SILENT WITNESS

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IN 1997 journalists working for the HTV current affairs programme Wales This Week were given a stark warning by the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal.

If they broadcast newly discovered allegations of child abuse dating back nearly twenty years they risked being held in contempt of the Tribunal.

The broadcasters removed the allegations. But having gagged the media, the Tribunal didn’t go on to investigate the allegations.

The story of how the Tribunal suppressed an important piece of evidence has never been told.

THE NORTH WALES CHILD ABUSE TRIBUNAL Britain's only child abuse tribunal failed to hear the evidence of a key witness.

THE NORTH WALES CHILD ABUSE TRIBUNAL
Britain’s only child abuse tribunal failed to hear the evidence of a key witness.

IT WAS a Monday morning in October 1997 at the studios of HTV on the outskirts of Cardiff.

The team at the channel’s current affairs programme Wales This Week were preparing the Thursday evening edition.

For Editor Clare Hudson and Director David Williams this was no ordinary programme.

It was the latest in a series of investigations into child abuse in North Wales.

A Tribunal was already hearing evidence about the extent of physical and sexual abuse in children’s homes in the area.

Wales This Week had played a substantial role in the events which led up to the setting up of the Inquiry.

Six years earlier a report on allegations of physical abuse at a home in Gwynedd, the north-west corner of Wales, had led to the county being included in the child abuse investigation which had already started in the north-eastern corner, the county of Clwyd.

A year later, in September 1992, Wales This Week broadcast the most explosive programme in its history.

It featured two witnesses who claimed that a policeman, retired Superintendent Gordon Anglesea, had sexually abused them while they were residents of the Bryn Estyn children’s home just outside Wrexham.

Anglesea was an inspector in Wrexham at the time the alleged offences were committed. He was also a member of a masonic lodge in the town.

The allegations, in varying degrees, were repeated by Private Eye, The Observer and the Independent on Sunday.

Anglesea sued all four companies for libel and a jury found for him in December 1994.

He accepted a total of £375,000 in damages and the case cost HTV nearly a million pounds when the legal costs of the 15 day trial were added.

GORDON ANGLESEA The retired police superintendent won a major libel case.

GORDON ANGLESEA
The retired police superintendent won a major libel case at the High Court in London in 1994.

Anglesea’s victory and vindication did little to stem the tide of rumour sweeping North Wales.

It was said that councils had covered up the extent of the abuse in their homes while police had failed to investigate allegations of child abuse properly.

The fact that two of the most important figures in children’s homes – Peter Howarth of Bryn Estyn and John Allen of the private Bryn Alyn complex – were already facing child abuse charges did nothing to stem the tide.

Even some members of the North Wales Police Authority, the civilian body that controlled the non-operational aspects of the force, were calling for an outside force to be brought in to handle the investigation.

There was also speculation that a child abuse ring was operating in the area and that it included Tory members of the British political establishment who were also freemasons.

According to conspiracy theorists, this ring was being protected by policemen who were also masons.

♦♦♦

IT WAS against this feverish background that William Hague, the Secretary of State for Wales, decided in June 1996 to set up a tribunal to find out the truth.

He chose former High Court judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse to chair the Tribunal.

On the third day of the Tribunal’s opening session the barrister representing the North Wales Police, Andrew Moran QC, delivered his opening address.

He revealed that the major police inquiry carried out by Superintendent Peter Ackerley between 1991 and 1993 had investigated Gordon Anglesea.

He then delivered a bombshell.

“We can now demonstrate that Mr Anglesea, apparently at sometime a Freemason, was shown not an ounce of favour nor was any other officer or former officer. The proof of that is incontestable in the recommendation made by Supt Ackerley that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.”

He added it was the Crown Prosecution Service, the body that decides if a case is strong enough to go to trial, which decided that the police officer should not be charged.

Moran added: “Despite the verdict in the libel trial in which the authors and publishers could not even discharge the burden of proving on a balance of probabilities that Anglesea was guilty, the recommendation was justified at the time and nails the lie of Masonic influence and favour.”

As part of the libel settlement with Anglesea, HTV and the other defendants had agreed they would never repeat the libels against him.

So it was difficult, if not impossible, for Wales This Week to return to the issue.

Instead, the team turned to a privately run children’s home called the Bryn Alyn Community which was close to the council-run Bryn Estyn home.

Most of the rumours concerned Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn stayed firmly in the background.

Bryn Alyn was owned by John Allen – a man with no social work training – and his family.

In February 1995 he was convicted of six offences of indecent assault against young male residents at the Community. He was gaoled for six years.

There were two disturbing aspects of his case.

JOHN ALLEN The owner of the Bryn Alyn complex of private homes went missing during his trial.

JOHN ALLEN
The owner of the Bryn Alyn complex of private homes went missing during his trial.

The first was he went “missing” for a week during his trial. He turned up in Oxford claiming to have had a breakdown and couldn’t remember anything about the seven days.

The second disturbing aspect is that during the period when he was missing, one of the former Bryn Alyn residents was found dead in his Brighton flat.

Lee Johns had given evidence against Allen at the trial and was one of the six former residents the jury were to decide had been abused by Allen.

The inquest verdict on Lee Johns was suicide. His family are convinced he did not take his own life.

Three years earlier he’d been seriously injured in this Brighton fire that also killed his brother Adrian. Adrian was also a former resident of Bryn Alyn.

Three years before he died, Lee had been badly injured at a catastrophic fire at a flat near Brighton in which five people died. One of those who died in the blaze was Lee’s younger bother Adrian who had also been in care at Bryn Alyn.

Both Lee and Adrian, after leaving Bryn Alyn, had stayed at properties which John Allen had helped to buy.

Wales This Week quickly discovered that, while the Bryn Alyn Community was a children’s home entirely funded by local authorities in England and Wales, it was actually a goldmine for John Allen.

Between 1974 and 1991 Bryn Alyn received more than thirty million pounds from councils for looking after problem children. A substantial slice of this money never went directly into looking after the children in the Community’s care.

More than half a million pounds went into a state of the art video studio in Wrexham and a large number of properties were bought including a villa in the south of France.

Allen bought a substantial country mansion for himself and paid £18,000 for a half-share in a yacht based in the Mediterranean called Dualité.

Allen was also using huge amounts of petty cash for his own purposes which were never properly recorded in the accounts.

He told the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal in 1997 that he estimated he’d spent £180,000 in presents for residents and former residents.

He said that Bryn Alyn ran an after-care system that included accommodation in Wrexham, London and Brighton as well as financial assistance for former residents.

♦♦♦

AS PART of the investigation into the financial affairs of the Bryn Alyn Community Wales This Week also talked to Des Frost, the former social worker who became joint number two at Bryn Alyn and looked after the finances.

But Frost didn’t just know about the finances, he’d also heard stories about John Allen’s behaviour.

When he was interviewed on camera, Frost said that on one occasion John Allen came in one morning with a black eye.

He said it had happened the previous night when he was trying to get into the caravan where a boy was sleeping. Allen did not offer any explanation for his behaviour.

Frost did nothing. But, on another occasion, he said

“I was approached by a member of staff who told me briefly of some rumours that were going around the organisation. And I explained it would be better not to talk about it at Bryn Alyn.”

“So I went up to his house at a later stage. And he told me some pretty hairy stories about allegations of child abuse by John.”

“I can’t remember honestly what they were except one which I remember was a member of staff caught in, shall we say, a compromising position and John had a perfectly legitimate answer for that one – but that was a rumour amongst others that were going round.”

DES FROST When a member of staff told him that boys at Bryn Alyn were complaining that Alenn abusing them, Frost decided to go to the police.

DES FROST
When a member of staff told him that boys at Bryn Alyn were complaining that John Allen was abusing them, Frost decided to go to the police.

Frost says he was aware the boys in Bryn Alyn were “not necessarily pure and innocent” – they were “streetwise”. He did not personally believe that John Allen was abusing the children at Bryn Alyn.

“Nevertheless, I was concerned about these rumours but the question is – what do you do about it? Because – do you go to your boss and say ‘excuse me, are you assaulting these children?’ If he wasn’t – or, rather, if he was, he would have said ‘mind your own business”. And if he wasn’t, I would have been down the road without a job.”

Frost says he went to see a local magistrate who had connections with Bryn Alyn.

“I was somewhat anxious that he should be such a friend of John’s that it would get back to him. But fortunately he wasn’t that involved – and he already had his own suspicions about the stories that I told him.”

The two men agreed there was nothing to do but to stay in touch. But Frost remained concerned.

“I then decided to go to the police on behalf of myself and the rest of the staff because, it was a difficult situation, but I didn’t want it ever said that – why didn’t you do anything about it?”

He said he felt he couldn’t go to the police station in Wrexham because Bryn Alyn residents were often in trouble with the police.

He was afraid John Allen would find out he’d been there and that he wouldn’t have a credible explanation for the visit.

“So I phoned the CID in Chester where I lived and asked them to come to my house which they did. Two detectives arrived. I can’t give you their names because I can’t remember.”

He says he told them of the rumours that had been passed on to him.

“What I hoped was that they – in fact I think I asked them to – was to communicate what I’d said to Wrexham police because I explained, as I just said, that it would not have been circumspect for me to walk into Wrexham police station.”

After the interview Wales This Week asked Cheshire police if they had any records relating to this interview. Cheshire said all records would have been destroyed long before but, if the interview had taken place, the procedure was straightforward – Chester police would have produced a report and passed it to the North Wales Police.

Frost says he never heard anything back from the Chester detectives. But shortly afterwards the local policeman – PC Jim Jones based in the village of Llay – asked to see him.

“He came to my office when normally he wouldn’t have done that because I wasn’t on the care side.”

“And he had a letter from a boy, an ex-Bryn Alyn boy, from Newcastle who’d been arrested. They’d found a letter on this boy addressed to John asking for money. The policeman wanted to know if this was blackmail.”

Frost explained that he didn’t think it was blackmail because of the aftercare system John Allen provided boys when they left the home. This involved him sending some former residents money.

“So I said, no, I didn’t think it’s blackmail. When he got up to go he said a very strange thing, he said, ‘well, I suppose everything is alright because you and mister so and so work here’. And the other person he referred to was also a member of the senior management.”

He and Frost were lay preachers.

“I just wonder whether he was on a trawling expedition having been alerted by Chester police to come and see me and see if I had anything else to say.”

But Frost did not tell PC Jones about the allegations he said he’d gone to Chester detectives about. The visit of PC Jones gave him the opportunity to repeat those allegations in a legitimate meeting arranged by the policeman.

Frost, who didn’t want to be interviewed for this article, now says that he was concerned that the PC would tell his superiors and that John Allen would find out.

At the time of the Wales This Week interview, Frost told the programme-makers that the Tribunal – already more than half way through its public hearings – had not interviewed him and he had not been put on notice that he might be a witness.

♦♦♦

So, on Monday 21 October 1997, the Wales This Week team began assembling the programme including the Frost allegations dating back to the early 1980s.

The journalists believed they had uncovered important new allegations that the Tribunal had missed.

That day, the Tribunal moved against the programme.

WALES THIS WEEK The current affairs programme had been at the heart of coverage of the North Wales abuse scandal.

WALES THIS WEEK
The current affairs programme had been at the heart of coverage of the North Wales abuse scandal.

Press officer David Norbury rang to say the Tribunal was concerned that a number of people, including Frost, had been interviewed by Wales This Week.

The next day he rang again. Again he was concerned about the interview with Frost. Editor Clare Hudson made a note of the conversation: “I asked is Frost a witness, has he given a statement? DN [David Norbury] didn’t know.”

She then asked “what exactly is the nature of the concern? He said “in a nutshell, contempt of court.”

Norbury said Brian McHenry, the lawyer seconded from the Treasury in London to act as the tribunal’s solicitor, wanted to talk to the programme’s lawyer.

After the lawyers talked, it became clear that if the programme contained any new allegations the Tribunal would consider referring Wales This Week to the Attorney General for contempt of the Tribunal.

If the programme makers were found guilty then, theoretically, they could be sent to gaol.

The programme’s legal advice was clear – remove the allegations – and Clare Hudson felt she had no option but to do so.

But the team decided to make it clear that Wales This Week had the details of these allegations.

When the programme about John Allen went out on the evening of Thursday, October 24th the script was clear.

After stating that Des Frost was concerned about the rumours he was hearing, the commentary added:

“Finally, Des Frost, an evangelical preacher, became so concerned about John Allen’s behaviour that he went to the police.”

“The North Wales Tribunal investigating child abuse is concerned that there should be no public discussion of these events at the present time.”

Two and a half years later, the Tribunal issued its report known as the Waterhouse Report after the former High Court judge, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who chaired it.

It effectively cleared North Wales Police of the charge that it had failed to investigate child abuse properly.

True, it criticised a 1986-88 inquiry carried out by the then head of the CID at North Wales Police, Gwynne Owen, as being “defective in many respects” and “sluggish and shallow”.

However, the Tribunal added that there was no evidence that, had it been pursued properly, the police would have been aware that it needed to investigate child abuse more deeply.

The Tribunal Report concluded “there was no significant omission by the North Wales Police in investigating the complaints of abuse to children in care”.

But there was one incident which the Tribunal concedes might have triggered a wider inquiry. The Tribunal’s report states:

“There was an occasion in 1981 or 1982 when John Allen’s sexual activities might have come to the attention of the police. Police officers in Durham had become aware that a former resident with the Bryn Alyn Community was receiving substantial cheques from Allen.”

LOST IN CARE The massive 937 page report cleared the North Wales Police of any failures

THE WATERHOUSE REPORT
The massive 937 page report of the Tribunal cleared the North Wales Police of any failures.

“A police officer at Llay, near Wrexham, was asked to investigate the position and learnt from the Bryn Alyn accountant at that time that money was being paid to former residents.”

This police officer was PC Jim Jones.

“We heard the recollections of four witnesses about this matter but only one of them, Keith Allen Evans [the head of care at the time], claimed to have told the Llay police officer about rumours or banter in relation to residents who received gifts in return for “bending down” for Allen; and Evans himself did not believe what was being said about Allen.”

“The Llay police officer, on the other hand, said that there was no suggestion by the Durham police or by the Bryn Alyn staff of blackmail. The officer said that blackmail was not the subject of investigation and that he was not told of any rumour of sexual abuse by Allen.”

“In these circumstances,” the report concludes, “we cannot be satisfied that anything was said to the North Wales Police at that time to put them on notice of allegations of sexual misconduct by Allen.”

At the time the Llay police officer investigated the letter his superior officer was Inspector Gordon Anglesea, a fact that is not mentioned in the Tribunal Report.

When he gave evidence to the Tribunal, Anglesea was not asked if he knew anything about the visit to Bryn Alyn by PC Jones.

The accountant mentioned in the paragraphs from the Tribunal report about PC Jones’ visit is Des Frost.

And the events that are being discussed come, according to Frost, after he claims to have gone to the police in Chester with allegations of sexual abuse by Allen.

For this article Rebecca Television pressed Frost for more information that might help give the date more accurately.

Frost has always maintained that his visit to Chester was around the time of a suicide that happened not far from Bryn Alyn. A former resident called Robert Chapman had committed suicide by jumping from a railway bridge near Bryn Alyn.

Later a letter arrived for him and, because John Allen was away, Frost decided to open it. The letter had strong homosexual overtones. When John Allen returned and discovered that the letter had been opened he went, Frost recalls, “ballistic”.

We checked the date of the Robert Chapman suicide – it was in July 1978. This means that, if Frost’s recollection is correct, his interview with Cheshire police happened several years before Durham police alerted North Wales Police to the suspicious letter they had seized.

♦♦♦

Frost also has an extraordinary story about the events that surrounded the censorship that took place in the October 1997 Wales This Week programme about John Allen.

He says that ten days after he was interviewed by the programme-makers, he received a phone call from Detective Inspector Neil McAdam who said he was outside with another officer.

McAdam said they wanted to interview him. Frost says he formed the impression they were from the Tribunal.

He agreed to meet DI McAdam. McAdam and detective constable Karen Lewis took a statement from him.

Frost says he told them what he’d told the television journalists.

By an extraordinary coincidence, this day – 22 October 1997 – was two days before the Wales This Week programme about John Allen was due to be screened and during the period when the Tribunal was expressing concern about the interview with Frost.

Frost says that McAdam and WDC Lewis returned a fortnight later with the statement for him to sign.

But McAdam and Lewis were not employed by the Tribunal.

They were detectives from the North Wales Police. McAdam, in fact, had been involved in the investigation that led to the conviction of John Allen.

In December 2009 Rebecca Television asked McAdam, who is still serving, to confirm he’d interviewed Frost and to explain why he had done so.

A fortnight later McAdam emailed to say the questions were “receiving attention”.

In July 2010, after six months’ silence, we lodged an official complaint against McAdam with the Professional Standards Department of the North Wales Police.

The investigation was carried out by Superintendent Paul Breed of the Western Division.

He said that three days after he received the questions from Rebecca Television, McAdam brought the issue to his Divisional Command Team.

The Divisional Command Team then talked to the senior officers at force HQ in Colwyn Bay “with the suggestion that given the nature of the enquiry DI McAdam should not be the person to respond…”

“It is reasonable,” concluded Breed in his report on the complaint, “that DI McAdam has sought advice and guidance from his line managers expecting that ownership to respond … rest with someone higher within the organisation.”

We  had already written separately about the issue to Chief Constable Mark Polin back in January 2009. He never answered.

We wrote to Gordon Anglesea to ask if he remembered anything about PC Jones’ visit to Bryn Alyn. He didn’t answer.

We wrote to Gerard Elias, QC who was the Tribunal’s main counsel. He did not reply.

We also wrote to Andrew Moran, QC who represented the North Wales Police at the Tribunal. He did not reply.

We wrote to Sir Ronald Waterhouse about the Frost allegations. He told us: “the Tribunal has said all that it could properly say on the evidence before it in its report and that it would be both unwise and inappropriate for me to
comment further.”

SIR RONALD WATERHOUSE The retired High Court judge who chaired the Tribunal. He wouldn't comment on the allegation that the Tribunal had prevented Des Frost from giving evidence.

SIR RONALD WATERHOUSE
The retired High Court judge who chaired the Tribunal. He wouldn’t comment on the allegation that Des Frost had been prevented from giving evidence.

At that point, we had not discovered that North Wales Police had interviewed Frost. When we wrote to Sir Ronald about this interview, he did not reply…

We also sent a synopsis of this article to the two other members of the Tribunal: Morris le Fleming and Margaret Clough.

Morris le Fleming told us: “I have no wish to comment on your synopsis. I am not, nor ever have been, a Freemason.”

Margaret Clough said: “Thank you for the courtesy of sending the synopsis but I do not have any comment to make.”

NOTES

1  This article was first published in 2010, part of a series called The Case of the Flawed Tribunal — other articles in the series will be added at a later date.

2  Events have moved on since this article was published. Last year, David Cameron announced a new child abuse police investigation and ordered a review of the Tribunal, headed by Mrs Justice Macur. Rebecca Television has given two statements to both inquiries.

3  The interview with Des Frost can be seen in the video A Touch of Frost.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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