The Waterhouse Inquiry: the original investgation into Welsh child abuse

The Waterhouse Inquiry was ordered by William Hague, then Welsh secretary in 1996.

He called for the judicial inquiry in response to endemic abuse in children’s care homes in North Wales, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr Hague described the abuse as one of the “saddest chapters” in the history of social care.

The inquiry was led by former High Court judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse who died in May last year

It focused on the former county council areas of Clwyd and Gwynedd and followed widespread anger over the failure of Clwyd councillors to publish the report of a smaller inquiry into abuse, fearing compensation claims.

It sat for 203 days, from 1996 until 2000, and took evidence from more than 650 people who had been in care from 1974

Sir Waterhouse was obliged to sift through some 10,000 children’s files, and to hear evidence from more than 150 victims of abuse at 40 children’s homes.

Witnesses repeatedly broke down as they told how they had been raped, beaten and bullied by their carers — both male and female.

The official report of the inquiry, published in February 2000, concluded that widespread abuse had taken place at residential children’s homes in north Wales between 1974 and 1990.

It found that a paedophile ring did exist in the Wrexham and Chester areas, with adult men targeting boys in their mid-teens, particularly those in care.

However, the report said the inquiry had seen no evidence that prominent public figures were involved in the ring.

When the official report into the inquiry was published, critics said its remit was too limited.

But the major concern with the report lay with an order which banned the identification of 28 alleged abusers.

They included the senior Conservative accused of abusing Steve Messham.

Mr Messham said a senior Tory politician had abused him in a hotel room with eight other paedophiles.

However, he says that when he went to the police in the 1970s he was accused of being a “liar” and his claims were not properly investigated.

Sir Waterhouse made several recommendations in his report, all of which were implemented.

This included a Children’s Commissioner for Wales, children’s complaints officers for every social services authority, and clearer whistle-blowing procedures.