Child abuse in North Wales: a journalist’s battle to get to the truth

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Journalist David Williams

When former senior police inspector Gordon Anglesea was sentenced for sexual offences against children last month, it was the culmination of years of waiting for those who had suffered as a result of his actions. 

Journalist David Williams

It was justice at last for the two men who had suffered indecent assault in the 1980s as boys by the convicted paedophile from Old Colwyn when he was a superintendent in the Wrexham area.

But it was also justice for the journalist from Anglesey, David Williams, who had through meticulous investigation striven to prove that dozens of children had suffered physical and sexual abuse in care homes in North Wales.

For some of the victims, the fact that people had not believed them, had become too much of a burden, and they had taken their own lives before seeing justice done.

In the documentary Cam-drin Plant: Y Gwir sy’n Lladd (translation: Child Abuse: The Truth Kills) on Tuesday, December 13, at  9.30pm on S4C, we hear about the quest of the journalist with HTV Cymru Wales, ITV Wales and BBC Wales to discover the truth about physical and sexual child abuse in care homes in North Wales.

The programme will be told from the David Williams’ perspective and we hear his personal story and opinion about an investigation that has defined his professional life for a quarter of a century. There will also be contributions from victims and others who have insisted that the truth be out.

David Williams said, “I hope that this programme will make people realise that it is a matter of national shame how the establishment dealt with these cases of child abuse in care homes in North Wales. Society should bow its head in shame that it didn’t believe the people who had suffered abuse and those such as Alison Taylor who spoke up on their behalf.”

David, 66, started investigating cases of child abuse in the early 1990s when he heard Alison Taylor’s story; the former social worker who had been dismissed because she had made allegations that children had been physically abused in Ty’r Felin home, Bangor, Gwynedd.

His investigation led to a programme about the home but, even more importantly, led David to investigate alleged abuse in homes outside Gwynedd; in private care homes and local authority homes across North Wales.

The programme follows David’s footsteps as he investigated cases of sexual and physical abuse in homes such as Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn in Nort East Wales.

He paid a heavy price personally and professionally for his investigation, particularly following the ITV programme that included allegations that a senior police inspector in Wrexham, Gordon Anglesea, had sexually abused children.

Following the broadcast, Gordon Anglesea started and won a libel case against ITV and other news outlets in 1994. The jury did not believe the people who had given evidence against Gordon Anglesea.

“I almost resigned at that time and turned my back on my career as a journalist. Only the support of my wife Rhiannon and the support of my colleagues at BBC Wales – I had joined Wales Today by that time – convinced me that I should continue to believe that the truth would come out in the end.”

Over the years a number of people who have been in care homes as children had failed to cope with what they had suffered and had committed suicide.

“That is why I wanted to include the words ‘the truth kills’ in the title of the programme. I can never forget that people have paid the highest price for telling the truth and that organisations of the British establishment have driven people to take their own lives.”

Although he has sometimes questioned himself over the years, as we shall see in the documentary, he continued to believe in the evidence of the young people and through a slow painful process of reports, inquiries and court cases, they have been proven right.

The programme follows the course of the Jillings Report (1996) and the Waterhouse Inquiry (2001, cost £ 14m); investigations that led to very few prosecutions despite the fact that the evidence pointed to widespread abuse in care homes in North Wales.

David ardently believes that some crimes could have been avoided if the police had acted sooner on the evidence of the reports. More recent inquiries search as Operation Pallial and the Macur Review into the Waterhouse Inquiry (both in 2013) supports the journalist’s view.

One shocking example of ignored evidence was the evidence given by Des Frost, once the deputy chief executive of the private Bryn Alyn community homes. He had gone to Chester police station in 1980 with allegations that six resident children had been abused by the head of Bryn Alyn homes, John Allen. No action was taken at the time and it was another 10 years before Allen was convicted of sexually abusing boys in his care.

“It is scandalous how Des Frost’s evidence was treated. It’s enough to make you lose faith in the police and the legal system and we have yet to receive a full explanation why this happened.

“What is now being disclosed about the sexual abuse of boys in football clubs across Britain is a very similar story – people in power abusing their positions and children and adults too frightened to speak out. It reminds me very much of the child abuse cases in care homes in North Wales.”

Does David believe that child abuse on the scale seen in care homes in North Wales could happen today?

“The truth is that we can never say never. We may not see paedophilia on the same level in care homes again, but it’s happening on the web on an alarming scale. As one policeman told me, ‘Of course I’m worried about the safety of my daughter as she walks home from school but I’m even more worried about what she sees when she opens her laptop once she’s home’. The dangers are forever present.”