Policemen, social workers and prominent public figures have been accused of belonging to a paedophile ring which indulged in a relentless campaign of physical and sexual abuse in children’s homes in North Wales.
The names of the alleged members of the ring have been given by witnesses in public sessions of the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal, but they have been suppressed by the tribunal’s chairman, Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC, who has threatened the media with High Court proceedings if they print them.
The Guardian today publishes for the first time detailed evidence about the alleged ring which is said to have been based in Wrexham, in North Wales, and to have infiltrated local children’s homes over a 20-year period. Witnesses claim that members of the ring used their connections with police and social services to conceal their activities. All of the accused have denied the allegations. Those who have been named to the tribunal include:
* A man who bears the same surname as a prominent Conservative supporter. Two witnesses have told the tribunal of a rich and powerful man who belonged to the alleged ring.
* The son of an influential peer who admitted to police that he had been having sex with an under-aged boy from one of the homes. Despite his admission, he was never prosecuted.
* A powerful public official who has previously been cleared of abuse. Six different witnesses have given separate accounts to the tribunal of his alleged rape of young boys. Another has reported him attending parties in Wrexham which were supplied with boys from a children’s home.
* Two social workers and two police officers, one of whom was accused of abuse on four separate occasions and exonerated each time, another of whom has since been jailed in another part of the country for gross indecency with a child.
* More than a dozen other local men, including an executive with a local authority, a senior probation officer and a director of a major company.
All of those who have been named as members of the alleged ring have denied the charges, either in evidence to the tribunal or through their lawyers.
When the tribunal was established last year, it had been assumed that the press could report its proceedings, using the laws of privilege which allow them to name names from court cases and public hearings without fear of libel actions.
However, Sir Ronald then ruled that the media could not report the name of any living person who was accused or likely to be accused of abusing children in the North Wales homes unless they had previously been convicted of such an offence. Since then he has extended his ruling twice: he has granted anonymity to one man who died 16 years ago and to another who has twice been convicted of sexually assaulting boys from a North Wales home.
Sir Ronald has argued that his ruling will encourage paedophiles to come forward and to give honest evidence without fear of retribution. Critics say that this is unnecessary since he has the power to compel witnesses to attend and that those who have come forward have done so to deny the allegations against them and not to make a clean breast of their alleged offences.
One lawyer who has been involved with the tribunal said he feared that the anonymity ruling was actively discouraging witnesses. “Newspaper readers may well have information of potential value to this tribunal. They may themselves have been the victims of abuse, or they may have worked with the alleged abusers. But if the press is not allowed to inform them of the names of those against whom allegations are made, they will not learn that their information is important. So they will not come forward.”
The tribunal was ordered by the last Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, after Clwyd County Council decided not to publish the report of an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse in its children’s homes. The tribunal, which has been hearing witnesses for eight months, is expected to continue to take evidence until January next year.