By M.K. Styllinski
“People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made.”
– Otto Bismark
Child abuse revelations have been in the news of late. In truth, they are sensationalised, whitewashed and covered up before the cycle returns and politicians and social services can act shocked and dismayed all over again. Keeping in mind the present inquiry around Scotland Yard and the Westminster paedophile ring, let’s take a look at some of the pivotal events in Britain a couple of decades ago.
One of the biggest ever child abuse scandals in Britain took place at the Bryn Estyn care home North Wales in 1991. Parallel investigations carried out at other children’s homes, including foster homes, followed across Wales. On 15 March 1992, 40 police officers arrested 16 men and one woman in and around the Wrexham area. Only one had worked at Bryn Estyn, a care home for adolescent boys on the outskirts of Wrexham, which was closed down in 1984. From the reports surfacing in 1991, the care home was said to have been the resource for a paedophile ring serving highly placed Establishment figures. The subsequent government tribunal confirmed the existence of a room at the Crest Hotel in Wrexham which was regularly hired out on Sunday evenings to VIP’s who were assured a steady supply of children to abuse.
Between 1974 and 1984, Bryn Estyn became the central location for wide scale abuse which had fanned out in children’s residential establishments in the now-defunct region of Clwyd between 1974 and 1990 along with physical abuse and the “unacceptable use of force” in six local authority community homes. The vast majority of abuse was perpetrated against boys though there were incidents of sexual abuse of girl residents. The neighbouring county of Gwynedd also had its fair share of physical and sexual abuse of young residents.
A three year £13 million tribunal was established under the Conservative government of John Major in June 1996 (that key year) following more than a decade of of sexual abuse allegations which culminated in the police investigation of 1991. The only reason such a tribunal was created was due to the campaign by Alison Taylor, a social worker turned whistleblower and the persistent rumours of a police-led cover-up.
Chaired by Ronald Waterhouse Q.C., the tribunal found that for many children unfortunate enough to find themselves sent to Bryn Estyn, it was “… a form of purgatory or worse from which they emerged more damaged than when they had entered and for whom the future had become even more bleak.”  After registering 259 complaints and listening to the painful testimony of 129 people, the tribunal found evidence of abuse at Little Acton assessment centre, Bersham Hall, Chevet Hey and Upper Downing, including widespread sexual abuse of boys in private residential establishments in the Clwyd area. The abuse of children in five foster homes was also discovered. Bryn Estyn came out on top as the most concentrated example of institutional abuse.
Bryn Estyn care home, which is now named the Erla Centre (Wales online)
Two senior officers, Peter Howarth and Stephen Norris, were found to have sexually assaulted boys over a 10-year period, the former at Bryn Estyn and the latter at Cartrefle, where Norris continued to abuse boys from 1984 until his arrest in June 1990. Of the 140 former residents who gave evidence of abuse the majority of the complaints were directed at Howarth, the assistant then deputy principal at the home. He was jailed in July 1994 for one offence of buggery and several counts of indecent assaults receiving a 10 year sentence. He died in prison in April 1997. Stephen Norris’s character and child stalking was of a different nature though no less damaging. He had already served 3 years in prison imposed in October 1990 for sexual offences committed at Cartrefle. He was sentenced to a further seven years in November 1993 for offences involving buggery and indecent assault against three former Bryn Estyn boys, to which he pleaded guilty.
The Waterhouse report listed a host of serious problems that allowed the crimes to continue. The low priority of children’s services was exacerbated by government apathy and administrative back logs. Care home staff were criticized from their fear of speaking out against colleagues; children were discouraged from reporting abuse and no systems of redress were in place that would allow staff to voice their concerns. Gwynedd police work was “sluggish and shallow” and “seriously defective” with under resourced and poorly staffed investigative teams and no liaison with social services and “relevant documents not seized.” The Welsh Office was also singled out for its “lack of leadership” and “forward planning.”  In other words, the wilful blindness of Official Culture in operation.
Recommendations swiftly followed, which included the appointment of an independent children’s commissioner to oversee complaints and whistle-blowing procedures; a complaints officer for interviewing children alleging abuse and the setting up of an independent regulatory body to inspect all children’s homes, foster homes and other child services. Finally, the requirement that all social workers visit every child in their charge every eight weeks was also implemented.
With watered-down criticisms and recommendations apart, (the latter dependent on already stretched council budgets) what did the Waterhouse inquiry achieve?
Not a great deal. As further glimpses of institutional abuse in care homes, orphanage, foster homes and hospitals have confirmed.
The cases of large scale child abuse in Nottingham, Rochdale, and Orkney in the 80s caused intense controversy due to what many assumed to be a recurrence of satanic abuse or the persistent rumour of paedophiles operating above the law. Bryn Estyn was no different. Allegations of a high-profile paedophile ring with free-masonic involvement and subsequent cover-up were levelled at authorities. But the inquiry, perhaps unsurprisingly for some, found no evidence. Yet a paedophile ring was found to be operating in Wrexham.
The late journalist Richard Webster believed Bryn Estyn and care home abuse allegations in general grew into an unstoppable modern-day witch-hunt that resulted in many miscarriages of justice. Stemming from his initial research into the widespread allegations of child abuse in children’s homes in the 70s, 80 and 90s,  he makes some compelling points that demand attention.
In Webster’s book, The Great Children Homes Panic (1998) while acknowledging: “Sexual abuse is one of the most serious social problems of our age …” He states: “… on to this palpable and disturbing reality we too have projected a fantasy. So powerful has this fantasy become and so urgent is our need to rid the world of anyone who might conceivably be a paedophile, that the requirement for evidence has all but disappeared.” 
Police investigations were based on a new method of inquiry called ‘trawling’ which was central to Webster’s argument. This type of investigation discarded spontaneous and unsolicited forms of police contact regarding new evidence and witness statements. It was a pro-active role of the police to take the investigations to all concerned, in the manner of fishing nets dragged along the riverbed. All those who were resident at Bryn Estyn at the time of the abuse were trawled, as were the surrounding districts no matter how tenuous the link. According to Webster’s analysis, the method is not only gathers up many innocent people just by simple association but is inherently unstable due to the power of suggestion which unduly influences witness statements.
This becomes especially problematic when many care home witnesses may already be unstable due to a variety of factors which may or may not have involved abuse. Once caught up in the climate of disclosure and the unfamiliar situation that they are being cared for and protected this need for disclosure became the driving force at the expense of the facts. When such a climate of suggestion is present, confusion can easily shift from a witness believing his own imagination to being led by police detectives down prepared lines of suggestion. It can also allow unscrupulous elements to join the fray in search of monetary gain via compensation claims, further adding to the possibilities of “red herrings” and vendettas. It may also be that the severity and horrific nature of some of the abuse only served to increase the level of subjective reactions and pressure for to give something – anything – in order to find closure and a semblance of justice. The media may have also helped to blur the lines between fact, fiction and damaged minds. This was certainly a factor in Operation Ore and which has become a persistent danger in subsequent operations and inquiries since.
Prior to the Waterhouse inquiry the police trawling method accrued more than 650 witness allegations with 365 people accused of abuse over North Wales. The problem was, only six prosecutions followed. Accusations of a cover-up ensued which led, in part, to the aforementioned inquiry. Yet the trawling method continued throughout Britain. Webster believes that up to 100 men and two women were wrongfully imprisoned.
The author’s mammoth investigation into the affair is impressive and he makes some extremely important points regarding police investigations, flawed legal procedures and paper-thin allegations of abuse. The probability that innocent men and women have been imprisoned is more than compelling. At the same time, the spectre of suspicion over the whole arena of child care and child workers while, tragic and unnecessary does not necessarily mean that there is no fire beyond the smoke. It may even be more complicated than the author realises, the root causes being different than he supposes.
Firstly, as Webster’s book clearly shows, changes in the law that initially sought to make prosecutions for child abuse more efficient have actually made people highly vulnerable to being convicted as a consequence of false allegations. Webster gets to the heart of the matter when he states: “… of all of the misconceptions about historical witch hunts, perhaps the most important is the notion that they were driven forward by the common people – that they were based on the untutored instincts of the mob. This is the very opposite of the truth … [The witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries] were set in motion not by ordinary people but by an educated Elite consisting of bishops, ministers, magistrates and judges …” 
This tried and tested method of “moral panic” similarly used to great effect politically for peoples’ Revolutions seem to have been birthed in the fire side discussions of each epoch where the law and official inquiries have been used as a cover for maintaining power and authority either for Church or State. Historically, witch hunts have always served judges and magistrates, and the back up of “official” inquiries to maintain their power and authority.
Police trawling was given further prominence in the exploration of the case of Roy Shuttleworth in a 2000 BBC Panorama programme In the name of the children and articles in the Guardian and Observer concerning the cases of Terry Hoskin, Brian Hudson, Danny Smith and Brian Ely. In January 2002, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Chris Mullin MP, announced a full-scale inquiry into the practice of police trawling. They invited the author and journalists David Rose and Bob Woffinden to explore the issues, the minutes of which were made public by May 2002. According to the journalist’s view, over 50 persons were claimed to have been wrongfully imprisoned.
While the author maintains that trawling, the power of suggestion and “the culture of compensation” sent innocent men to jail, it could be viewed as a purposeful exercise in damage control, rather than merely an inevitable result of systematic human fallibility. The question remains how purposeful was this “drive” to maintain power and authority?
Certainly there is no historical precedent, elite groupings always use the masses to mask their own criminal actions. We can speculate that if there are high level paedophiles and child rapists within police and judiciary – which there are – would they not logically exercise their power to protect themselves? Paedophiles and child rapists are the persuasion professionals with secrecy as their by-word. We have seen this dynamic in other cases where cunning and manipulation in domestic situations is a prerequisite in order to appear hidden and operate undetected. The concerns raised by Webster suggest once again, that protection of paedophilia at higher levels becomes an easier affair when a climate of fear elicits “moral panic” and where fall guys serve as decoys so that members of the Establishment are not exposed.
If we ponder the innocent and the guilty who have been imprisoned, the paedophiles within the higher echelons of the European Establishment have a perfect cover now in place. They create the conditions of “paedophile panic” where a constant supply of the innocent and the guilty – often on border-line charges – can take the fall. Thus the protected are free to carry on their crimes while the noose is tightened upon the population at large. Miscarriages of justice merely add to the confusion, which always favour the Elite who, if they don’t make the law, are entirely outside of its influence.
 ‘Lost in Care’ The Waterhouse Report 2000, Stationery Office.
 ‘Refuges that turned into purgatory’ February 16, The Guardian, 2000.
 The Great Children’s Home Panic By Richard Webster, Orwell Press, 1998.
 The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt, By Richard Webster, Orwell Press 2000.
 Ibid (Introduction)