Dedicated to Alison Taylor, who kept blowing the whistle in north Wales until people had no choice but to listen, and to whistleblowers everywhere.
Waterhouse not fit for purpose
In the wake of the outing of the late Jimmy Savile as a serial child abuser whose activities were facilitated by the BBC, health professionals, government officials and so on, the north Wales child abuse scandal is back in the headlines as the mainstream media finally picks up on the fact that the Waterhouse Inquiry wasn’t fit for purpose. This isn’t news to us here in north Wales – the news is that it’s getting some coverage at last.
Yet another Inquiry?
Some of us raise our eyes skywards at the prospect of more Inquiries that will guarantee big fat pay cheques for their officials (Waterhouse cost £13 million) and no promise of justice for abuse victims and whistleblowers. While everyone focuses attention on this particular scandal, who’s going to investigate the scandal of today’s failing “care” system; the untimely deaths of so many young people (and others) in custody within the “justice” system; the abuse of our elders, especially those with dementia in nursing homes; neglect on hospital wards; the mistreatment of adults with physical and learning disabilities; the abysmal state of mental health services; the neglect of soldiers whose war experiences in places they should never have been sent have left them with post-traumatic stress disorder and the suffering of the forgotten civilians maimed, traumatised, bereaved, displaced and impoverished in these same wars?
Who will find and care for all the whistleblowers who over the years have lost their careers, reputations, health and in many cases their families for daring to speak the truth? Who will support all the surviving victims of this abuse who will likely have their hopes for justice raised by the announcement of one new Inquiry or another only to be doused in bucket-loads of whitewash as the interests of the abusers and their colluders prevail?
The north Wales child abuse scandal doesn’t exist in splendid isolation. Child abuse doesn’t exist in isolation. It is part of a much bigger picture across Wales, Britain and the world in which uncomfortable truths are suppressed at almost any cost by abusers of all descriptions (assisted by their friends in high places) to avoid being exposed for their acts or omissions and to maintain their positions of power and control. This is done at the expense of the victims and those who have refused to remain silent in the face of all kinds of wrongdoing.
Child abuse: some anecdotal evidence
My own knowledge of abuse in Wrexham children’s homes comes mainly from “care” leavers who lived at a hostel where I worked in the late 1980s. Those I met didn’t tell me about sexual abuse and I don’t recall meeting ex-residents of Bryn Estyn. One young woman, however, who had been in the care of the authority because she had been sexually abused by her father for years and who has since committed suicide showed me a scrapbook detailing the time when her social worker, charged with her protection, had become romantically involved with her paedophile father; she lost her job while the young woman lost all trust in adults purporting to support her.
Life in Wrexham children’s homes seemed relentlessly grim at that time. I recall making phone calls to Bersham Hall on behalf of one lad whose girlfriend was living there to try to help resolve an apparent injustice – these seemed to crop up almost daily. I no longer remember the details but I clearly remember the staff member there telling me that I was being “taken in” by “manipulative” young people. When I persisted with my enquiries to try to get to the bottom of the matter, I was met with open hostility. Soon afterwards, I met a young German woman on an international exchange scheme who was placed at Bersham Hall but had demanded to be moved elsewhere at the earliest opportunity because of the punitive regime and lack of care and concern for the troubled young people living there.
At least two of the hostel residents had spent time at Cherry Hill Home, which seemed to have been run by the most sadistic of staff teams. I had no reason to question the veracity of this information gained in the context of two ex-residents reminiscing together and that came across as wholly genuine. They recounted being hit over the knuckles with a wooden spoon; being locked in a dark shed and told to clean the floor with a toothbrush as punishment for minor infractions; being ridiculed by staff; being forced to dress in horrible and unfashionable clothes while their good clothes were locked away in the attic. Later, when an Inquiry was taking place into children’s homes in Wrexham – it may have been Waterhouse or the previous Clwyd County Council internal inquiry that never reported publicly and whose report was pulped – I encouraged these two to go forward with their evidence but they feared reprisals if they did so and refused to take part. They may well have been right.
Who pays the piper…
When Waterhouse reported, I was working as an advocate for children with disabilities while others in the team visited children’s homes and provided advocacy for “looked after” children – a way for children in the “care” system to have a voice and be heard. The issues I looked into for young people with disabilities often centred around assessments carried out and services provided – or not provided – by the local authorities but these same authorities funded our advocacy work, leading to obvious conflicts of the “biting the hand that feeds you” variety. In the end I left because of the lack of independence resulting from the funding arrangements, because I was not supported by my managers, because successful cases that should have led to policy changes within local authorities did not and because the focus was on statistics and “throughput” rather than providing a quality service for the most disabled and disadvantaged children. Many of those I worked with had no effective communication systems in place. It simply wasn’t possible to offer a good service in a short timescale and I wasn’t prepared to close unfinished cases and open new ones just to make the stats look more impressive.
The Children’s Commissioner, Bullying and Cover Up
While I was in this post, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales (CCfW) and a team of staff were appointed in direct response to the recommendations of the Waterhouse Report and with a remit to promote whistleblowing amongst other related functions. I had cause to contact the CCfW office in north Wales to seek assistance in relation to young people I was working with and through this came to know senior policy officer Mair Jones, as well as meeting her elsewhere in peace and justice groups.
Mair was part of the Policy Team responsible for publishing a Report, Telling Concerns in 2003 that reviewed whistleblowing, complaints and advocacy practices in Social Services Departments of all local authorities in Wales. At around the same time, she found herself in the unenviable position of blowing the whistle at the CCfW. Mair spoke out about the damaging, bullying culture that pervaded, the absence of policies and procedures for employees and her fears that such failures of management led to unsafe practices and decisions about children. She is also convinced that she was bullied by her senior managers for doing exactly what she was paid to encourage others to do – blowing the whistle.
Mair eventually resigned from the CCfW in 2007. Although her employment tribunal should have included a claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), a combination of poor advice from the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), the PCS Union and solicitors resulted in her losing this option. I sat and watched the Judge behave in a bullying and abusive manner towards Mair as she sought justice at the tribunal with only a constructive dismissal claim having refused two offers to settle, the first of £12k and the second of £28k, both sanctioned by the current Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler and both of which would have included gagging clauses.
A freelance reporter who regularly attends employment tribunals said he had never seen a Judge behave in such an appalling way towards a claimant. Mair was additionally disadvantaged by having to present a complex case without legal representation or experience while the CCfW enjoyed the benefit of a publicly funded barrister and it was no surprise that the tribunal didn’t uphold the claim, but the mismatch between the evidence I heard on the days I attended that revealed much about the problems at the CCfW at the time and how this was later interpreted and presented by the Judge in her whitewashed ruling was striking and shocking.
In 2007, Mair had sent a whistleblowing statement to the relevant Minister in the Welsh Assembly, Jane Hutt. This was never acknowledged, but Mair eventually discovered that Jane Hutt had established a Review in response, and that this had been conducted without interviewing her and reported without informing her. Mair pursued a major complaint about how WAG, in her opinion, failed in its duties towards her as a whistleblower and insisted that this time she should be interviewed. This investigation was restricted to looking at WAG’s response to Mair’s statement, unhelpfully concluding after 14 months that WAG was under no obligation to investigate Mair’s concerns about the CCfW, but identifying that WAG had “not carried out a thorough investigation”, that “the commitment to keep Mair Jones informed was overlooked” and that she was “entitled to a response which informs her what view WAG takes of her concerns.” Mair has still not received this.
My own whistleblowing experiences and more cover up
In 2011, I represented myself at a six day employment tribunal against my former employers, the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham (AVOW) on a claim of constructive dismissal and disability discrimination, including victimisation, that was upheld on all counts. One of many issues in the case was an inappropriate request for an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check that I subsequently discovered was not motivated by any desire to protect children or vulnerable adults but rather was an attempt by the Chief Officer, John Gallanders, to get rid of me. John Gallanders was also the Chair of Wrexham’s Children and Young People Framework Partnership which operates with the underpinning principle of keeping children safe from harm, as well as protecting them from discrimination; it’s a shame he didn’t extend this principle to his employees, all of whom were affected by AVOW’s failure to conduct itself within the law in relation to CRB checks and requests for disclosure. My whistleblowing at the time was dismissed by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers acting as a CRB umbrella body and by those responsible for compliance at the Criminal Records Bureau, both of whom claimed there was no wrongdoing in spite of documentary evidence to the contrary and it was not until the tribunal’s judgment over two years later, by which time I was suffering with serious depression, that my actions were vindicated. I also blew the whistle to the Charity’s Trustees over the misconduct of AVOW’s Chief Officer John Gallanders, behaviour that included unilaterally withdrawing the organisation’s whistleblowing policy. The Trustees completely failed in their duty to investigate and in their duty of care and were severely criticised in the judgment.
After the tribunal ruled, I continued to blow the whistle on AVOW’s nefarious activities to all the bodies responsible for overseeing its work. Although the tribunal’s findings showed that the Chief Officer was guilty of Gross Misconduct on several counts under AVOW’s own policy and therefore liable to instant dismissal he remains in post while many of the trustees who were found to have failed in their duties are still in charge of the organisation. None of the funding or regulatory bodies has shown the slightest interest in the fact that, in the days after the verbal ruling of the tribunal was handed down, detailing and roundly condemning serious failings in AVOW’s governance – failings of the Chief Officer and Trustees – the Chief Officer John Gallanders was busy negotiating the take over of Plas Madoc Communities First project, whose own serious failings in governance had been exposed by another whistleblower, and making statements to the media about the importance of good governance. The bodies that could have taken action included the Welsh Government, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the Charity Commission and Wrexham County Borough Council (WCBC).
The trouble with Equalities
The Tribunal found that AVOW failed to make reasonable adjustments to enable me, as a disabled employee, to work there, that it directly discriminated against me and victimised me in various ways on grounds of my disability. Commenting on my attempts to resolve the situation through AVOW’s grievance processes, the Tribunal wrote: “This is a conclusion that we reach in only exceptional cases, but we have reached it in this case without hesitation: from start to finish, the grievance processes were a sham.”
AVOW is signatory to and recruiter for WCBC’s One Wrexham Charter of Belonging. Since the Charter places obligations on signatories to promote equality and challenge discrimination and unfair practices it was clear that, post-Tribunal and with no change of personnel at the top, AVOW had no credibility to have its name on the Charter, let alone recruit for it. My extensive efforts to point this out and get the council to take action were wasted.
One would hope that there would be respect for whistleblowers and a commitment to openness and fairness at the Commission charged with upholding human rights and equalities in Wales. Apparently not. In 2007, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) were in the process of being amalgamated into the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC or CEHR as it was then called). The new Commission had a wider remit than the sum of the old Commissions, but the CEHR in England had proposed a drastic drop in staff numbers for Wales: from 58 to around 20, with the new Wales Commission being downgraded to a satellite of the England-based Commission, rather than operating autonomously as the old Commissions had done. These issues were withheld from the WAG by the Directors of the DRC, EOC and CRE in Wales, who colluded in this against the interests of their staff and apparently to avoid upsetting their new bosses although the information was already in the public domain in Scotland.
The whistleblower in this case, a union representative at the DRC concerned about job losses, leaked an email containing this information to Leanne Wood, AM. After a long workplace investigation, she was disciplined, sacked and appealed against her dismissal. Although reinstated on appeal, she was ostracised on her return to work and then sacked again after a blog referring to the matter was shown to belong to her. I first heard this story when I met the whistleblower during solidarity actions for accused whistleblower Bradley Manning in Cardiff. Her account and the leaked email can be read on the WikiLeaks website.
More whistleblowers victimised
Once you’re aware of whistleblowing, you find whistleblowers all over the place. The last council whistleblower I met, who had worked in adult learning disability services in Wrexham, was treated in a way that led to her becoming extremely ill and losing her job before eventually being gagged by the council with an agreement to keep her mouth shut. I know that not because she broke the gagging contract but because she wouldn’t. A long-time member of staff working in WCBC’s learning disability services told me that she had NEVER come across a case where anyone who had blown the whistle on bad practice, abuse, misconduct etc. had NOT been victimised as a result of their actions. No amount of whistleblowing policies, fine words or inquiries led by judges or ex-police officers are going to change the prevailing and pervasive culture of shooting the messenger. It is worth remembering that judges and police officers were reported to have been part of the north Wales paedophile ring.
The whistleblower in the Plas Madoc case mentioned earlier, Mrs. Mandy Bostwick, was subjected to the most appalling victimisation at the hands of various government officials including two officers of North Wales Police, who were ultimately moved from duties in the Plas Madoc community. Mrs. Bostwick eventually received a personal and formal apology from the Police in the presence of an Assembly Member after the IPCC upheld her complaint twice against the officers concerned. In its report, the IPCC stated that North Wales Police was not capable of investigating Mrs. Bostwick’s complaint. Meanwhile, investigations have continued for three years into senior government officials who wrote libellous statements against Mrs. Bostwick in connection with her work at the Plas Madoc Communities First Project and circulated these through official channels without her knowledge. These government officials went further by sending statements to her governing body in an attempt to shut her up and wipe her out. A legal case against those involved is currently being pursued by Mrs. Bostwick following these investigations.
Earlier this year, as part of solidarity actions for Welsh-American accused whistleblower Bradley Manning, a group of whistleblowers met in Denbigh, north Wales, to share experiences and offer support to one another. The stories of those who attended and those who sent their support to the meeting covered a wide range of settings but in all other respects were remarkably similar: people speaking up when they witnessed abuse or misconduct – as all whistleblowing policies recommend we should do – hoping to stop the wrongdoing from happening, but instead finding themselves under attack (in one case physically assaulted), investigated, smeared, hounded, threatened, persecuted, sacked. When disclosures expose the corruption and lies of the very powerful, loss of liberty is a real possibility.
The persecution of Bradley Manning
No discussion of Wales and whistleblowing would be complete without a look at the case of the young intelligence analyst in the US military accused of the biggest information leak in history. Bradley Manning’s mother is Welsh, his parents met here, his elder sister was born here and he spent several years living in Pembrokeshire as a teenager after his parents separated. The files Brad is alleged to have passed on to WikiLeaks include the Collateral Murder footage of a helicopter gunship attack that killed two Reuters journalists and ten others in Baghdad and which the US military had suppressed; the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary that detail the ugly truth about the wars in those countries and expose government lies; hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables that reveal the extent of US interference and undue influence in countries around the world.
Bradley Manning has been held by the US in pre-trial detention for 900 days as of 8 November and a motion is in the process of being heard to dismiss charges because he has been denied the “speedy trial” he is entitled to. He was tortured for nearly a year, treatment condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, while the Commander-in-Chief of the military, Barack Obama has declared that he’s guilty before he’s even been tried. None of the perpetrators of the crimes revealed in the leaks have been arrested, tried or punished and the clear message this sends to others in the military is that war crimes are acceptable but speaking the truth will not be tolerated. Contrary to his election promises last time round, Obama has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, prosecuting in one short term more than all other US Presidents put together.
Punished for having principles
When Ben Griffin, a soldier in the SAS who was educated in Wales and signed up for the army here, refused to return to the war in Iraq in 2005 and left the military, he received a glowing commendation from his commanding officer but when in 2008 he began to speak out about his experiences and to blow the whistle on British complicity in torture, he was gagged by a High Court injunction forbidding any further disclosures under threat of a prison sentence.
Michael Lyons was a British Navy medic who, having read the Afghan War Diary and Iraq War Logs, attempted to register as a conscientious objector. His commanding officer accepted this, but the decision was subsequently reversed and Michael was ordered (inappropriately for his post) to undertake rifle training, which he refused to do. He was court martialled and sentenced to seven months in a military prison.
Ben Griffin points out that the WikiLeaks disclosures about Iraq and Afghanistan allow disaffected soldiers returning from these war zones to back up their first hand experiences with hard facts. The government does not want people to know the truth about the wars it is sending soldiers off to fight, it certainly does not want military personnel to develop a critical conscience about those wars based on the irrefutable evidence published by WikiLeaks and will do everything it can to discourage soldiers and others in the military from speaking out.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks
While Bradley Manning is in extended pre-trial custody in the US, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange has been confined within the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly five months at the time of writing. Although he has been granted political asylum in Ecuador the British government refuses to guarantee his safe passage out of the country as it should. It is using as an excuse for this behaviour the European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden over allegations of sexual misconduct. However, the circumstances surrounding the investigation and the way the case has been handled in Sweden, Sweden’s continued refusal to interview Julian in London, the existence of a secret Grand Jury in the US known to be carrying out a huge investigation of WikiLeaks and many other factors all point to political motivation behind the extradition request and an intention to deliver Julian into the hands of the US at some point where he risks life imprisonment or worse for publishing the truth. His own country, Australia, has also manifestly failed to offer him protection or support.
There is a Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English grassroots network of people acting in solidarity with Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. If enough people around the world offer their visible support and solidarity, it will become politically impossible for the US or any other country to continue to persecute these two courageous individuals and the sustained attack on WikiLeaks would have to be dropped.
The importance of transparency
It seems that the remit of the Waterhouse Inquiry was to consider primarily the conduct of the staff at the children’s homes and not to look too far beyond them to the wider picture of abuse perpetrated by a paedophile ring operating outside these establishments and apparently including some very high profile individuals. The Waterhouse Report, Lost in Care, did not include the names of the alleged ring members and the media were prevented from publishing the name of any person still alive accused of abuse unless they had previously been convicted of such an offence. Waterhouse claimed the allegations against high profile figures were in “the realm of fantasy”.
We have something to learn from the approach of WikiLeaks and its success at exposing wrongdoing. Compare and contrast, for example, the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, yet to report and widely criticised for its make up, terms of reference, for the government’s right of veto on what goes in the final report and so on, with what we know about the Iraq War as a result of the publication by WikiLeaks of the Iraq War Logs – the unvarnished truth.
Welsh MP Ann Clwyd has called, along with many others, for an over-arching Inquiry into child abuse. Ms Clwyd knows perfectly well that Inquiries don’t always get to the truth. She herself, a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, was given a very easy ride when she appeared before the Chilcot Inquiry in spite of being personally responsible for disseminating an uncorroborated and later discredited story just before the crucial Parliamentary vote on the Iraq war. This described Saddam Hussein’s “people shredder”, allegedly an industrial machine into which opponents of the regime were fed, feet first for maximum suffering, their remains put into plastic bags and used as fish food. Without this story, it is quite possible that Britain would not have supported the war. The tall tale was also picked up around the world and used by proponents of the illegal invasion, notably in Australia and the US. In these circumstances and with so much blood on her hands it is ironic that Clwyd claims to support Bradley Manning. Without her intervention on Iraq, Brad might never have been sent there and the events he is accused of disclosing to WikiLeaks, including the Collateral Murder attack, might never have happened.
Inquiries don’t bring justice. They are always going to be led by establishment figures with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or at least saving their colleagues from embarrassment or prosecution. They will always be limited by restrictive terms of reference. We don’t need our information filtered, redacted and massaged. Let’s have the raw data and we can make up our own minds, starting with the pulped Clwyd County Council Jillings Report and all the evidence it was based on.
As Julian Assange has said of WikiLeaks:
“The goal is justice. The method is transparency.”