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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 11:11 GMT
BBC wins abuse inquiry challenge
John Owen (left) at court
John Owen, left, killed himself before returning to court
Witnesses giving evidence at a child sex abuse inquiry - including school governors and teachers - can be identified from now on, after a successful application by the BBC.

Children's Commissioner for Wales, Peter Clarke, has withdrawn a blanket anonymity order.

Children's Commissioner Peter Clarke
Inquiry: Children's Commissioner Peter Clarke

It was made at the start of the 10-month long inquiry into allegations of south Wales drama teacher John Owen.

The identity of alleged victims Mr Owen - who killed himself in 2001 as he was awaiting trial on multiple sex abuse charges - will remain protected.

Delivering his judgement on the challenge last week, Mr Clarke said on Monday morning that he was concerned any publicity about events in 1991 might harm the welfare of children and others associated with Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelin in Pontypridd.

On Wednesday of last week, the BBC challenged Mr Clarke's power to order that all witnesses in the inquiry should have the right to remain anonymous.

It contested his ruling for witnesses - other than former pupils - not to be identified, as a matter of public interest.

Evidence

Catrin Evans, the barrister representing the corporation, told Mr Clarke that the right of anonymity of those who alleged they have been abused by Mr Owen was not in question and was protected by existing legislation.

But she argued that it should not be extended to all witnesses, such as former and current governors, teachers and education officials.

Undertaking

Lawyers for at least two witnesses had argued that their reputations could be damaged should they be named.

Ms Evans said there was no justification at all for treating those who may be criticised with "kid gloves".

She also argued that Mr Clarke did not have the power to order blanket anonymity.

The BBC, she added, and the public had a right under the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom of expression and to report fully matters that were in the public interest.

The corporation gave an undertaking to abide by his ruling until his judgement on the challenge was made known.

Meanwhile, the inquiry, which heard from alleged victims on Wednesday, is continuing.

Overdose

It began in March last year but was first halted to allow further police inquiries into the case.

This is the final public session of the inquiry, and those giving evidence include other pupils, teachers, school governors and officials of the former Mid Glamorgan County Council - the education authority responsible for running the school.

Mr Owen, 49, from Tylorstown, Rhondda, south Wales, who went on to become a successful Welsh-language television script writer, was found dead in a seaside caravan.

He had taken a lethal overdose of morphine the day before he was due back in court.

He had been charged with five counts of indecency with boys between 1974 and 1991.


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