FEBRUARY 10, 1997
Houses of Horror
Wales wakes up to decades of sexual abuse
in its carehomes for wayward boys
BY KATHARINE CHUBBUCK
THE BOYS COULD TURN TO NO ONE.
Many had been abandoned by their families. Some had been committed by juvenilejustice agencies to the child-care homes for crimes as petty as stealing packets of sugar from a restaurant. Others were friendless and delinquent; in custody for stabbing, theft, joyriding in cars, they were the kind of kids parents couldn't control and neighbors feared. When runaways told Welsh police that they were being abused, the police took them back to the "carehomes."
For punishment, some would be stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement Ñ or forced into icy or scalding baths. And in many cases what they were fleeing was worse still: rampant sexual abuse. One survivor shakes as he tells of seeing one friend stripped naked and horsewhipped, another performing a sex act with a dog.
"I don't remember any happy times. I don't know anyone who had any happy times," he told NEWSWEEK. It was enough to survive."
Picture-perfect villages of North Wales have become the setting for the biggest sexual abuse scandal in British history. Last week an investigative tribunal in the town of Ewloe began digging into a trove of evidence: some 650 former inmates have made allegations against 85 employees in 31 private or public homes in Clwyd and Gwynedd counties. Although a few girls are involved, most are boys who claim they were gang-raped in the toilets, molested in the showers, cut and beaten on their genitals, force-fed dog food or otherwise abused. At least 10 later committed suicide. Two, one of whom told his story in court, died mysteriously.
The charges go well beyond simple abuse. Alleged victims told NEWSWEEK that they were pimped to prominent British figures, taken on sex trips to Amsterdam and forced to act in porno films. Some suspect links to Belgian and Dutch sex rings.
"It reeked of cabalistic, evil activity," says one survivor.
Not since the so-called York Schools scandal Dickens chronicled in Nicholas Nickleby Ñ a tale of illegitimate and unwanted English children sent off to die Ñ has Britain heard of such wholesale child abuse. And it may not be confined to Wales; 15 other investigations are going on elsewhere in Britain.
The scandal lay hidden for decades. Although the first complaints date to the 1960s, the allegations began to be taken seriously only after a social worker fired from one home for whistle-blowing compiled a dossier of abused children. That prompted a 1991 police investigation that led to several convictions. Prime Minister John Major created the investigatory tribunal after a Welsh reporter obtained a 300-page report compiled by a local government but suppressed for insurance reasons. Social-service agencies were
"negligent to the point of gross professional incompetence,"
Gerard Elias, counsel to the tribunal, testified last week. Some maintain the abuses weren't obvious.
"These weren't dirty old men in raincoats with greasy glasses,"
said an ex-employee. But NEWSWEEK also was shown memos indicating that one agency discovered it had employed a convicted pedophile, yet did nothing.
Judging from the number of claims, Bryn Estyn, a beautiful Tudor mansion nestled in fir trees, may have been the worst home. Deputy headmaster Peter Howarth, jailed for 10 years in 1994 for sexual assault, ran it as a fiefdom; at night employees trolled the dormitories with flashlights and frog-marched boys to Howarth, said old Bryn Estyn boys. They
"were gone normally for half an hour to an hour, one told the tribunal. "When they returned they went back to bed, and I often heard them sobbing."
At Bryn Alyn, nearby, John Allen gave his favorites treats: motorcycles, air rifles, clothes. And the relationships continued long after the boys left, some until 1995, when Allen was jailed for six years for indecent assault. A smiling, amiable man with a library full of books on child psychology and the occult arts, Allen loved taking boys on commando style exercises in the Welsh hills. He was also a successful businessman, worth an estimated $11 million before he was jailed. Among his businesses were three video-production companies at which he made children's television programs Ñ and took pornographic photos of little boys.
The tribunal's biggest challenge is to determine whether the pervasiveness of carehome abuse was the work of an organized pedophile ring. Investigators want to find the sources of financing that allowed former employees of the Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn homes to found other homes in North Wales where abuse has been alleged. That won't be easy. But the explosion of attention is, for some, a reason for hope. "At least it will be very difficult now to ever put the genie back in the bottle," says Malcolm King, a former social-services official in Clwyd county. But for the former inmates of Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn, it's too late.
[picture caption] - Scandal: The two youngest Johns children, left, died mysteriously years after being abused at Bryn Alyn; Bryn Estyn (below); Allen