiry into child abuse at the North Wales care home Bryn Estyn, above
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 6, 2012
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