Book review: The Secret of Bryn Estyn


Richard Webster, Orwell Press

ISBN 0951592246, £25


This long and at times over-egged book suggests the allegations of
systematic abuse in children’s homes in North Wales in the 1970s
and 1980s led to grave miscarriages of justice, and that the
Waterhouse Inquiry was a sham, writes Anthony Douglas.

Webster argues that the saga bears all the hallmarks of a classic
witch-hunt, akin to the great European witch-hunts of the 16th and
17th centuries.

With child protection, staff run the risk of seeing abuse when it
doesn’t exist, or missing it when it does. The current debate about
the risks to babies from mothers who may or may not have smothered
them has generated the same fierce debate as the North Wales
situation, or that in Cleveland in the 1980s.

As usual, there is more heat than light. Either parents or
professionals are periodically demonised, depending on what you
believe. However many trials and inquiries are held, the magic
bullet of evidence can remain just out of reach.

Webster writes with an open and accessible style. His book is
really a character assassination of those who made the original
allegations, the police officers who followed them up, and the
journalists who “exposed” the story on behalf of the
whistleblowers. The vehemence of Webster’s tone and the one-sided
nature of his argument, made me feel he was falling into the same
trap as those he accuses; namely of using all the available facts
to fit what he wants to say, and spending less time on “facts” and
testimony which might lead to a different conclusion. More critical
analysis would have helped. Webster chronicles false allegations
and incompetent investigations.

His focus on the rights of adults needed balancing with mention of
the rights of children and some of the dilemmas they faced, both
when they were in the homes and during the subsequent

Anthony Douglas is chief executive of the Children and
Family Court Advisory and Support Service

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