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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 07:18 GMT
Commissioner begins sex abuse inquiry
Children's Commissioner for Wales Peter Clarke has begun his first inquiry into allegations of sex abuse against award-winning writer and teacher who took his own life while awaiting trial.

John Owen was the creator of the S4C youth drama series Pam Fi Duw? (Why Me God?) killed himself last October.

He was due to appear in court to face allegations of molesting school children at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen at Pontypridd, south Wales.

Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen:
Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen: Mr Owen taught at the school

Meanwhile, a lawyer acting for eight of his former pupils who have made claims of sex abuse, has demanded funding for legal representation for them.

Mr Clarke, who took up his ground-breaking role representing children in Wales a year ago, has promised he will consider the application.

The three-month Clywch Inquiry began at 1000 BST at the Glamorgan Business Centre in the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd.

It will provide the first major test for Mr Clarke whose role was created in the wake of the Sir Ronald Waterhouse Inquiry into abuse in children's homes in north Wales.

Seven of Owen's alleged victims - five men and two women - are due to give evidence to the inquiry.

Mr Clarke has said the inquiry would be, "fair, thorough and rigorous and will be completed as sensitively and speedily as possible".

The commissioner has also written to South Wales Police asking that officers turn over the results of their investigation.

Teaching profession

However, the biggest teaching union in Wales, the National Union of Teachers, has expressed fears that the Clarke inquiry will demoralise the entire teaching profession.

An inquest in December heard Mr Owen killed himself with an overdose of morphine after being accused of assaulting school children over a 10-year period.

The former drama teacher from Tylorstown in the Rhondda, was found dead inside a holiday caravan at Trecco Bay at the south Wales seaside resort of Porthcawl in October.

The inquest in Pontypridd heard evidence that after he was charged with abuse, Mr Owen had had feelings of betrayal and bewilderment and had began to contemplate suicide.

Children's Commissioner Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke is to examine issues involved

Coroner Phillip Walters said he was satisfied it was these allegations which led to Mr Owen to commit suicide.

Mr Owen taught at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen until 1991, when he quit amid complaints about his teaching methods.

He wrote the novel of Pam Fi Duw? after quitting teaching and the book went on to become a hit, six-series television drama.

S4C was criticised for screening the final programme in the last series shortly after the discovery of Mr Owen's body, but the latest series has been put on hold as inquiries are held.

Although Mr Clarke's role was created as a response to the Waterhouse Inquiry, his remit is not limited to investigating abuse.

He is allowed to comment on anything that affects children in Wales.

In his first year in office, that has included a call to stop schools being built on former landfill sites and concerns about exam stress among children.

He also spoke out on behalf of 16-year-old Suzanne Turley from north Wales in her battle to study at Gordonstoun after Wrexham council said it could not fund her place.

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