|Search ON THIS DAY by date|
This will be the biggest investigation ever held in Britain into allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children who passed through the care system in the former counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd over the past two decades.
Some 180 former residents of the homes are expected to give evidence to the hearings, which will last at least 12 months. They will be chaired by retired high court judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse.
Many of those accused of child abuse are former or serving care staff, social workers or teachers. At least two men who have been convicted of abuse in the past have also been named.
The largest number of complaints centre on the notorious Bryn Estyn home outside Wrexham, which has now closed. The deputy head of the home, Peter Howarth, was jailed in 1994 for 10 years for sexually abusing teenage boys.
Other complaints involve the Bryn Alyn home in Wrexham and Ty'r Felin in Bangor. In all, 40 homes have been named in the investigation.
Speaking before the hearings began, Sir Ronald said: "We hope to be able to find out the substantial truth about what occurred and from the facts we find, to go on and make really positive recommendations."
Billhar Uppal, one of the victims' solicitors, welcomed the opening of the inquiry: "To those we represent it means everything. "To them it is justice, it is a vindication of everything they have said and it is in some way, some measure to silence those critics who have said that this inquiry and their allegations of abuse are compensation-led."
But critics say those accused of abuse will not get a fair hearing.
Nick Parry, who represents one of the accused, said: "Our concern at the start of this major inquiry is that perhaps public opinion has swayed the balance far too greatly in favour of those who make allegations of abuse and the understandable anxiety to look after their needs and care may outweigh justice."
Gerard Elias QC counsel for the tribunal told the hearing the allegations of abuse bordered on "wholesale exploitation" of the children in care.
He concluded the tribunals findings would be of significance for authorities throughout the country and for the safety and well-being of children in their care.
The tribunal lasted 15 months and cost an estimated £10m.
Sir Ronald Waterhouse's findings were published in February 2000. His report named and criticised almost 200 people for either abusing children or failing to offer them sufficient protection.
He made 72 recommendations calling for sweeping changes to the way local councils, social services and police deal with children in care. One of his key proposals was the appointment of an independent children's commissioner for Wales.
A year after Sir Ronald's report was published, 140 compensation claims had been settled on behalf of victims. A Children's Commissioner for Wales was appointed.
Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive has announced plans for a children's rights commissioner - and at Westminster, an inquiry has been investigating the need for a children's rights campaigner for England.
|Search ON THIS DAY by date|