William Hague stifled 1996 paedophile report, says ‘victim’
A man who claims to have been abused as a boy by a senior Conservative has accused William Hague of “stifling” a 1997 paedophile inquiry by preventing it from examining claims beyond the care system in north Wales.
Steve Messham said Mr Hague had “questions to answer” over why a public inquiry by Sir Ronald Waterhouse was restricted under terms of reference laid down by the then Welsh secretary.
Mr Messham believes that Sir Ronald’s three-year inquiry would have unearthed evidence of high-profile figures abusing children in collusion with care home staff had it not had such a narrow remit.
Earlier this week, David Cameron announced a review of Sir Ronald’s inquiry following claims by Mr Messham on the BBC’s Newsnight that a high-ranking member of the Tory Party was among his abusers.
Mr Messham, 49, claimed he was raped “more than a dozen times” by the politician when he was 13 years old.
The politician in question, who is still alive, has vehemently denied the allegation, and said he had only been to Wrexham, where the rapes are alleged to have taken place, once in his life.
When Mr Hague announced the Waterhouse Inquiry in 1996, he said its job was to “inquire into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974”. Mr Messham said the remit prevented Sir Ronald, a former judge, from looking into abuse outside the two areas but which was linked to staff at the care homes.
He said: “These terms of reference sti-fled the inquiry and meant that my allegations and others were not fully investigated. Mr Hague has some questions to answer about the terms of reference of the report.”
A spokesman for Mr Hague said: “The terms of reference were proposed by officials in the Welsh Office and agreed by ministers and widely supported by Parliament. There were no serious representations from MPs or the judge to challenge them at any time.”
Mr Messham made allegations about the senior Tory to Sir Ronald’s inquiry but the judge said at the time he thought they were in the “realm of fantasy”.
How Tory paedophile claims were covered up
When William Hague, the then Secretary of State for Wales, announced in 1996 a judicial inquiry into abuse in North Wales children’s homes, he described it as one of the “saddest chapters” in the history of social care and insisted there would be “no cover up”.
But yesterday, 16 years later, David Cameron was forced admit the inquiry was not all his party had hoped.
He announced that a “senior figure” would investigate “truly dreadful” child abuse claims some of which involved a senior Tory figure who was prominent under the Thatcher regime.
In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, he said there were questions over whether the North Wales child abuse “was properly constituted and properly did its job. “These allegations are truly dreadful and mustn’t be left hanging in the air,” he said.
For the victims who have spent a generation fighting for the chance to make their voices heard and to name their abusers, Mr Cameron’s commitment offers them cause for hope.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, abuse was endemic in children’s care homes in North Wales.
Children were systematically raped in care homes by paedophiles entrusted by the state with their care or ferried by paedophile rings to hotels and country homes where they were abused.
In the 1990s, as the allegations of the abuse started to surface, Clwyd County Council commissioned an independent inquiry into the claims.
The report, however, was never published and copies were pulped to ensure the local authority was able to maintain its insurance cover in what was described as one of the “worst cover ups” in the history of social care.
Amid growing public pressure, Mr Hague intervened. The judicial inquiry, led by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, heard evidence from more than 650 people who had been in care from 1974 and took three years to complete.
While the final report appeared exhaustive, however, it had several severe limitations. According to critics, its main scope was to examine abuse on care home premises, limiting investigations about abuse elsewhere.
Even more onerous, however, was an order made at the time of the original inquiry which banned the identification of 28 alleged abusers. They included a senior Conservative from the Thatcher era who allegedly abused one victim in a hotel room alongside eight other paedophiles.
At the time of the publication of the report in 2000, there were few dissenters.
But after the Jimmy Savile scandal left the BBC facing institutional paralysis and allegations of a cover up, concerns surrounding the North Wales allegations emerged once again.
On Friday, the BBC’s Newsnight programme broadcast allegations from Steve Messham, who is now 49. Mr Messham told in harrowing detailed how he was sexually assualted for 18 months from 1977 when he was living in a children’s home in North Wales.
In particular, he described how he had been raped “more than a dozen times” by a man who was described at the original public inquiry as a “shadowy figure of high public standing”.
He says that when he went to police in the 1970s, he was accused of being a liar and his evidence was ignored. At the public inquiry, he said he had received threats and that both his house and car had been “destroyed”. “He was not taking chances any more,” the report found.
His allegations about the senior Tory were supported by a second victim, who said the politician had taken him for a meal which he paid for with his “gold credit card” before he abused him. The man also had a Harrods account card”.
In both cases, Sir Ronald dismissed the allegations as “embarking on the realm of fantasy”. “It is obvious on this evidence that we cannot be satisfied that any member of the X [the politician’s] family was involved in paedophile activity.”
The politician told The Daily Telegraph last week that he strenuously denied the claims and had never visited the children’s home. He threatened to sue the BBC if the corporation decided to name him.
While the Newsnight investigation was unable to name the man for legal reasons, over the weekend he widely identified via hundreds of messages on Twitter. Several other politicians not suspected of any involvement were also included in the messages.
Amid growing public concern Keith Towler, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, called for a new investigation into allegations of abuse. He said it was “clearly wrong” that Mr Messham was prevented from talking about his alleged attacker at the original inquiry. “Unless you do that, that level of suspicion will always be around that there is a cover up.”
Yesterday, Mr Cameron appeared to have heeded his advice.
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