Lord A was a powerful man: he had a considerable private income; he was a senior freemason, a respected patron of the arts and a champion of good causes; he became a familiar figure in the corridors of power both in the City of London, where he sat on the board of one of the largest companies in Britain, and in the political world, where he became an influential figure in regional politics. His son, however, was a very different creature.
His son drifted into the low life of Wrexham, in North Wales, where he made his home. He drank, he mixed with a group of people who were in and out of prison and, most of all, he hung around the red-brick public toilets by the bus station in King Street. According to evidence which has been given behind a screen of anonymity at the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal, Lord A’s son was a paedophile.
In July 1979, Lord A’s son, then aged 25, had an alarming experience. He woke up in a room in the Crest Hotel in Wrexham to discover that all of his clothes and possessions had been stolen – by a young boy with whom he had been having sex that night. This boy, who was then two years below the age of consent and was supposed to be in the care of the local authority, has now told the tribunal that Lord A’s son used him for sex “on numerous occasions”.
Lord A’s son had no doubt at all about how to handle this theft. He went to the police and not only named the treacherous boy but explained quite openly why it was that they were sharing a room. A contemporary note made by the boy’s social worker records that the police were aware of allegations of “homosexual activities” between the boy and Lord A’s son. The police investigated. The outcome was clear: the boy was convicted of theft and sent to a detention centre for three months; Lord A’s son was never charged with any offence at all.
Under normal circumstances, Lord A and his son would both by now have been identified in the press as their names surfaced in the proceedings of the tribunal, which has been holding open sessions for eight months. The public would have joined the tribunal in making a judgement about whether Lord A’s son escaped prosecution simply because there was insufficient evidence (he later told police that his claim to have had sex with the boy must have been “a figment of the imagination”) or whether Lord A’s son was right to boast, as one convicted paedophile told the tribunal, that his influential father could intervene to protect them.
As it is, Lord A’s son has not been named because the chairman of the North Wales Tribunal, Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC, has ruled that, unless they have been convicted in court, no living person who is or is likely to be accused of abusing children in care can be identified. It so happens that Lord A’s son is dead – and so is his father – but Sir Ronald has extended his ruling to prevent either man being named.
For more than ten years now, a dark storm of scandal has been gathering over the children’s homes of North Wales – a swirling mass of allegations not only of the routine rape and battering of children in care but, more than that, of the existence of a paedophile ring, a conspiracy of abusers both in and outside the homes who were nourished by each other’s obsessions and protected by each other’s power. Power is the key.
Power is the fabric of a paedophile ring, essential first to subjugate the children, whose passivity is essential for the adults’ indulgence; and second, where possible, to neutralise the authorities who might otherwise frustrate its activities.
In the case of North Wales, the allegations of conspiracy have embraced police officers, social workers, local authority executives, senior businessmen and politicians – in one case, a prominent supporter of the Conservative Pary – all of whom are accused of using their power corruptly to protect the paedophile ring to which they belonged. More than ten years after these allegations first surfaced, their truth remains a matter of bitter dispute.
On the fringe of the tribunal hearing, there are disturbing suggestions of a violent cover-up. The London Evening Standard has run a series of stories about two brothers, Adrian Johns and Lea Homburg, who were abused by a convicted paedophile named John Allen. Allen ran a complex of homes in North Wales and London and is said to have been supplying boys to wealthy outsiders. The Standard reported that the two brothers were trying to blackmail him when, in April 1992, Adrian was burned to death in a house fire in Brighton. Lea later died in mysterious circumstances.
A dozen others who complained of abuse by the alleged ring have also died. One is said to have slipped on ice on a railway bridge and fallen to his death. Another, who was found dead in his flat was said to have died of natural causes; he was aged 21. Several are said to have committed suicide although in the case of one of them, his mother said his supposed suicide note was written in someone else’s handwriting. Others died apparently through abusing heroin, alcohol and solvents.
Over the years, twenty seven police inquiries failed to disclose the scale of the alleged abuse. Thirteen reports by social services went unpublished. Several journalists reached out for the truth and ended up scorched by libel actions. When police finally launched a major inquiry, in 1991, they secured the conviction of only four care workers and concluded that there was no evidence of a paedophile ring. Clwyd County Council then commissioned its own independent inquiry but decreed that its report could not be published.
The tribunal was to be the tool which finally unlocked the truth, sitting in public, with the power to compel witnesses and to order the disclosure of documents. However, the decision by its chairman, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, to grant anonymity to all those who are alleged to have belonged to the ring has made it almost impossible for the public to make any judgement about the strength of the allegations.
The most powerful argument against these allegations is that they are, in a profound sense, incredible. Among the nearly 300 men and women who have named 148 abusers to the tribunal, there is one man in particular who claims to have suffered at the hands of members of the alleged ring – 49 of them in all, he says, some of them care workers, some of them outsiders, all sexually abusing him over the years, one predatory man moving aside only to be replaced by yet another. His name, as the victim of a sexual offence, is protected by law. We will call him Leon.
It took Leon the best part of a week to tell his story to the tribunal, reeling off names as he progressed, each new claim pushing harder on the bounds of belief. When he was eleven, he said, he joined the army cadets in another part of the country where he was then living with his alcoholic father: two of the instructors were policemen; both of them raped him repeatedly. At weekends, he went to an army cadet camp; a third instructor, whom we will call Carpenter, raped him. He was taken into care: the social worker who drove him to the home stopped in a lay-by to fondle him. Inside the home, he said, he was indecently assaulted by the superintendent, fondled by one housemaster, beaten black and blue by another, battered and half-drowned by a senior housemaster and slapped by a policeman to whom he tried to complain. At fifteen he was moved to another home. There, again, he was regularly raped by the deputy headmaster and then by one of the housemasters. “Come on, you know you enjoy it,” he recalled the housemaster saying.
His story continued, moving still further away from the familiar and the credible. Leon told the tribunal how he had seen a powerful public official walking in the grounds of the home with the deputy headmaster who was so fond of abusing him. The deputy introduced him to the man, who said : “Come with me for a minute.” He led him into an outbuilding, he claimed, told him to kneel down in front of him and raped him orally. Then he raped him anally. “Just remember who I am,” he said, according to Leon. From time to time, according to this evidence, this official returned to use Leon again, sometimes in his car, sometimes in the grounds of the home, always evidently with the blessing of the deputy head, always implicitly with the result that the deputy head had less to fear from the authorities.
Eventually, aged 16, Leon fled from the home, into Wrexham, and ran straight into the arms of Carpenter, the army cadet instructor who had raped him at weekend camps. Through Carpenter, he was introduced to a group of some 20 men, each of whom, he alleged, took his chance to abuse him – in Carpenter’s flat, in their own homes, in cars, in the stinking red-brick toilet by the bus station. Leon said they tied him up, photographed him, pushed chair legs into him, used him for oral sex and anal sex, used him in orgies, and booked him into a hotel room so their friends could use him too. He named these men. One was a director of a major company. Another was a local authority executive. There was a market trader, two jewellers, and a Roman Catholic priest who came fingering his way into his bed at night. There was a second social worker, who picked Leon up in the toilets half a dozen times and used him for whatever sex he wanted, molesting him in his car, buggering him in Carpenter’s flat. Another was Lord A’s son. And then there was Mr B, the mysterious man with the powerful connections.
Mr B, said Leon, was a rich and powerful man who had used him for sex on three occasions. One of these was in the Crest Hotel, where members of the paedophile ring used to rent a room on Sunday evenings and listen to the Country and Western show in the bar downstairs before taking Leon or one of the other boys upstairs for sex. This man had a chauffeur who used to drive round Wrexham in flash cars, he said, pretending to be one of this man’s family. And who was this man? For the first time in his long saga, Leon became reticent. He had been threatened and burgled and had had his car attacked, he said. He would give no more – except for this man’s surname. Which happened to match that of one of Mrs Thatcher’s most prominent supporters.
Throughout his story, Leon pointed to signs of collusion between the abusers. The deputy headmaster would give him permission to go into town – and Carpenter would be waiting for him in his car outside. One of the Wrexham abusers wanted Leon to move into his house so that he could abuse him more easily – and the social worker who had fondled him in a lay-by arranged for it to happen. Several of the abusers made remarks to the effect that they had heard all about him. Other boys from the same homes were shared with the same ring of men in Wrexham. A named probation executive found work for Carpenter in a bail hostel. Two named social workers were selling information to the ring. And, over and over again, he said, the abusers escaped punishment as though someone somewhere were protecting them.
Under cross examination, Leon claimed that the powerful public official had been shown favours by the 1991 police inquiry which led to the arrest of 17 suspects. “For some unknown reason, he was not arrested like anybody else. He was allowed to walk round the North Wales Police headquarters and he was allowed to vindicate himself from anything, as if he was the boss…. He is the perpetrator, he is the pervert and he is a paedophile and I will stand by that and I will not retract that in any way shape or form… I tried to tell the police of many instances not just relating to him and I was told at that time and I will never forget it as long as I live, that they were not interested in that.”
Leon’s long account contained a high-octane combination of rape and corruption. But was it true? Almost without exception, those whom he named have derided and denied his story. Some have given evidence attacking Leon. Others are due to appear in the next few months. The powerful public official whom he accused of rape has previously been investigated and cleared. Leon confessed to the tribunal that he had made numerous complaints to the police almost always without persuading them to believe him, even though he claimed to have given them explicit photographs of some of the Wrexham men abusing half a dozen boys from childrens homes. Lawyers for some of the accused suggested that he was inventing these stories in search of compensation payments. And yet, for all that his story seemed so incredible, other evidence began to corroborate it.
Take, for example, the first police officer who was named by Leon for raping him in the army cadets. It might have sounded like a self-serving swipe at the police. But the tribunal now knows that that long-serving and apparently trustworthy policeman was jailed last year on a long sentence after another police force caught him committing acts of gross indecency with a child. Two of the alleged paedophiles who have given evidence to the tribunal have suggested that they knew of this officer’s activities. One said he had met him looking for sex in the public toilets in Wrexham and in Connah’s Quay near Chester.
Similarly, the tribunal now knows that Carpenter, whom Leon placed at the centre of the Wrexham ring, has since been jailed twice for indecency and buggery with under-aged boys. The tribunal heard how Carpenter had worked not only with army cadets but also with choir boys, private school boys, patients in a mental hospital and young men in a probation hostel, boasting all the time to his friends that he was seducing those in his charge.
Several of Carpenter’s associates, who were accused of abuse by Leon, also turn out to have convictions. One of them has been jailed seven times for gross indecency, buggery, indecent assault and inciting a child to commit gross indecency. His victims were boys, the youngest only 11. And the tribunal has confirmed that although the police deny that Leon supplied them, he is correct in saying that they obtained photographs in which six local men, including Carpenter, could be seen abusing five boys who had been in care in local children’s homes.
The social worker whom Leon said used to pick him up from the public toilets sounded a particularly unlikely paedophile, quite possibly the victim of some private grudge of Leon’s. And yet, the tribunal has since heard how this man was followed from one job to another by complaints of indecency against boys: at an attendance centre, a nine-year-old boy complained that he had kissed him and tried to bugger him; at a children’s home, he was said to have gone round “blowing kisses and pinching bottoms”; he was suspended twice by the local authority, once after two boys said he had slept with both of them together and then again after two different boys said he had taken them to his flat and buggered them. He resigned from the local authority and went to work in a private home – where visiting nurses then complained that he and other staff were indecently assaulting the boys in their care. Despite all of the complaints by all of these boys, he was never prosecuted or disciplined.
This social worker took advantage of the anonymity ruling which was intended to encourage witnesses to tell the truth to come and tell the tribunal that he had visited the public toilets only because he was working on a two-week research project about young homeless people. Other alleged paedophiles nevertheless declared that he was a frequent visitor, looking for sex. The social worker said he had no interest in sex at all; he told the tribunal that the condoms which police had found in his wallet had been for the benefit of clients who might need them.
The powerful public official whom Leon accused of rape at his second home has now been named by a total of six other witnesses to the tribunal, most of whom say they encountered him at the same home courtesy of the deputy headmaster’s introduction. In a statement, one described how he had woken up in his bed in the children’s home to find himself flat on his belly with his arms pinned down above his head while this official spat on his backside and then penetrated him. “The size of the man completely pinned me down and I was helpless.” As the man pulled away, he said, he saw his face clearly.
The other witnesses also described rapes and attempted rapes by this official. One of them claimed that on several occasions he saw the deputy headmaster line up a group of boys so that the official could take his pick from them. Another witness told the tribunal that his brother, now dead, had complained of this same official raping him in the woods near his home. All of them referred to his power in the local community.
One of these witnesses was challenged by a barrister who acts for the official. If his story was true, he asked, why had he not complained at the time? “Shall I tell you why?” replied the witness, with some force. “Because I’m shit scared of the man. Right? Because he is in Rotary, the masons, the magic circle and I damn well know what he is capable of. I am scared of that man.”
The tribunal has been told that North Wales Police investigated allegations against this man and recommended that he be prosecuted, but, the tribunal heard, the Crown Prosecution Service in London, who had taken over the decision from their local branch, ruled that the case should not to go to court because of “difficulties with the evidence”.
There is no doubt that the deputy headmaster who is said by Leon and the others to have supplied this official with boys was a paedophile. He was Peter Howarth, who can be named because he has since been convicted of the systematic rape of children in his care and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in May. There is no doubt either about the housemaster whom Leon named at that home. He was Stephen Norriss, now serving 7 years for similar offences.
Numerous other men have been named at the tribunal, sometimes with conflicting evidence. In the case of Mr B, who shares the name of Mrs Thatcher’s ally, Carpenter appeared to offer some confirmation for Leon’s story. He said that in prison he had met another sex offender who claimed to have had a relationship with Mr B and who had possibly been Mr B’s chauffeur. This man had described going to parties in Wrexham where young men were available for VIPs, including Mr B and the powerful public official. Since Mr B has been identified only by surname, it is not clear whether the witnesses are referring to Mrs Thatcher’s colleague.
Leon’s evidence suggests that they are not – he said that he thought Mr B was dead, whereas Mrs Thatcher’s supporter is still alive and prominent.
However, the Guardian has established that another survivor of abuse gave a long statement to police on September 9 1993 in which he provided a thoroughly detailed account of being sexually assaulted by a wealthy man. At that time, he positively identified this man by name and photograph as Mrs Thatcher’s former advisor and recorded in his statement how a friend had told him “You’re going to bring down the government”. However, when this witness came to the tribunal he declared that he was unable to identify the man.
There is a conflict of evidence, too, over the social worker who is accused of fondling Leon on his way to the children’s home. This social worker has given evidence, denied the allegation and produced contemporary records to show that when he drove Leon to the home, he was accompanied by another social worker and that he did not then own the car which Leon described in detail in his allegation.
Just as there has been some evidence to corroborate Leon’s allegations of abuse, so too there has been independent evidence which appears to support his claim that there was collusion between the abusers. The tribunal has heard how Carpenter boasted in the past of social workers who had offered to supply him with boys from the children’s homes; and of how one of the social workers who is accused of abusing Leon had stayed in Carpenter’s house.
When the police found photographs of Carpenter and five other men abusing boys, they took Carpenter and one other man to court, where they were convicted and jailed. No other men were prosecuted. Carpenter told the tribunal that Lord A’s son had begged him not to tell the police about him, promising that his father could help him. When the tribunal asked Carpenter how it was that he had been released from his prison sentence several months before he was eligible for parole, Carpenter shrugged and said he had no idea.
All of these alleged perpetrators have been named in open session at the tribunal. Under normal circumstances, the press could have identified them in reports, protected from libel proceedings by the legal privilege which surrounds all public hearings in courts and tribunals. However, the anonymity ruling has blocked almost all public awareness of the allegations against these men. In the case of the powerful public official, those outside the tribunal who have heard of him are likely to know only that he has been cleared in the past. Sir Ronald has indicated that the tribunal would find it difficult to challenge this earlier exonneration.
He has also said that even though the tribunal’s final report may name some of the abusers, he does not think he will name either of the two police officers who have been identified by Leon. Those alleged incidents, he says, fall outside the time frame of the tribunal’s inquiry. In the meantime, he has extended the anonymity ruling to cover Carpenter, even though he has two convictions for abusing children in care.
In a final statement to the tribunal, Leon pleaded for justice: “I know this is my last opportunity to tell exactly what happened to me but to be honest I think most people will find it hard to believe what went on and find it uncomfortable to talk about. Who wouldn’t? The way I see it, I was a slave. I was sold. Yes, I was given money. I was given things. I was tied up. I had bottles, legs of chairs and various other things used on me. Pictures were taken and videos, which are out there somewhere.
“Who knows? Maybe if people had listened many years ago this could have stopped years ago or at least some of it. Maybe I didn’t shout loud enough. I know I should have done more to stop it but I didn’t… One very important lesson which we must learn is we must start listening to children. Do not ignore them in the way we have ignored them for many years. Listen to our children’s cries. Listen to what they are saying and take action without delay.”
When the inquiry opened in January, the lawyer who acts on behalf of the tribunal, Gerald Elias QC said: “This tribunal will leave no stone unturned in its search for the truth about any of the issues which it considers.“ The difficulty now is that once again, these stones are being turned over in the dark.