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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Child abuse inquiries under fire
Child abuse generic
Investigations into allegations are being looked at
The investigative methods of three Welsh police forces into child abuse at care homes have been criticised in a Commons inquiry.

MPs sitting on the Home Affairs Committee were told there may have been more than 50 miscarriages of justice involving care workers across the UK.

There have always been people who will drop everything and hunt down the conspirators and that was the case in the great European witch hunt

Richard Webster, writer

The evidence was heard as part of an inquiry into the way investigations have been carried out.

On Tuesday MPs heard claims that the detection methods used by police compared to a "modern day version of the Salem witch hunts".

Politicians are examining whether investigative techniques have led to false allegations and a disproportionate use of police resources.

During the first day of the ongoing inquiry, tactics employed by north Wales, south Wales and Gwent Police were questioned.

Investigative journalists who have criticised the police method of "trawling" for evidence appeared before the committee.

There were no paedophile rings in care homes in this country

David Rose, journalist

Trawling involves officers contacting former care home residents, and asking them if they were abused, or if they witnessed incidents of abuse.

The inquiry heard Gwent Police's handling of the Ty Mawr investigation described as "horrifying".

Hundreds of suspects were identified but the results of a report concluded that no sexual or serious physical abuse had taken place.

The south Wales force's enquiry, Operation Goldfinch was also described as "very worrying".

MPs were told that the force was conducting "a most dangerous trawling process" as it looked for evidence of abuse at 81 homes.

Concerns were also raised over how North Wales Police gathered evidence - as it investigated allegations of abuse that sparked the Waterhouse inquiry into abuse across North Wales.

'Evil conspiracy'

Richard Webster, author of The Great Children's Home Panic, told the committee: "Through history there have always been people who reacted to the suggestion that there is an evil conspiracy in their midst, particularly when it involves preying on children.

"There have always been people who will drop everything and hunt down the conspirators and that was the case in the great European witch hunt.

"It's always a danger and one to which many police forces have succumbed to divert substantial resources into pursuing these paedophile rings which do not exist."

The decision to conduct the inquiry was taken in response to a large number of well argued representations.

Compensation rewards

Over the next few months the committee will hear evidence from a number of bodies including police, solicitors and the Crown Prosecution Service.

MPs will address whether there is a risk that people come forward with fabricated allegations in the hope of receiving compensation.

However, it will not investigate individual cases.

David Rose, a special investigations reporter for The Observer told the committee: "There were no paedophile rings in care homes in this country.

"There were individual paedophiles acting sometimes with impunity for many years, but there were no rings."

The committee will question whether the Crown Prosecution Service draws a "sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted".

The issue of a time limit in terms of the number of years since the alleged offence took place will also be examined.

BBC Wales's Gail Foley
"Retired through ill-health, Mike Doggett is bitter about the police investigation methods"

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