North East children’s homes likely to be considered in new inquiry into historic abuse claims


North East children’s homes likely to be considered in new inquiry into historic abuse claims

A long-awaited inquiry into historic claims of child abuse is likely to look at claims of widespread abuse at children’s homes in the North, the Home Secretary has said.

It follows assertions that an earlier inquiry into hundreds of allegations dating back to the 1960s, called Operation Rose, was a “whitewash”.

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that a wide-ranging inquiry into historic child sex abuse is to be reconstituted under a new chair, New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard, with tough new powers to compel witnesses to attend and provide evidence.

It means the investigation can finally get underway, following a series of delays since it was originally set up last July.

Mrs May told Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell that she expected it to look at previous inquiries such as Operation Rose.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Campbell asked her: “Will the inquiry look into all inquiries, including Operation Rose in Northumberland, which has become known as a big whitewash?”

She said: “As I have indicated, the inquiry will have significant historical reach and will consider all the evidence it needs to move forward. I would expect it to look at previous inquiries to ascertain what happened and what lessons need to be learned.”

Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell
Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell

Operation Rose was a three-year investigation by Northumbria Police into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at 61 children’s homes run by voluntary bodies and councils in Northumberland, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

It began in 1997 after a woman in her twenties told a social worker that she and a friend had been abused as children in care.

But the £5m inquiry resulted in only six convictions, despite uncovering 530 allegations.

Court hearings continued until 2002. Eventually, 32 people were charged with a total of 142 offences, of which five were found guilty, one pleaded guilty, 12 were found not guilty, nine had cases withdrawn, four died before their cases were heard and one remained on file.

Speaking to the Journal, Mr Cambpell, said: “There are more people coming forward now who didn’t come forward during Operation Rose.

“What the Home Secretary has said is good for them. It is important that people who were abused to come forward.”

He said anyone who had been a victim of abuse who was not sure what to do could contact him.

“People can come to me and I will direct them to the people they need to talk to.”

He added: “Operation Rose led to some social workers being found not guilty and that is quite right but it didn’t get the perpetrators.”

The new inquiry was prompted by claims of paedophiles operating in Westminster in the 1980s, but it can consider events before that and across the country.

It will investigate whether “public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales”.

Delays in getting it underway are a result of controversy over the first two chairs to be appointed, both of whom eventually stood down.

Justice Goddard was seen as a suitable choice partly because, as a New Zealander, she has no links to the British establishment.

Furthermore the new probe will be put on a statutory footing under the Inquiries Act 2005, giving it the power to force witnesses to appear and answer questions and to hand over any documents it demands.

Mrs May told MPs: “Let me be clear. I am now more determined than ever to expose the people behind these despicable crimes and the people in institutions that knew about abuse but didn’t act – that failed to help when it was their duty, sometimes their very purpose to do so – and the people and institutions that in some cases positively covered up evidence of abuse.”

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