Yesterday the Macur report was published. It was commissioned in autumn 2012 to review the Inquiry conducted from 1996-2000 by Sir Ronald Waterhouse in to child abuse of children in care in the former county councils of Gwynedd and Clwyd from 1974 onwards. In 2012, with many allegations of abuse by high profile individuals including Jimmy Saville, concerns also arose that the Waterhouse investigation and report (entitled Lost in Care) had failed to discover, or had concealed the involvement, of celebrities and establishment figures. In summarising the work undertaken and the challenges faced, Lady Justice Macur noted the significant delay which arose in progressing her review because the Welsh Office (and its predecessor) had failed to properly archive the million plus pages of documentation which had been considered by the Waterhouse Inquiry. She described the documentation as being provided in a state of disarray and that it took six months to manually inspect it all and scan it all to an electronic document management system.
The IICSA has been very clear from the start of its work that documents will be central to its investigations. One of the first steps it took was to write to as many relevant bodies as possible to indicate that no documentation should be destroyed. Very wide ranging requests have now started to be made for documents, and those requests include that the provision of documentation to the IICSA be via electronic means. No organisation which is requested to produce documents will want to be subject to similar comments as those noted above about a failure to archive properly, if at all. Now is the time for all organisations to be reviewing and sorting their documents to avoid a similar scenario arising.
Returning to the Macur report’s conclusions, having sorted the documentation, it then identified over 1,400 complainants of sexual and physical abuse whilst in care in the two named county councils. The background to the establishment of the Waterhouse Inquiry is considered and the failure to publish an earlier report, the Jillings report, because of “unequivocal legal advice that to do so would expose the local authority to significant and multiple claims for libel and the risk of losing its public insurance indemnity” is noted. The conclusions also consider that there were further steps which should have been taken, for example greater consideration of transparency and the appropriateness of links between members of the Inquiry and freemasonry. However the overall conclusion of the Macur report is that there is no reason to undermine the conclusions of the Waterhouse Inquiry and that there is no evidence of the involvement of nationally prominent individuals in the abuse of children in care in North Wales between 1974-1996. No further inquiry in connection with the Waterhouse Inquiry is recommended.
The IICSA has already noted that it will consider, in the context of its Accountability and Reparations Inquiry, the experiences of children abused at care homes in North Wales. Presumably the documentation ordered and considered by the Macur team will be available for the IICSA and some duplication of further work in that respect can be avoided. It is expected that one of the areas where close regard will be made to what happened and what was said in the context of claims and compensation will be the Jillings report previously mentioned. All organisations which may be contributing to this investigation should be considering the approach they have taken in the past when responding to claims, noting the changes in the legal landscape which will have impacted upon decisions made in the past, and to now be learning from the past to put in place appropriate protocols and processes which meet the expectations and development of the law in 2016.
Written by Paula Jefferson, partner