Teachers’ union challenges Welsh children’s commissioner’s inquiry

The first inquiry into child abuse by Welsh
children’s commissioner Peter Clarke has come under attack from the
biggest teaching union in Wales as being likely to demoralise the
teaching profession.

Secretary of NUT Cymru, Gethin Lewis, said
that he was concerned that the inquiry could open the floodgates
for a series of complaints by adults against teachers who could not
defend themselves.

The Clywch inquiry (Clywch is the Welsh word
for listen), which began earlier this week (News, page 12, 14
March), will look at the circumstances surrounding alleged sexual
abuse at the Rhydfelan comprehensive school, Pontypridd, south
Wales. The inquiry will focus on the activities of John Owen who
taught at the school until 1991, but who killed himself one day
before defending himself in court against allegations of abuse
against children.

Lewis said that although the union understood
concerns over child abuse, the fact that the inquiry was “unable to
come to any final conclusions” because the case never went to
court, made it an expensive opportunity for people to make
allegations that could never be proved. “There are many other
issues…that deserve his attention.”

Owen was accused of assaulting children during
a 10-year period. His alleged victims, seven men and two women,
campaigned for a public inquiry and Clarke has said his aim in
examining the events surrounding the abuse is to learn lessons for
the future rather than to establish guilt or innocence. Owen later
went on to become a successful children’s television writer.

The alleged victims are unhappy that they have
so far received no funding for independent legal representation.
The commissioner is due to hear submissions this week on whether
his office should pay for such representation.

Clarke has said that the Clywch inquiry, which
is expected to last three months, will be fair, thorough and
rigorous. It is likely to set legal precedents for future inquiries
as it is the first ever by a UK children’s commissioner and it is
probable that it will influence the way allegations against
teachers are handled in the future.

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